People choose to play poker online for a variety of reasons. Some play online because they don't have the ability to go to a casino in their area. Others play to subsidize their "regular" income and are quite successful. For a few, online play is their main way of making a living.
Whatever people's motivations, poker sites have many ways of rewarding players at the virtual felt apart from just the cash they win.
Most of the major online sites offer points for participating in cash games or tournaments (both sit-and-gos and multi-table events) that can be turned into merchandise, tournament entries or other special gifts. PokerStars is a pioneer of this type of reward system.
The PokerStars site offers six different levels for its players to strive toward. They can attain Bronze status automatically with site membership. Silver, Gold and Platinum, the next three levels, are fairly easy to achieve by earning monthly VIP points (anywhere from 1,500 points to 10,000).
Further, there are two special levels, SuperNova and SuperNova Elite, based on performance over an entire calendar year; these offer the best bonuses for the online player.
Players achieve SuperNova status when they accumulate 100,000 VIP player points in a calendar year, and can maintain it by earning 10,000 points each month.
The ultimate measure of success for players on PokerStars is SuperNova Elite, reached once they have earned 1 million VIP player points within a calendar year. After that, they can maintain their standing by earning 50,000 points a month.
If in a given month a SuperNova or SuperNova Elite player doesn't reach their maintenance point, then they fall back to one of the four lower levels and have to start again.
As you can see, playing in the SuperNova stratosphere is not for the faint of heart - or bankroll. So what does it take, first to reach this status and then to retain it?
PokerListings decided to find out, by speaking with a player who has reached SuperNova status already this year and is striving for the pinnacle of SuperNova Elite.
John Holton, a 28-year-old gamer from Louisville, Ky., has made it his goal this year to reach the SuperNova Elite level.
"I graduated from college and worked in the business world for about five years. I had been playing on PokerStars for a few years and had always been a profitable player," he said. "Around the end of last year, though, I was looking for a change from what I was doing and decided to take up online poker for a living."
It wasn't a decision he took lightly though.
"I sat down with my wife and we talked it over first," Holton said. "I told her what I wanted to do, and we calculated what I would have to do to be successful, and it was to become a SuperNova Elite player."
"From the math that we did, [we figured] I would have to have a set schedule that I would play," Holton said. "It turned out that it would be playing 12 tables at $1/$2 No-Limit Hold'em cash games, six hours per day at a minimum, six days a week for at least 25 days per month."
This schedule has worked out well for Holton through the first couple of months of 2008. He reached the SuperNova level the first week of February and estimated that he is currently about 20% of the way to the SuperNova Elite standing.
When it comes to playing the dozen tables that are arranged in front of him, Holton admitted that there isn't much deviation in his game.
"I pretty much play ABC poker because of the number of tables," he said. "I do use PokerStars Manager, which highlights tables that immediately need my attention and assists with bet sizing, and some data-mining software that gives me an idea of my opponents' playing styles, because I can't sit there and watch what they are doing all the time."
Surprisingly, Holton doesn't have romantic dreams of playing live or entering the tournament world.
"I think I've played about three online tournaments in the last three months," he said with a laugh. "I will play live games, but it is for the social aspect more than anything else. After playing as much as I do online, the live game seems too slow to me, almost boring."
In the past two months, Holton estimates that he has played 350,000 hands to reach SuperNova. He also figures it will take about 160,000 hands per month to reach the Elite standing.
But striving for the ultimate status on PokerStars has brought him benefits beyond becoming one of the few people who have achieved SuperNova Elite.
"Of course I'm making some good money, but the ultimate reward is not having to work a real job," Holton said. "I have freedom, I don't have a boss, and I get to play a ton of poker. It's pretty nice to be able to make a living this way."
When it comes to the future, Holton isn't sure what he will do.
"The benefits of SuperNova Elite are fantastic [the Elite level offers entry into major worldwide tournaments and/or cash as one of the rewards], but I don't know if I will be able to sustain the commitment to maintain it," John said. "But it is an exciting pursuit and I'll be spending the year seeing how it all works out."