James "D_Zoo" Hartt is a former high school teacher who resides in Canada. After discovering the game and depositing $50, he started building his bankroll by grinding $10 NL.
He experienced immediate success and quickly climbed stakes playing games as high as $10kNL. He found his passion for teaching translated to poker well, and now teaches and coaches poker full-time. He can be found playing the $400NL-$1kNL games at various European sites specializing in short-handed no limit holdem.
Take it away D_Zoo.
As a Canadian, I’m allowed to play at almost any online poker site in the world, and I have put this ability to use.
I have tried practically every poker network, as well as many different skins. So, I am qualified to describe the main differences between America-friendly sites (mainly PokerStars and Full Tilt) and European sites.
Differences in Players’ Style and Skill
The play between the two is very different. The America-friendly sites involve more of a preflop game and more of a standard game. By this I mean that the players are fundamentally sound, and play more the way one is taught on training sites. I find it easier to understand how these players are thinking.
The Euro sites have a lot more calling and post-flop play. Players here will call much more pre-flop instead of raising or folding, and they love to play past the flop. They play less fundamentally sound and are a bit more difficult to put on hand ranges. It is also more difficult to figure out what level they are thinking on.
I know many players, even good ones playing stakes like $5-10, that have had trouble moving from America-friendly sites to Euro ones, because they couldn’t adjust to these differences. Your play needs to adjust to accommodate the different style of these players.
Differences in Volume
PokerStars has the largest player pool and the largest selection of tournaments and cash games running around the clock. They have a wide selection for different stakes, and also have good selection for non-NLHE games, such as Omaha and limit hold’em.
The European sites often have good volume for the most popular limits of NLHE, such as $1-2, especially at peak hours. The farther you are from peak times, the less volume there will be, especially at higher stakes.
Games other than NLHE are almost guaranteed to have little or no volume. Finally, at the smaller sites with small player pools, most of your opponents are likely to be the site’s regulars.
I always found it best to run a couple of Euro sites simultaneously to give myself a wider selection of games.
Differences in Software and Support
Both PokerStars and Full Tilt’s software are much more user friendly then that of the European sites; navigation is easier, and it is overall easier on the eyes.
Some European sites have some awful software that’s just not user-friendly. This is not merely an aesthetic point: bad software can cause you to tilt, misclick, misread the board, pass over the best games, or time out.
The support is also better, hands down, on PokerStars and Full Tilt. Those two sites, and especially PokerStars, will often respond within an hour.
On many Euro sites, you would be lucky to have a question answered within 24 hours. Euro sites also tend to have live help features that have availability tied to European time zones; often, these services are staffed by non-experts with poor English. The larger European sites, however, are more reliable for support.
Size also matters for site stability. Some Prima skins, for example, went bankrupt, and I myself have lost a bankroll on a site that shut down and took my money down with it.
Differences in Rewards
The flat rate deals offered on Euro sites are definitely very attractive. The rakeback is usually high, and there are often also deposit bonuses, reload bonuses, points for cash, etc.
The ‘under the table’ deals offered on these sites are generally outstanding, but risky, as they are not permitted on many of the sites anymore: iPoker is like this. Their ‘poker shops’ also usually have a decent selection, but you will be charged a little more for shipping (deducted from your points, not your cash).
The America-friendly sites offer lower flat-rate deals, but PokerStars has the Supernova and Supernova Elite statuses, which offer a great rate if you take advantage of the freerolls and use your frequent player points optimally.
Their Poker Shops have a wide selection and are very affordable even for a lower-volume player.
So overall, the two kinds of sites offer different poker experiences, with different advantages and disadvantages.
I’ve mainly been playing on the European sites for the rewards, and I enjoy the game flow, which is based more on a postflop game.
I have had both good and bad experiences with their support, but in general I've found that the larger the poker room, the more stable and safe it will be. If software is a very important to you, you have a reason to prefer PokerStars and Full Tilt.
But in the end, poker is poker. You will always need to adapt to your environment and your opponent to get the money.
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