What happens when you mix one part U.S. crackdown on online poker and one part anonymous virtual currency? You get SealsWithClubs, an online poker site based in Europe that deals strictly in Bitcoin and allows U.S. players to play. Even better, they have a Mac client.
I want to focus on this part first: SealsWithClubs (that's a great name) is the Wild West of online poker. The company says so in its own description. The online poker world was thrown into turmoil by Black Friday, and SealsWithClubs is a small company using an unregulated virtual cryptocurrency (Bitcoin) offering unlicensed online poker to anyone in the world, including U.S. players, which has an undetermined legal basis.
If any of this concerns, worries, intimidates, or concerns you, SealsWithClubs is not for you.
If you're still reading, you probably have an interest in either Bitcoin or poker, so let's get to it. SealsWithClubs launched in 2011 (after Black Friday) explicitly to use Bitcoin for wagering. Bitcoin is the only currency used—it's Bitcoin in and Bitcoin out.
For every 0.001BTC (1/1000th of a Bitcoin) deposited, players get 1 "Chip." When you cash out, the conversion is the same. One Chip will equal 0.001BTC. That has a very practical effect for players, because it protects them from the intense volatility of the price of Bitcoin when playing.
While games are played in denominations of "Chips," there are also fraction-of-a-Chip games, going down to .05/.10 Chip blinds, a little less than nickle/dime blinds as of this writing with Bitcoin at $870. Those are low limit games designed for entry-level players, and they're the most common games on SWC.
If the price of Bitcoin continues to rise, even lower stakes are possible, as Bitcoins and SWC "Chips" can be divided into ever-smaller denominations.
Deposits and Withdrawals
Depositing Bitcoin is easy because it's Bitcoin (check out my Bitcoin primer if you need more info, or feel free to ask questions in the comments below). Transactions need two confirmations on the Bitcoin network, and the company said that usually takes 10-40 minutes (which is conservative in terms of the Bitcoin network speed).
Contrast that with the hassles of depositing fiat currency (in the form of dollars or Euros) on other gambling sites (currently impossible from the U.S.), and the appeal of SealsWithClubs will be obvious.
I'm not sure how long withdrawals take, but the company advertises "Cash out in hours." When researching for this write-up, I didn't find any long-term deposit or withdrawal complaints on the SWC subreddit, and company representatives post on that subreddit.
Again, because of the unregulated nature of Bitcoin as a whole and SWC, you need to go into depositing Bitcoins with your eyes wide open after doing your own research.
Client - Software and Browser
SWC offers browser-based play, including support for multiple tables right in your browser. The company also has a desktop client for Mac, Windows, and Linux, as well as an Android client.
Browser-based play works just fine on the Mac, but SWC is a small site with limited resources. There have been connection issues, server downtime, and the browser client is resource-intensive, though modern Macs won't notice. The native Mac client is also resource-intensive, but it works a little more smoothly.
SealsWithClubs Mac Table
Both the Mac and browser clients have all the usual online poker controls and features, including table chat (with filters), sound and animation controls, basic statistics, auto-check and auto-fold buttons, hand histories, four-color decks, and the ability to choose where your seat appears.
For added security, SWC supports (but does not require) Google's two-factor authentication service, GAuth.
- Hold 'Em - Limit and No Limit
- Omaha - Limit and Pot Limit
- Omaha Hi-Lo - Limit and Pot Limit
- Sit & Gos - All game types
- Tournaments - All game types
- Freerolls - Some promotional freerolls
There's a third-party open source heads up display (HUD) called FPDB that supports SWC, but its Mac support is very limited. I haven't even tried to get it to work yet, but will do so at some point. The wiki for the project says that the OS X version, "has worked for motivated people, but it isn't for the faint of heart."
The developer behind the OS X native HUD called PokerCopilot also told me he is keeping an eye on the site, but isn't yet planning to support it. If SWC continues to gain steam, the established HUDs for Windows are likely to support it, too.
Rake and Rakeback
SWC's rake (the amount charged by the house per hand) is very, very competitive. I quote:
- Rake at ring game tables is 1 chip per 40 (2.5% rounded down) with a cap of the lesser of 3BB or 5 chips (0.005BTC).
- Limit tables with a big blind of 0.5 chips (0.0005BTC) or higher have rake of 1 chip per 50 (2% rounded down) with a cap of the lesser of 2BB or 4 chips (0.004BTC).
- HU tables with a big blind of 0.5 chips (0.0005BTC) or higher have rake of 1 chip per 75 (~1.33% rounded down) with a cap of the lesser of 1BB or 3 chips (0.003BTC).
- If a game would have a rake cap of 0.5 chip (0.0005BTC) then the rake cap will be 0.5 chips (0.0005BTC).
No rake is collected on hands that do not make it to the flop.
Better yet, SWC offers direct player rakeback, meaning that players can get some of their rakeback when they play enough hands, and you don't have to get it through a third party. SWC simply gives you your rakeback at the end of the week. That's very cool.
Rakeback comes in two forms. The first is called Table Starter Rakeback, 50 percent rakeback for players willing to play two and three handed. They simply get half their rake back from short handed games at the end of the week. That's awesome.
The second is through SWC's frequent player reward system called Krill. Earn enough Krill, and you get from 2 to 50 percent of your rake back, though the highest levels are only attainable by very serious players.
In addition to rakebake, Krill levels (called Waves) come with freeroll tournaments. At the lowest level, there's a freeroll with 600 chips that runs every 4.5 days. At this point in SWC's development, these tournaments don't fill up, making these tournaments an excellent opportunity to win free chips (and therefore Bitcoins).
Here's the full schedule:
- At 1250 krill you become eligible for the 600 chip freeroll that runs every 100 hours.
- At 5000 krill you become eligible for the 1000 chip freeroll that runs every 200 hours.
- At 25000 krill you become eligible for the 2000 chip freeroll that runs every 400 hours.
- At 50000 krill you become eligible for the 3000 chip freeroll that runs every 500 hours.
- At 150000 krill you become eligible for the 5000 chip freeroll that runs every 800 hours.
There are no deposit bonuses, but with the rake so low, that's frankly OK. And remember that there aren't any other options for U.S. players to play online poker.
Currently, there are usually 400-plus players logged in during the U.S.'s day and 300 or so at night. At the lowest blind levels, there's a mixture of fish and semi-competent grinders. With the increasing popularity of Bitcoin, I expect to see more players attracted to the site.
SealsWithClubs Hold 'Em Lobby (434 players logged in)
Check out SealsWithClubs.