Familiar with the Prima site, that online house of many skins? (Note: If you don't know what a "skin" is, you're behind the curve. Check out some of the major online info or bonus-whoring sites for more, and for reviews on the few Prima skins that I've played, click on the associated link on the right.)
The core of the online poker engine that defines Prima comes to the user via any of the following, each a skin that connects (by way of a software overlay) to the core software engine that is the backbone of the Prima Poker Network. These skins include Royal Vegas, Bet365, The Gaming Club, Aztec Riches, Expekt, and on, and on, ad infinitum. Each of these skins has the same core look and functionality, though each dresses up the game engine with its own distinctive color scheme and a unique package of bonus offers. Chances are you know this. Despite the wide variety of access routes -- meaning these skins -- the traffic isn't huge at Prima. Peak hours skew toward European users as much as any of the major sites, perhaps excepting the Crypto family, though there's still a strong North American base most times of the day. Game selection is no better than average.
By way of explaining, Prima offers a standard mix of game and wage choices, though much of it is a mirage: I've played over 10,000 hands here, and I'll opine that 90% or more of the traffic is your plain ol' everyday run-o'-the-mill hold-'em player. Omaha, 7-Stud, and 5-Stud are offered --- (Hi/Lo) on both the Omaha and 7-Stud, too --- but the problem is that there's seldom a selection of active games actually being played. There's nothing like Razz or Pineapple here, and one can't blame Prima: If their theoretically more popular game choices go so underutilized, why should they program for the tiny niches?
General Prima plusses? There are several. First, Prima offers a wide variety of generous sign-up and reload offers through its various skins. Pick and choose as you wish; I started with Royal Vegas, a solid starting point. However, be sure to read the fine print: Some of these sites carry hidden baggage, such as the only-once-per-month withdrawal options on Bet365 and Aztec Riches, or the fact that many of the offers only kick in above certain play levels, often $0.50/1 for NL and $2/4 for fixed. (These tend to be more of an issue from one skin to the next, and will be dealt with in those reviews as applicable.) Yet overall, the cutoff values needed for bonus-carving expose a general Prima problem, at least for fixed-limit players: There are times when one would like to work to clear said bonus, but no game is currently being played, anywhere on Prima, at that limit or higher. Such is life when you're not the biggest kid on the block.
Second, you'll find the occasionally lucrative freebies on Prima more common --- and more lucrative, all told --- than anywhere else. Prima's freerolls, in whole, are second to none: There is actually enough money in these to be worth playing as often as possible. And Prima tosses in things like bad-beat jackpots (relatively low thresholds and frequent payouts), a daily high-hand jackpot (so call down with that made royal, ya doof!), and my favorite, a "Magic Hand" jackpot of $2,500 awarded to a table every 4,000,000th hand. That sounds impregnable, but with a little bit of play you'll learn when that jackpot is awarded: Your odds of sharing in it, if seated and active, might be better than 1 in 500 when that magic hand rolls around. And as the recipient of $156 from one lucky sit-down, I should know!
Third, the mini-screens, found only here and (I believe) at UltimateBet, are to my mind one of the nicest online innovations we've seen. Once you've adapted to the look, rest assured that not only will it be easier, compared to other sites, to keep tabs on two or more tables; you'll also take accidental betting actions less frequently, due to the lack of screen overlaps.
Fourth, chat is more tightly monitored here than on any other major site. I see this as a plus. I detest unpatrolled sites where the chat window becomes a penis-wagging contest with layers upon layers of curses inflicted upon the other players, varying from raw anger to the cheapest possible attempt at intimidation. Nice try, suckers; I don't like it but I don't tilt from it, either. (Even worse, by the way, is a site like Crypto where you can't even easily turn the crap off.) Chat should be for the enjoyment --- read: added entertainment value --- of the players, not allowed to devolve to the lowest common denominator of human communications. Hear that, Pacific?
Minuses? As mentioned, the action isn't as diverse as it seems, and there's a strong emphasis here on shorthanded games. That last may be a plus to an action junkie, but moi, tight and conservative player that aye izz, prefers to settle into the flow of a more traditional 9- or 10-handed game. Also, Prima and its component skins do go overboard on the software updates, often as much on the front-end wrapping paper as on the game functionality itself. Prima's a bit of the HotDog HTML editor of online poker sites; perhaps it's a directive to site programmers, to be able to prove that they are indeed Doing Something! (As an aside, I gave up on HotDog years ago, when that site's overhauls were more frequent than my visits ... and I was a business user. Damn better things to do than re-navigate a site every three weeks when my paid-for macros weren't even integrated properly. So there, you pack of over-geeky Aussies, take that! Grrr.)
But Prima's not that bad ... yet ... though the Labor Day '05 "upgrade" seems a bit of the opposite: my old boat-anchor/computer now seems incapable of running three tables at once, though it could before. (Reports from other users indicate that Prima's current programming has a significant memory leak, causing users' computers to run slower the longer they're in active use.) Worse, an ordinary computer now hangs and lags with only two tables in play, simply unacceptable for me. I've had freezes of 30 seconds or longer in recent weeks, resulting in auto-folds and other worse-than-death horrors. One hopes that Prima and other sites write their software to be servicable for the majority of computer users, rather than only those running the latest high-end machines. After all, obsolescence is so ugly down here in the "charity" bracket.
Cashing in, cashing out: Average to slightly slow, with a larger degree of variance than I've found elsewhere. Bonus payouts are erratic from one skin to the next, depending, one supposes, on the current workload of that skin's customer-service staff... or dedication to customer service in general. The vast majority of payouts are manually processed and paid, which explains some of the lag and occasional oversights. One irritant is that withdrawals are processed through a separate server (per each skin's own financial setup), which is, on occasion, inscrutably inaccessible. Despite this, your bankroll amount is always available, always up-to-date ... if you know how to do it. Hint: It's often easier to view your bankroll by pretending to join a table than by actually visiting the banking area. Weird, huh?
Having fun: Lots of low-entry tournaments here. Plenty of sit-'n'-go action, and even "rounders" and "Monte Carlo" formats for the adventurous. Good stuff, though bad beats in a rounders tourney suck even worse than they do in freezeouts, for some reason. Though the chat is actively monitored, on occasion the table censors get overzealous [see sidebar at lower right]. Most of these poor, bored POKERMGR-assigned souls are reasonably cool, however, and they can occasionally be baited into joining a conversation. Thus, typeth this: "Hey, all, do you know how to make a POKERMGR go crazy?"
Prima allows each player to complete their own "Player Profile," with options to upload a photo and a handful of boring information nuggets, but most players don't, and most of those that do don't have anything important to say. A nice idea, plus points for the effort, but hardly a necessity.
Valium Needed --- Ha-a-a-lp!!
In net lingo, LOL. As noted in the main review, Prima's site operators are by far the most proactive when it comes to policing the user chat taking place on their system. Among the no-no's are cussin', sellin' stuff, advertisin' othah sites, and speakin' in tongues --- that being anything other than English. I watched someone get their chat priveleges revoked simply for sassing back to the POKERMGR (the Prima operator who monitors saveral tables at once) in Swedish. Well, okay... maybe being called a "lutefisk heinie" is grounds for suspension.
That said, on occasion the POKERMGRs do go above and beyond and beyond and beyond some more. The following is a re-creation of an exchange between me, a couple of other players, and the POKERMGR in charge of monitoring our chat one moonlit evening in late August, 2005. Dialogue is paraphrased, not quoted, but if Prima sent me the chat log, I'd be most happy to reproduce it verbatim; it would not vary in amy meaningful way from what you'll see below. I've also omitted junk such as the hand summaries, to ease your boredom:
Player A: I was checking out some reviews on that (poker-related topic) yesterday.
Player B: Yes, I try keeping notes on things and putting them on my site.
Player A: Where's it at?
Me: What's the address?
Player B: It's at www.billfillmaff.com.
POKERMGR: Please refrain from advertising or your chat priveleges may be suspended.
Me: POKERMGR, get a clue. You have know way of knowing whether that's a commercial site or not.
Player B: It's not. I don't sell anything there. I own the site.
[short lapse of a hand or so here]
Player A: Yeah, I was on Party the other day and it was crazy wild.
Me: If you want low variance, Party can drive you absolutely nuts.
Player B: Yup
POKERMGR: Please refrain from advertising or your chat priveleges may be suspended.
Me: Please read for content, POKERMGR. If you read what we typed, you would clearly see that it wasn't advertising.
POKERMGR: When we see the word party typed, it usually refers to another poker site.
Me: Indeed it did --- but we were not talking about that site in a positive way.
POKERMGR: We do not allow either positive or negative advertising. (Methinks: What in the hell is "negative advertising"?!?!?)
Me: I guess we can tell each other "Nice hand" and ask how the weather is?
POKERMGR: That would be fine, yes.
Me: That was sarcasm, POKERMGR.
Funny thing, POKERMGR went silent after that. :-)