Pokerstars And Full Tilt Are Top Online Poker Sites – And Owned By The Same Company!
Another Update: Full Tilt and PokerStars have now merged their player pool, you get to the same games via either software client... this makes this head-to-head (which was written at a time when these sites were very much big rivals) a little pointless! You can only have 1 Player Id between the 2 sites now, and really, it makes no difference, since you can switch between the software anyway.
Update: When the very first version of this article appeared, when Full Tilt and PokerStars were very much rivals - and the two biggest poker sites online. A lot has changed, with Full Tilt closing and then coming back... and owned by their former rival!
This article now takes a new angle, comparing the two sites as places to play and addressing the question of which you should join first to maximize your bonuses and benefits.
Hint: There is a trick to getting 3 separate 'first deposit' bonuses at PokerStars (see the section highlighted with the big red arrow below for details). If you then wait a couple of weeks you'll be mailed with an offer of a 4th bonus to start playing at Full Tilt!
As with all of my head-to-head reviews, I'll go through 5 different criteria, scoring a winner of each one before summing them up with the overall winner and next steps in my 'Planet Mark's Verdict' section at the end.
Pokerstars vs Full Tilt Poker – Criteria #1 – Traffic And Opposition
Pokerstars is the clear winner when it comes to traffic volumes, being more than 5 times the bigger than Full Tilt with 200,000+ (Stars) compared with 40,000+ (FullTilt) at peaks. This is a staggering number of players, and enables PokerStars to maintain their advantage via a 'network effect' - they are able to offer a bigger choice of buy-ins, games and variations, which in turn attracts yet more players. Full Tilt came back from the dead to be the 4th biggest site (the iPoker Network and 888 are bigger, with Party fighting the 4th / 5th spot battle with FTP). I expect to see them grow futher this year.
Skill levels of the opponents you will meet at the table is mixed at both sites. Players should be aware that both have their fair share of ‘pro grinders’ at all levels, often playing a very tight / solid game at a large number of tables. This is balanced by recreational players who are mainly at the lower to middle limits. I feel there are slightly more recreational type players at Pokerstars than at Full Tilt right now, as this site has a bigger marketing reach outside of the sphere of experienced poker fans. Full Tilt tend to be known by people involved in the game, though not known so well by new players just coming into it.
In terms of both the amount of traffic and the average experience levels, this is a win for PokerStars.
Pokerstars vs Full Tilt Poker – Criteria #2 – Tournament Selection
Whether you play Satellites, Tournaments, SNGs or Cash Games both PokerStars And Full Tilt offer you some great options. There are some key differences in payout stuctures and the mix of games available which I cover in this section.
Firstly the larger player base at Pokerstars tends to lead to more niche games being available at all levels. This includes variations such as Badugi and 2-7 Triple draw in addition to mixed games and Omaha / Stud variations. Stars also have far larger tournament fields – this could be seen as an advantage or disadvantage over Full Tilt, depending on your personal preferences for bigger or smaller tournaments (I personally find 4000+ players a 'no no' for regular tournaments, since the games can last 9+ hours, ending in the early hours of the morning...). There are some cool innovations at Stars right now including progressive knockouts, 'action hour' rebuys, Zoom games and timed tournaments.
Full Tilt offer Rush Poker in tournament format, along with knockouts and cash-out tournaments too. I like the 'tokens' structure at Tilt, with $8.80c / $26 and $75 being standardized buy-ins, for which you can win entry tokens in the numerous satellite qualifiers and SNGs.These games have smaller fields, though the multi-entry ones can still get 1000's of players.If you want to cut out all the waiting time, you could always try a 'Flipout Tournament' which put everyone all in until you reach the money spots, at which point they revert to normal play.
The infamous Sunday Million runs at PokerStars, with a guaranteed $1 million prize pool. This site is so huge that even their 'second string' Sunday Events are bigger than the main events at different sites, for example the earlier 'Sunday Warm Up' has a $500,000 guarantee of its own. The Full Tilt $250,000 guaranteed Sunday event is a great tournament - and every poker fan should play in it at least once. You will also find the Sunday Mulligan and Sunday Knockout at FTP for higher stakes tournament fans.
Tournament Events take place at both sites, with PokerStars running the World, Spring and Turbo Championships (WCOOP, SCOOP and TCOOP) and Full Tilt featuring their own FTOPS (Full Tilt Online Poker Series). Mini-Versions are also available for smaller bankroll players in the form of the regulat Micro-Millions for PokerStars and Mini-FTOPs and MTOPS (micro-turbo) for Full Tilt.
I like Full Tilt for tournaments for a couple of different reasons. First the field sizes are far more manageable. Second, the payout structure is steeper. This means fewer players get paid in each game, with a bigger proportion of the prize money at the final table. This stops the agony of min-cashing at PokerStars, playing for 3 more hours and realizing you only won one more buy-in!!
I'm going to make this crtieria a tie between the two sites, better payout structures at Full Tilt v PokerStars's huge selection and massive prize pools.
Pokerstars vs Full Tilt Poker – Criteria #3 – Cash Game Selection
Pokerstars cash game selection will just blow you away, there are 1000's of tables running at levels starting with just a $1 buy-in up to pro $10k buy-in tables. There are deep and shallow stacked, turbos, 2, 4, 6 and 9 player sizes and the biggest selection of games you will see anywhere. With the huge traffic at this site you can a choice of games whichever type of poker you enjoy - including the entertaining 8-game mix + variations including draw, Omaha and stud. The player pools at the Zoom Poker tables are staggering, with thousands of people playing this game around the clock, there are enough players to support a thriving Pot Limit Omaha Zoom ecosystem at this site too - a personal favorite of mine!
Full Tilt do well for NL Holdem and Omaha, though there are only a few tables at other games. I like the Cap Limit tables (you can only bet up to the table limit on each hand) and the bet pot button makes like nice and easy in the PLO too. You can find 'nosebleed' games at FTP, where the superstars trade pots of $100,000's or more - great to rail these, espcially when the occasional mega-pot start flying. Rush was the original fast fold poker and still does pretty well, you can measure the players in the pools for Rush in the 100's rather than the 1000's at Stars - and only the lower buy-in Omaha games are busy. Adrenaline Rush is a new pooled game which is even faster, with no post flop play and short stacks.One thing that Full Tilt do well for cash game fans is to have 'happy hours' where you can earn extra points towards your weekly cashback bonuses, these are often combined with 'game of the week' for even more points.
PokerStars have to win this one, their selection is just amazing - and their software makes it easy to multi-table too... don't discount Full Tilt through, they are nothing if not innovative!
Pokerstars vs Full Tilt Poker – Criteria #4 – Software And Customer Support
Software is a major difference between Full Tilt and Pokerstars. Full Tilt has a bright, almost cartoon-like software interface with fun avatars to choose from. Pokerstars software can be thought of as slick, fast and functional – with the ability to upload your own photo or avatar to display at the tables.PokerStars has an app, which is just as smooth as the main software, while Full Tilt's mobile offering is only for Rush Poker at this point in time. I can see the improvements accumulating at Full Tilt since PokerStars took them over, its not just about the look of the tables, things just seem to be that much more smooth running compared to the older version.
The smooth running gives my vote to Pokerstars for software, though you will need to be careful to hide all of all the baby and cat photos people like to upload as their personal pics!
Any experienced online poker player should be able to tell you that there is a clear number #1 when it comes to fast and fair customer service – Pokerstars. Now that both sites are owned by the same people, it is natural to expect service to become just as good for Tilt too.
Pokerstars vs Full Tilt Poker – Criteria #4 – Bonuses, Loyalty And Promotions
Both Pokerstars and Full Tilt offer a 100% up to $600 sign-up bonus for new players, their clearance rates are similar too. With Pokerstars your bonus can be taken over 3 separate deposits (if required) within 90 days, which is great for those players who want to make a small deposit to check things out before committing more.
How To Claim 3 Welcome Bonuses At PokerStars:
- You'll need to download the software and register your account first of all. There is a question on the main registration screen asking how you heard about PokerStars. Here you can choose 'Affiliate Marketing Code'
- This makes a new box appear, the code to use here is PSP3108
- Next you confirm your e-mail and log-in, you then head over to the cashier and choose your preferred deposit method
- There is a space for a bonus code under the deposit amount. For those first 3 deposits (up to a combined total of $600), use bonus code STARS600.
It is as easy as that. What is even better, as you clear your bonus by collecting points, you will also be collecting points towards the VIP rewards system.
Loyalty schemes are available at both sites, and take different formats. At PokerStars the 'VIP Club' gives you progressively bigger bonuses and tournament entries as you climb the levels. This goes right up to the amazing 'Supernova Elite' which is worth $130,000 in bonuses each year. At Full Tilt there is a weekly cashback scheme instead, you will be automatically awarded between 15% and 25% cash back each week (on Friday) depending on the number of points you collect. This is an attractive simple system, though serious players will gain much bigger rewards by sticking to the PokerStars scheme over a number of months.
One-off promotions are strong at both sites, these include reloads, tournament events, satellites to live competitions as well as features aimed at cash game players. Since the promotions vary widely from month to month I recommend that you keep an eye on the websites of the both rooms to ensure you do not miss any profitable opportunities.
I have to give the vote to Pokerstars once again, if you can reach 'Supernova' or even the higest tier of SuperNova Elite, then the rewards are considerable.
New: We now have a VIP Loyalty Rewards calculator which shows you how much you can earn from each site for your usual selection of games, this also includes several of the other large global sites.
Pokerstars vs Full Tilt Poker – Planet Mark's Verdict
Based on the criteria above, PokerStars are the clear winner. Don't get me wrong, I love Full Tilt - it is just that Stars do everything that bit better, from games, to software to benefits - the whole lot... they did not get to be number 1 worldwide for nothing.
Once you clear your 3 PokerStars welcome bonuses, you will usually get an offer mailed to you to also have an account at Full Tilt (along with an extra bonus offer). Linking these two accounts together means that you can transfer cash from one to the other and enjoy yet another bonus. Both sites have long lists of promotional offers, and it will then be easy to pick and choose the ones most suited to your own game and buy-in level preferences.