Monday, August 22, 2005

My latest foray into on-line poker continues to grind on. I'm still playing primarily at Paradise Poker. You've probably seen their ads on T.V., for a million-dollar freeroll tournament they're hosting. While Paradise Poker has been lagging behind other sites (like Party Poker) by neglecting advertising, this new promotion is obviously bringing in a lot of new players. The most obvious sign of this is server problems. I'd never had an issue with maintaining a connection to the table at Paradise Poker, until the last week or two. Connectivity was an issue when I played at Empire Poker, and now it is becomming an issue at Paradise, too. It seems to have improved a bit in recent days, but it is still obvious the site is suffering from growing pains.

The new players also means the games are feeling more like games at Party Poker and Empire Poker (those two, incidentally, are essentially the same site, with different "skins" and promotions, but the same players and games). I should count my blessings, and not complain about softer, less experienced players coming into the fold, I've been having bad luck lately, with people sucking out on me playing hands I would never consider playing. Saturday night, I got creamed in about six tournaments in a row. Right before going to bed, I lost a tournament I was doing quite well in, when I raised substantially with AK and got called by the chip leader with 58, and the flop came K58. So that kicked me out of the tournament and off to bed. What made the situation more upsetting was, early in the tournament, I flopped a set three times in a row, and no one would call me then. But Sunday my luck turned, and while I never won a tournament, I placed in the money several times. And I ended up winning about $125 last week, so I shouldn't complain about a few bad beats.

I still consider Paradise the favorite site of the ones I've played at recently, but the connectivity problems are one strike against them. And the poker ecosystem of the site is coming to resemble Party Poker or Empire Poker, to a degree. Still, it's probably the best mix of strong and weak players I've played with. I enjoy playing sit-and-go tournaments (one table format), and both the level of players and the format make Paradise Poker a good site to frequent. Empire/Party Poker, both due to the prevelence of weak players and the higher blinds in relation to starting chips, are more dependent on luck, while the Poker Stars tournaments, with skilled players and low limits, require too much skill for me, even with nine players at a table (which means the prize money in a single-table tournament is only 90% of that at sites with 10-player tournaments). So for my current favorite game, I'd rather play Paradise. Their promotions aren't that great (the million dollar freeroll is fun enough, but the odds are really stacked against you). They don't offer many deposit bonuses, and you have to play a lot to earn the bonus (it works out to a 10% rebate of the rake--I've been playing there for about two months, and haven't cleared by $85 in bonuses yet). Empire Poker is better with offering bonuses, but again, clearing the bonuses is difficult (10% of the rake, and tournament fees paid don't count; only live play clears the bonus). Poker Stars bonuses are probably the easiest to clear, but they only offer deposit bonuses occasionally. Their bonuses are the easiest to clear with tournament play, but I don't like their tournaments. I stick to live play at Poker Stars, and have had good luck at Stud/8 there. At the moment, I'm still focusing my play at Paradise, but if I decide I need a little break, I might go play some at Poker Stars.

And finally, I should mention the issue of funding one's account. I use Neteller primarily (Paypal and most credit cards will decline any gambling transaction), with no problems. Neteller is free to use, but takes time (4-5 days for an electronic transfer); instant transfers are avaialable, but at a hefty 8.5% fee. Paradise Poker will pay the instant transfer fee for you, which is why I started playing there. The other sites I've mentioned will not, but Empire Poker will electronically transfer money directly from your checking account for free. Poker Stars does not offer any free, instant deposit option. So one must plan ahead to fund a Poker Stars account (I usually just cash out money from Paradise Poker into my Neteller account to fund Poker Stars). Where Poker Stars excels, for me at least, is in cashing-out. My cash out requests are processed in about five seconds. I believe it takes longer at first, but I've played at Party Poker a lot in the past, and have reached a level where my cash-outs are not delayed or reviewed, but the money is just instantly sent to my Neteller account. Paradise Poker isn't too bad, putting the money in my account the next business day. Empire Poker is the slowest of the three, taking about two business days (this was my first cash-out there, future cashouts might be faster).

My final verdict: Paradise Poker is my favorite site for sit-and-go tournaments, but I enjoyed playing live at Poker Stars. There are still a lot of poker sites out there, however, and I intend to try out more in the future (I didn't mention Planet Poker, where I have played in the past--this site is pitiful, and while being one of the originals, it has been creamed by the competition; no reason to play here). I think either Bodog or Poker Room will be the next new site I try; I'll keep you posted.

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