The Biggest International Online Poker Room Reviewed in Depth
When it comes to online poker, there are no bigger names than PokerStars. The company led the way in poker for more than a decade and a half and continue to lead the way in the industry today.
In this PokerStars review, you’ll find a detailed insight into the generous welcome offer and ongoing Stars Rewards program, which benefits all players. Next up, the entire range of games offered at PokerStars are explained. These include cash games, poker tournaments and the newer variations making the headlines. You will also find practical information on accessing the software, depositing and customer services along with how to use the PokerStars Marketing Code.
Registering at PokerStars is simple. I recommend you download the software first. This will give you access to all the game variants. You’ll be prompted to join by entering your e-mail address, choosing a Stars Id and then a password.
After accepting the terms and conditions, you’ll have a chance to tell PokerStars where you found out about them. This is via a drop-down menu.
This is where you can enter your ‘PokerStars Marketing Code’.
The welcome offer you can choose consists of either one of the following:
PokerStars.com marketing codes are used separately. These are tied to your deposits, meaning you’ll enter them via the cashier. As you’ll see below, you have a choice of two PokerStars bonus codes to start off with.
New players at PokerStars can choose to take advantage of two different offers when signing up:
When you make an initial deposit of $20 or more, you’ll enjoy $30 worth of additional free play. This is awarded to you over five days. Simply enter the bonus code ‘FREE30’ when making your first deposit. The awards are as follows:
As an alternative to the $30 free play option, you can also take advantage of the 100% matched deposit bonus. This second offer is yours when you make a deposit and enter STARS600 as the marketing code.
Now PokerStars will match your deposit with bonus cash, up to a maximum of $600 (you can deposit more, but they’ll only match the first $600). It is possible to split this $600 bonus into up to 3 deposits within your first 30 days.
Every time you make $1 in rake or tournament fees, you’ll earn 5 redemption points. Each time you reach 180 redemption points, $10 of your bonus will be cleared. You’ll have a total of 4 months to totally clear the bonus. Bonuses in other currencies than US dollars operate in a similar way – for example, players in the UK can enjoy a £400 match deposit bonus, with every 270 redemption points earning the player £10.
PokerStars are known for periodically offering deposit bonuses to existing players, which work in a similar way to the matched bonus. Look out for emails or advertising on the site offering these reload bonuses.
Any time you play for real money, you’ll earn rewards points as part of the impressive Stars Rewards Program. Every time you earn these points, you will see your on-screen progress bar fill. Complete the progress bar and you’ll win a chest. There are six different chests in the game. The rewards get bigger as you move through the levels.
As you play you can move up and down between chest levels. Win a single chest within a 28-day window and you’ll remain at the same level. Earning no chests in that time will demote you to the next level down. However, if you win 10 chests in the same 28-day period, you’ll be promoted to the next level, where bigger and better awards await.
The rewards contained in each chest are tailored to individual players. You might find Stars coins in the chest, which can be converted into cash, or entry into tournaments. Alternatively, there might be a variety of tickets and items related to the specific games you like to play.
At the poker tables you’ll earn the reward points at a rate of 45 points for every $1 paid in scheduled tournament fees, and 100 points for every $1 paid in rake at cash/zoom games and any other tournament fees. The Stars reward program isn’t just open to the poker side of the operation either. Players at the sportsbook and the casino will also earn points – making it ideal for those players who like to mix and match their betting.
This site is well known for offering regular players a lot of different promotions and specials. These are sometimes tied in with their tournament events – for example entry to satellite qualifiers. There are also cross-over promotions for BetStars and the Stars Casino. With leader board contests, incentives to try out the latest games and plenty of seasonal offers, I recommend you keep an eye on the promotions page at PokerStars.com.
There are more games and more poker variations running at PokerStars than on any other online poker site. You’ll find descriptions of the main games below. When you account for different table sizes, speeds and stack sizes – the choice can be bewildering.
To get access to the most variations, you should download the software client onto your laptop or desktop. Many games are also accessed via apps and instant (in-browser) play.
The different game types are separated by a series of tabs at the top of the downloaded software. Here is an explanation of each game offered at the site. This covers the tabs as they are listed from left to right.
Perhaps the most popular games of all, the ‘cash’ tab is up first. The default setting for the real money poker games is ‘No Limit Hold’em’ and here you’ll find games ranging all the way from $0.01/$0.02 games through to $200/$400.
Two, six and nine player games are offered, and within these you’ll find capped games, games with an ante and games in different currencies (aside from the standard dollars). Click on the game filter drop down menu and you’ll find a whole range of other games too, including varieties of Omaha, Draw, Stud and Mixed games. Within each variation you will find more choice (hi-lo, 5-card Omaha and so on).
Zoom poker is a format where you’ll find yourself in a large player pool. Instead of being sat at one table, you’ll seated at a new table instantly every time you are no longer involved in a hand. Players from your pool will be randomly moved around so they are always in a hand.
This fast-paced variation sees you play many more hands per hour and has stakes ranging from $0.01/$0.02 through to $25/$50 games. Available games are No-Limit and Limit Hold’em, Omaha and Omaha Hi/Lo. Zoom is also used for poker tournaments, though the final table will revert to a standard ‘fixed seat’ layout.
6+ Hold’em offers an exciting twist on the standard No-Limit Hold’em setup. Here, there are no cards lower than a six. The hand rankings change to account for different numbers of ‘outs’. A flush now beats a full house and A-6-7-8-9 is classified as a straight. You’ll also find that only the button posts a blind. This is action-packed variation of the game, which also includes an ante. Stakes range from an ante and blind of $0.02 through to $200.
Sit and Goes are mini tournaments which start when all of the entries are filled. Many of the events take place on single tables, although you can find Sit and Goes with as many as 990 players. Stakes range from micros up to $5,000 and players can enjoy a range of poker variants alongside NL Hold’em (although the NL Hold’em tables will generally fill quicker). These games are often used as qualifiers for bigger events.
These are hyper turbo events for just 3 players. These games have an added level of excitement, as the prize pool on offer for each game is set at random. For example, a $0.25 game can have a prize pool which awards between $0.50 and $3,000 to the winner. These mini tournaments are fast and furious, and the rewards can be huge. Spin & Go’s can be used as satellites for other events too.
This is a new twist on the Hold’em format. In this game each player is given a certain amount of energy to use – with the energy players can add a range of powers to the game. For example, the ‘Upgrade’ power can see you draw a third card and then discard one, while the ‘Intel’ power enables you to peek at the deck’s top card for the rest of the hand. There are 10 powers in total, each bringing something different to the game.
These games come in both sit and go and scheduled tournament formats. In each you’ll play for a standard prize pool, with an added extra that every time you knock a player out, you’ll win an additional prize bounty. Buy-ins for the sit and go KO tournaments range from $1 to $100, while buy-ins for the scheduled tournaments will vary. Progressive knockouts see the prize for each player’s head increase as they knock more people out – giving others a bigger incentive to target them.
There are literally hundreds of tournaments listed as default, but you have the filter option for game type, buy-in, speed and the type of the tournament. As the single biggest site, there are better guarantees and more formats than you’ll find anywhere else online. There is something for everyone in the tournament selection, including the Sunday Million. This is the weekly highlight with a buy-in of $215 – and a prize pool which regularly beats the $1 million guarantee.
This tab is dedicated to any special events hosted by PokerStars. As an example, the Spring Championship of Online poker events will all be listed in this section. This is a 2-week festival of poker tournaments with huge guarantees. Others include the World Championship, Micro-Millions, Turbo Championship and qualifiers for the many live events PokerStars host around the world such as the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure.
The PokerStars software is downloaded from either Pokerstars.com or the version of the site in your country. The download takes just a couple of minutes and then you’ll be ready to go – you’ll register through the software itself.
When you first log-in, you’ll find three tabs at the top of the page – poker, casino and sports. This makes moving between the different sections of the site seamless. The big choice of poker action encompasses most of the screen under the poker tab. There is a handy menu bar to the right-hand side which includes these options:
With both the ‘Settings’ and the ‘Tools’ tabs, PokerStars offer one of the most comprehensive arrays of options you’ll find at any poker site. You can literally set up any game in exactly the way that suits you.
PokerStars offer a series of apps available across a range of mobile devices.
The most popular poker app is the one where you get to play poker – The PokerStars Mobile App. The app is available for your iPhone, iPad or Android device. You’ll enjoy poker with practically every feature found in the desktop version, available in dozens of languages. On the app you can enjoy cash games, tournaments and sit and goes. There is a quick-seat function, full cashier functionality and the option for limited multi-tabling.
The PokerStars TV app allows you to view the latest poker related TV shows from around the world including live streams from the biggest events, classic clips and interviews with the stars of the game too.
Download the PokerStars Live app for details about all of the upcoming tournaments, where you can check and search tournament buy-ins and structures and keep up to date with all of the latest news and tweets.
As a handy extra, you can also download the PokerStars clock, which you can use for levels in home games, as well as set the blinds and even add player pictures.
The final way to access PokerStars is via their in-browser games. Here you are limited to a single cash game or tournament – though this does give you the chance to play if you can’t get access to the apps or download client (for example on a shared computer).
This review is focused on the big international PokerStars site. There are also several more sites, which are specific to countries / states. These are:
These are separate player pools. While the software is similar, the choice of games and tournaments is different.
The range of deposit and withdrawal options at PokerStars will change based on your location. What you will find is a huge list of cards, electronic wallets, online banking apps and vouchers making it very easy to deposit and withdraw.
Head to the PokerStars cashier area and you’ll find a drop-down menu where you can check the options for your country. Here is a list of some of the most popular ways to fund and withdraw from the site. Other deposit options include local bank transfers, UKash, Neosurf and MuchBetter.
PokerStars are widely known as having one of the best customer support teams in the industry.
Your first step should be to head to their help centre. This comprehensive section has a search bar where you can simply type your question, as well as a series of ‘Frequently Searched Help Articles’.
If you can’t find your query covered here, you can contact the support team through an online form. Submit your name and email address, then choose a category (and possibly a sub-category too) and then leave your message. At first you might be a little underwhelmed by having just one customer support option, however, the team are excellent at responding, so expect an email real soon after sending your query.
PokerStars have a large page dedicated to responsible gaming, including the following mission statement:
“The Stars Group strives to assist and protect players who are at risk of the potential negative effects of gambling through a number of means, including self-exclusion tools, guidance on responsible gaming, risk identification and player verification.”
Sections on the page include information relating to age verification, self-exclusion, setting limits on deposits and losses, cooling off periods, as well as links to counselling and guidance services. The cooling off periods and self-exclusions are irreversible and will apply to all gaming under the Stars umbrella.
There are also handy interactive guides which you can use to identify if you yourself have a problem.
PokerStars uses a one-wallet system, meaning you can move quickly and easily between different sections. This is ideal if you want to use your winnings at poker, to gamble on a sporting event or have a spin of the roulette wheel!
BetStars lets you place a wager on a range of different sports, with comprehensive coverage of many popular sports worldwide. Find the latest odds on all of the biggest leagues and events. A large number of promotions can give you that added edge. BetStars also offers tips, stats and news on the upcoming events.
The PokerStars Casino has an incredible range of games, especially if you are a fan of slots. There are literally hundreds of slots to play, with a range of fun, historic and TV/Movie themed slots among many others. Look out for the big jackpot slots – many of which offer life changing wins. Roulette, blackjack and many other games are featured in the ‘card and table’ section, while video poker fans have their own dedicated section. The live casino section is the closest you can get to real life casino gaming – play with real dealers, real cards and real roulette wheels.
PokerStars was launched in 2001 by Isai Scheinberg and his son Mark Scheinberg, offering play money games in September, before offering real money poker in December. The site quickly grew and decided to introduce satellite tournaments into the mix, which proved to be a genius move. In 2003, Chris Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker after qualifying through a PokerStars satellite event, the aptly named poker player winning a cool $2.5 million!
By 2008 PokerStars would break the world record by having more than a quarter of a million players simultaneously. A tournament in 2009 saw an entry of 149,000 people – a record for a single game.
Despite lawmakers in the US effectively banning all US players from enjoying PokerStars (on the infamous ‘Black Friday’ for online poker), the site carried on worldwide.
Amaya Inc. (now known as The Stars Group) purchased the company in 2014 and has overseen the introduction of the casino and the BetStars section of the site. With innovative new games and an ever expanding scope (PokerStars is now available again in select US states), PokerStars looks set to head in to the 2020’s as the leading light in poker.