Online Props in Poker

A proposition player (or prop) is a player who is paid by the house to start up new games and keep existing games going, while encouraging a friendly atmosphere among the players. Unlike a shill, a prop player plays with and risks his own (and not the house’s) money. Prop players have been a feature of many brick and mortar cardrooms for years, and several major online cardrooms do employ (or have employed) props. In particular, it is quite common for new sites to employ props to help generate regular traffic during their launch period. However, not every site uses props – PokerStars and True Poker, for example, have both gone so far as to post unequivocally on public forums that they are not employing props.

An online prop can typically expect to earn something in the region of $12-$15 an hour (and perhaps more if they are prepared to play two tables at once) with their precise income determined by the number of hands they play. In general, props are required to play at the lower range of limits (typically, say, from $2/$4 to $5/10).

For some players, online prop play may be an attractive option, for the following reasons:
•    Prop players receive payment for doing what they may have been doing anyway (playing online poker).
•    Prop players can usually choose their own working hours.
•    Prop players can normally play online as a second ‘part-time’ job.

However, prop play also has some disadvantages as well:
•    Prop players risk their own money – if they lose then they not only have no income (apart from their prop pay), but may also find themselves out of a job if their bankroll runs out.
•    Prop players are obliged to play a certain number of hours at the one site, and therefore do not have the same freedom to employ site selection strategies (at least not during their prop payment hours) as other players.
•    Prop players have to play at the table to which they are directed by the cardroom, and are therefore unable to employ game selection strategies.
•    Prop players usually have to move tables at the cardroom’s discretion (for example, sometimes having to vacate a table at which they were winning once that table is full, and finding themselves being placed instead at a short-handed table with several known tricky opponents).
•    Since prop players are typically paid ‘per hand’, if there is no one to play against they can’t earn any income.
•    Prop players usually have to play a great deal of short-handed play, since one of their main functions is to start new games. However, many potential candidates for prop play do not enjoy playing short-handed, and the variance for such games is greater than for full ring games, so a larger bankroll is necessary to handle the fluctuations. Furthermore, those props who lack proficiency at short-handed or heads-up play are an open target for specialist short-handed experts to attack in ‘hit and run’ raids. To offset this, at least in part, props usually earn more when they play short-handed, since they will play many more hands per hour in these games than they would in a full ring game.

It takes a particular kind of player to be successful as a prop – someone who is skilled at (and able to survive the fluctuations of) short-handed play, and also capable of returning a profit despite very limited opportunities for game selection. Although some players do enjoy working as props, most top online professionals prefer to retain their independence (particularly since many professionals would typically be playing higher than $5/$10 in any case).

For some reason, many online players are afraid of props, assuming that they must naturally be very good players, but in fact there is no real reason to fear playing against a prop player any more than you would be wary of any other experienced online player. In fact, it would be counter-productive for cardrooms to employ props who play outstandingly well, since such players might win too much money from the other players and actually reduce the number of active players on the site.

It is sometimes argued that cardrooms should reveal the identities of their props, whose play they are in effect subsidising. However, so long as they are playing at their own risk and have no advantages over the other players (other than the fact that they are being paid for the number of hands in which they participate; at most sites props are not even told who the other props are), it is doubtful what real purpose would be served by removing their anonymity.

One very popular method that cardrooms use to generate traffic without using props is to offer deposit bonuses. Typically these bonuses amount to 15%-25% of the deposit amount, but the bonus is only paid when the player has qualified by playing a predetermined number of raked hands. In addition, the cash prizes for some freeroll tournaments are also only released when the player has fulfilled a similar quota of raked hands. Effectively these players are acting as informal props, keeping games occupied in return for their bonuses or prizes, although of course the site does not have the right to tell them at which table they must play.