While the high traffic poker sites get all of the headlines, there is a thriving ecosystem of small poker sites which offer significant benefits. This article looks at the 2nd tier of poker sites, with between 5,000 and 10,000 concurrent players at peak times – and examines the pros and cons of playing at them. If you are new to online poker, then sticking to small poker sites while you learn the game can help you avoid losing your bankroll to the armies of professional grinders you will find at the larger poker rooms.
You will find a discussion on the pros and cons of playing at smaller rooms below. This is followed by a look at the risks of smaller sites compared to the bigger ones, and then a look at niche sites which specialize in different areas. After this you can read an overview of some of the best small poker sites online.
For me, playing at the biggest online poker sites can often feel very impersonal. You are often sat with armies of multi-tabling professional grinders – and are nothing more than a set of numbers on their tracking software! When you play at smaller sites you will find a more recreational vibe. These sites are more likely to appeal to amateurs who enjoy a poker session, though do not spend every waking hour thinking about and studying the game. In short the smaller you go, the friendlier online poker will get.
Tournament fields are much more manageable once you get away from the giant sites. I see this as a big advantage. With fields of 200 players, you can enjoy the game and still win a lot of money at the final table – at the same time you avoid having to sit up until 4am just for a small cash (which is a common issue at sites like PokerStars). To be fair the smallest poker sites are not able to offer the same guaranteed prize pools of their rivals.
Rewards and bonuses vary widely across poker rooms of all sizes. There are some small rooms (for example Carbon Poker) who offer the best welcome bonuses around. While incremental loyalty rewards can still be generous, the small rooms do lack the money to run multi-million dollar promotions or tournament events. For me this is not a reason to avoid their soft games and manageable field sizes – these are great for your day-to-day poker needs.
One of the advantages of sticking with the bigger sites is that they are often linked to companies listed on international stock exchanges. For example 888, Party and PlayTech (who power iPoker) are all London listed and subject to their financial reporting requirements. Smaller sites are usually offshore, which can lead to a perception that they are somehow more risky.
If this is a concern then my advice is to stick with those smaller poker rooms with a long track record of on-time payments. For US players the Bodog Brand (which is behind the US-friendly Bovada.lv) have an excellent reputation for handling player money. Worldwide players can enjoy OnGame sites or Party Poker (who are just about still ‘mid-sized’), both of these sites have a virtually flawless record when it comes to prompt payments.
Niche small poker sites, such as the current crop of rooms accepting BitCoin payments – come with a little more risk. There is a lot of opportunity to win money at these sites, since the people playing on them are not generally poker experts. For the time being, you do this at your own risk!