On April 15th, 2011 the US government seized the domains of the 4 biggest poker sites in the US; Pokerstars, Full Tilt, Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet. These sites represented about 95% of the US online poker market share. I've always been surprised that not many people have asked "What about the other 5%?"
That last 5% was made up of about 150 sites. In 2009 or 2010 the state of Kentucky tried to ban all online gambling and that's how many sites they came up with. Could the federal government not do a Google search for online gambling? This always seemed like the shadiest shit.
Fast forward 4 years and Pokerstars is still the biggest site in the world, they bought the carcass of Full Tilt, paid off everyone in the US who had deposits on those two sites (to the tune of about $750,000,000), and is hoping to get back in the US market.
The 5% of the sites that survived and others that have come along are sketchy to say the least. One site - Lock Poker - came into existence, advertised heavily, built up some market share, had some problems and then essentially closed up shop and kept whatever player deposits they had left. Factoring in that you could lose any money you have on these sites via government shutdown (everyone who had money on Absolute Poker or Ultimate bet got $0 back) or implosion by the site itself is part of the risk you take playing.
But people are still playing. So I decided to look into it.
It seems like Carbon Poker, America's Cardroom and Bovada are the leaders and while looking in to this stuff I happened to create an account at Carbon Poker. The deposit options seems like a major pain in the ass and after that brief investigation I forgot about it. A few days later I got an email saying they'd put $5 into my account to try out their real money games. Ah ha!
There were a few famous stories of top pros starting with some small amount like $10 and building it up to $10,000 over the course of a couple of months of online play to prove to everyone they could start over. 2000 WSOP Main Event winner Chris Ferguson actually started with $0 and played freerolls until he won some small amount of cash and built that into $10,000.
I started off playing the $.05/$.10 no limit tables with my $5 which was the smallest stakes game they offer. With only 50 big blinds to work with I knew I'd need to get lucky. But I made a few hands and before I knew it I was up to $15! I started buying into those games with the minimum $3 and made an effort to play my best and avoid going fully broke at all costs.
After 3 or 4 hours of play here and there over the course a week I was up to $25, started buying in for $5 and began playing 2-3 games at a time. After I made it up to $40 I started playing the $.10/$.25 tables. They were actually not all the different from the games at the Oaks and I found it to be good no pressure practice.
I played a few $5 tournaments along the way and had mixed success, but right after coming back from the WSOP I jumped into am $11 tournament with 175 players, a $3 tournament with 270 players and a $5 tournament with 350 players. This was a bit risky for my bankroll (I was up to $75 by that point), but I finished 12th in the $11 and made the final table coming in 6th in the $3. That got me to about $130.
I ran stupid hot and found it so frustrating to have run bad in Vegas in $500 and $1000 tournaments only to come back and get amazing cards in a $3 tournament! GAH!
Another thing struck me when signing up for these tournaments. I just signed up and played. Compare that to the Colossus where I had to sign up online, go to the bank and complete a wire transfer, fly to Vegas, wait an hour in a line to get my seat card the night before, and then finally show up the day of and play. What a huge pain in the ass!
After a blazing $30 win today I'm up to $160! I think I've put in somewhere around 15 hours over the past 6 weeks to get to this point. I honestly don't know if they're going to let me cash this money out as I haven't made a deposit and I bet no one ever does anything with that $5 other than blow it off. I think if I can make it up to about $500 I'll try to take some out and see what happens.
I miss Pokerstars.