When it comes to the size of online poker rooms, there are the top 4 and then everyone else. The single biggest site – PokerStars.com – dwarf their rivals, with incredible peaks of more than 200,000 concurrent players. This article focuses on the big 4 high traffic poker sites, showing you why size matters in online poker, and covering the pros and cons of playing at them.
First you will see an overview of the big 4 sites – including an honorable mention for Party Poker, who have slipped into 5th place. Next the pros and cons of higher traffic sites are discussed, compared to the smaller niche rooms available. After this I have summarized each of the busiest sites, highlighting the strengths of each.
While PokerStars are the dominant room, there is a lot of rivalry between the 2nd tier of higher traffic sites. These are 888 Poker, Full Tilt Poker and the iPoker Network – who are a group of sites sharing a common back end including big brand names like William Hill and Bet 365.
iPoker are usually in second place, though this will change depending on the promotional offers that the other sites run. 888 have been steadily growing over the last few years, and have consolidated their position in the top 4 at the expense of Party Poker – who have slipped from 2nd spot to 5th and are still losing traction.
Hosting large number of players allows these rooms to run bigger and better promotions, and to host tournaments with huge prize pools. This attracts still more players, creating a positive feedback loop of still more attractive promotions, and more generous loyalty rewards.
This can be seen in action, with iPoker and PokerStars both having excellent VIP loyalty schemes on top of their initial bonuses. What tends to happen is that smaller stakes pros (rationally) take advantage of these rewards by playing multiple tables at once. Multi-tabling ‘regulars’ have the effect of tightening up the games, making them less attractive to novice players. This affects some sites more than others. PokerStars and FullTilt have armies of small stakes pros, while iPoker and 888 have more amateur players – crossing over from the sports-book and casino sites associated with these brands.
While you’ll find huge tournament prizes at the high traffic poker sites, the downside is that the fields are huge too. You will often find 1000’s of players competing, and 8 to 10 hour games from start to finish at these big rooms. Compare this to smaller sites, where the entrants are more likely to be measured in the low 100’s – allowing you to enjoy a tournament and still find time to sleep. Of course, the smaller sites can’t offer the same prize pools – the Sunday Million requires a huge number of players to sustain.