Poker Tournaments

If you want a shot at some glory, and want to try to cash in on the long-shot, tournament poker can certainly provide the thrills. Unlike cash game poker, tournaments define what your risk will be from the very beginning. If you need $50 to enter the tournament, you know before you’ve been dealt a card you can only lose $50, and for some people that predictability gives them a bit of comfort. Everyone starts out with the same number of chips, and it is survival from start to finish. Once you lose all of your chips, your day is done. You play until one player has it all, and that person is the tournament’s winner.
People like the potential of having a life changing payday if they get lucky enough. Others like the fact that if you lose, there is no temptation of buying back in to fend off. There is no wondering about when is a good time to quit the game. There is no decision as to when you want to start either. The tournament is scheduled to begin at a certain time. If you aren’t registered by that time, you can’t play. If you are registered and show up late, your hands will still be dealt to you and automatically folded, and you chips will be blinded off your stack until you join the party.

Payout Order

The most common payout structure awards 10% of the field. If 1,000 players are in a tournament, 100 will have won some money. In a large field like this one, there will be multiple payout brackets before each pay spot starts increasing individually. If you come in anywhere between 91st and 100th, you will all receive the same payout. Those between 90th and 81st will also earn the same amount, but obviously a little more. The payouts in tournaments are pretty top heavy. 1st prize is often at least 2 times the size of 2nd.
It is for this reason tournament poker can be pretty devastating. It is a most common occurrence for a player to walk out of there thinking they got robbed of what could have been a tremendous life changing fortune, but were forced to settle for a small pittance because of that one bad beat.


It is important to know how many chips you are all starting with, and how frequently the blinds and/or antes will increase. Blinds and antes represent the money that it is in the pot before the hand starts so the action is forced, and there is already something to go after. If you are playing a daily tournament someplace where they probably don’t expect more than 30 or 40 people, the blinds usually increase every 30 minutes. This is because as players are eliminated, the average chip count per player is also going to increase.
There are tournament series constantly going on all over the world. During particularly special tournament series, you will see the blinds increase less frequently. You may see 40 minute levels instead of 30. 60 is the standard for the famous tournament series of each year, the World Series of Poker. But in the Main Event, the blind levels last for 2 whole hours the entire tournament.
Players may also play in Turbo Tournaments. There are plenty of these available online, and are for players who either specialize in short stack play, or are just looking for a quick hit or miss. These are not so easy to find for live tournaments, but they are offered during the World Series of Poker at the Rio. The stack sizes start out relatively low, and the blinds increase very frequently. This raises the value of the luck factor in each tournament. If you are really good, and know which mistakes not to take, you still clearly build a reliable edge, but be prepared for a lot of losing.
Other tournaments may put extra focus on giving you plenty of chips, and advertise them as Deep Stack events. The more chips that are in play, the more room there is for maneuverability and misfortune. In a normal or turbo tournament, one bad break can send you to the rail or very close. It is very disheartening when one bad break ruins everything for you. In deep stack events, this is less likely to happen. It’s not that it can’t, but having more chips in play does at least lower some of the variance, as your skills are given a better shot to accumulate chips and get ahead of the field.

Re-buys and Add-ons

Tournaments were originally a 1 shot deal, but new creative ideas to keep giving them some new zest have been around for a while. People get knocked out of tournaments right in the beginning because of a bad beat, and it’s pretty deflating. Some tournaments allow rebuys for a set period, always in the beginning.
As an example, you can rebuy at any time you get knocked out during the first 4 levels of play. If say you bought in for $100 +$15 entry fee and got 5,000 chips, for another $100, you can get another 5,000 chips and go after the prize again. Only now you are in for double your original investment. Plus the blinds are likely to be higher. If the event began at 25/50 blinds you had 100 big blinds. If you rebuy with them at 75/150 plus a 25 ante, your stack is already a bit handicapped even though you reentered for the same fee.
Add-ons are when you are permitted to buy additional chips. If you think you are more of a threat with 10,000 chips than 5,000, you may want to consider raising your investment. In a lot of cases, you have to make your decision to do this before the end of the first level. This is called an Instant Add-on. A Final Add-on is when, after a certain level determined by the poker room, you can add chips to your stack one more time.


Another way tournaments like to add some spice to the competition is by placing bounties on either random players, or any celebrity tournament players that might be in the field. The tournament may only cost $250 to enter, but there could be a $500 reward for anybody that knocks you out. This separate incentive can make a huge difference in a hand. A player might be willing to gamble with a weaker hand than he normally would because he knows he has the added equity of reeling in $500 cash right on the spot if he wins. This could play in your favor big time if people donate large heaps of chips to you in an effort to try and collect the bounty.
Naturally it can completely backfire as well. You may get knocked out by somebody going after you with a hand that under ordinary circumstances they wouldn’t even consider playing. If there was no bounty on you, you’d still be in there. But since there was, this increases the likelihood of you having to gamble for all of your chips.


The variance in any form of poker is going to be very high. In tournaments, it is extremely high. If only 10% of the field goes home with money, that means 90% isn’t. And that means there’s a pretty good chance you lose in every individual tournament you play. Getting into the money 20% of the time is considered good. That means if you worked Monday to Friday from 9 to 5, and 4 out of those 5 days you came home with less than money than you went in with, you are successful. That is just if you are playing live tournaments.
Playing online, it’s even tougher. Since the average level of play online exceeds those in the live setting, it is that much harder to cash in an Internet tournament, where only 15% is considered solid. The difference online of course is the fact you can play many tournaments in a single day since you can play multiple events at the same time. When playing live, if all of the day’s events you are interested in start at the same time, whichever event you end up playing is the only shot you are going to get.
Believe it or not, there are players who will buy into multiple tournaments being played at the same time, and alternate back and forth, always leaving a stack behind to whittle away. It sounds a little crazy, but if a player determines that it is still worth the expected value to do this since they are potentially getting a chance to build up a big stack in 2 events instead of 1, he just might give it a try.


The average expectation for winning a major tournament made up of a large field is about 1%. It is not difficult to lose a 100/1 shot over and over and over. You need to have a large bankroll to support yourself with if you have any intentions of becoming a full time tournament player. 100-200 buy-ins is recommended. If you want to play $1,000+$40 that means you would prefer to have a bankroll no less than $104,000. Lots of players make the mistake of consistently risking too much money on tournaments, and before they know it, they are broke.


Most poker players are not early birds unless they’ve been playing all night. Tournaments usually start at 12:00 PM. Be prepared to be there all day. You get a 10 or 20 minute break every couple hours, then a 60-90 dinner break. When the day is done, it is often a good 11-13 hours. You bag up, ideally go get some sleep, and come back when they say come back. As far as the day to day goes for a professional, cash game poker offers a whole world of freedom that tournaments do not. You still always have the choice of which events you want to play, but once you’ve bought in, you’ve made a commitment to a schedule other than your own, and depending on the person this could the best thing for them.
Make no mistake, poker tournaments are a grueling and arduous task. You have to really be set on them mentally, as it takes a lot out of you. Grinding your way into the money is going to be like crawling through mud. Things do get interesting once you get near, and then in the money. The further you progress, the more critical each decision becomes. Having to mull over one high stress decision after another, the job this done to you mentally will probably end up crippling you if you are not properly prepared ahead of time.


The most famous tournament series that goes on each year is still the World Series of Poker (WSOP), held every summer in Las Vegas since 1970. From the end of May until the middle of July, roughly 5 dozen tournaments take place offering championship opportunities in all forms of poker. Each tournament winner receives a coveted gold bracelet. Bracelet events start typically no less than $1,000. The $10,000 No Limit Hold’em championship is the main event, and still the most prestigiously hyped up tournament. This in spite of the fact there are other tournaments in the world, and at the WSOP that are now more expensive to take a seat.
Right along with the WSOP in terms of prestige and exposure to the poker world, the World Poker Tour (WPT) started in 2002. It is a series of international events that goes on all year. The final table with the last 6 players is what gets broadcasted on television.


When you are fortunate enough to cash, you will receive a form giving you the option of what you want to tip to the staff that made this poker tournament possible. There is nothing wrong with tipping, but keep in mind the house already retains a chunk of what you posted to play to keep for itself and distribute to its staff.