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How do poker tournaments work?

May 09, 2022

Playing tournaments is currently the most common way people experience poker. I have participated in literally hundreds of thousands of tournaments and will explain to you exactly how they work.

How do poker tournaments work? Poker tournaments differ from cash games in that each player pays an entry fee and then competes for a share of the prize pool. During the event, the blinds are raised at regular intervals. A tournament is officially over when a player has all the chips and is declared the winner.

Now let's go through all the features and stages of poker tournaments from start to finish. Read What is the biggest poker tournament in the world.

How do poker tournaments really work?

How do poker tournaments really work?

In a standard poker tournament, all players pay the same entry fee and start with the same number of chips. Poker tournament chips have no monetary value.

For example, in a poker tournament with a $100 buy-in, each player receives 10,000 starting chips. Once the tournament starts, none of these chips can be exchanged for cash.

The goal of a poker tournament is to last as long as possible. You are eliminated when you lose all your chips, and the tournament continues until one player collects all the chips.

Unlike a cash game, the blinds (mandatory bets that rotate around the table) increase at regular intervals. By increasing the blinds, players are forced to make moves in a tournament or risk having their stacks shrink due to the increasing blinds.

All but one player eventually loses all of their chips in a poker tournament, and the last player standing is crowned the winner.

What is the difference between a freezeout, a rebuy and a reentry tournament?

There are two typical ways in which the entry fee for a tournament is structured:

Freezeouts: A freezeout means that each player can only buy in once. Once a player runs out of poker chips, their tournament is over. This is the most usual tournament type.

Rebuys: A rebuy means that there is a certain amount of time at the beginning of a tournament where players can buy more chips if their stack falls below a certain level or they fold. The cost of the rebuy is habitually the same as the entry fee, minus the rake.

Reentry Tournaments: A reentry tournament is the same as a rebuy, except that a player must be eliminated before they can buy back in. They also do not keep their seats. Instead, it is treated like a first buy-in and the player is re-seated at a different table. Find out Is a Casino Dealer a Good Job.

How do poker tournaments pay out?

Every tournament has a certain way of dividing the prize pool. Almost all tournament payout structures are top-heavy. In other words, the top few places usually get the lion's share of the prize pool.

What is a typical payout structure?

What is a typical payout structure?

The majority of participants in a poker tournament do not win anything. The number of players who "cash in" on a tournament varies.

Poker rooms usually pay out between 10% and 30% of the field in a multi-table tournament (MTT). In single table tournaments, 33% of the field usually wins money.

Here is a typical payout structure used by poker rooms. It shows how high the payouts are depending on the number of participants.

How to read the price structure table

In the top row you can see how many participants are attending an event. In the rows below you can see what each seat is worth depending on the number of participants.

For example, if a tournament has 22 participants, use the "19-27" column. In the column below you can see that 5 people would receive between 9% and 40% of the prize pool.

When is the final prize pool determined?

When is the final prize pool determined?

For Freezeout tournaments, the final prize pool is determined once the initial registration period ends. Sometimes entry is closed at the beginning of the initial deal, and sometimes there is a set period for players to buy into the event.

For rebuys, the final prize pool is not known until the end of the rebuy and add-on period. The final prize pool will always be much higher than at the beginning of a rebuy tournament.

How is the winner determined?

The champion of a poker tournament is determined when only one player has all the chips. In the last phase before the end, two players compete "heads-up".

What are guaranteed tournaments (GTD)?

In guaranteed tournaments, a minimum prize pool is set before the event. This means that if there are not enough buy-ins to reach the guaranteed amount, there is a so-called "overlay". An overlay means that the event basically starts as if several players have already been eliminated.

However, poker rooms know exactly how many participants will sign up for a particular tournament and therefore offer guarantees based on the usual prize pool. Therefore, overlays are rare and a guarantee is really just a gimmick to attract more players.

Nevertheless, knowing the guarantee for a particular tournament is a good tool for professional players to plan their game plan.

How are poker tournaments structured?

Most poker tournaments are played at a table with 9 or 10 seats. Only one deck is used if there is a committed dealer. If it is a home game or a poker tournament in a pub, two alternating decks are often used. Usually the player in the big blind shuffles the cards during the game. Read How play Video Poker Online Casino.

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