Poker Rules

Poker Tournament FAQs

What is a Poker Tournament?

A poker tournament is a poker competition where entrants pay a set buy-in to enter. For their buy-in, they receive a set amount of chips. Unless the tournament is designated as a ‘re-buy’ tournament, when a player loses all of their chips, they are eliminated from the tournament. The tournament will have a prize pool which is normally determined by the number of players registered and the accumulative buy-ins. This prize pool is portioned out to the players according to what place they finish (or are eliminated) in the tournament. Tournaments having the largest prize pools usually also have the highest buy-ins.

What happens if I lose all my chips?


When a player loses all of their chips they are eliminated or ‘Bust Out’ of the tournament. When playing online, players who bust out are automatically removed from the tournament table but are still able to watch the game if they choose.

Why am I always moved to different tables in a tournament?


As players are eliminated, the tournaments need to keep all remaining tables as balanced and even as possible. The way to accomplish this is to move players to other tables, keeping the same number of players at each table.

How is money distributed?

Prize pools are distributed according to the standard pay-out structure of the poker site hosting the tournament.  Generally, however, the more players that are signed up for a tournament, the more positions will be paid. There are also tournaments where the winner-takes-all; where the last player remaining would win all of the prize pool. Here are a few examples of standard pay out structures for Multi-Table tournaments with 1,000 entrants:

•    Poker Stars - 18.25% for first place graduating down to 0.17% for 144th place.
•    Full Tilt Poker - 19.11% for first to 0.13% for 153rd.
•    Titan Poker - 22% for first to 0.15% for 150th place.
•    Party Poker - 23.5% for first down to 0.2% for 100th place.
•    Absolute Poker - 23% for first place down to 0.1% for 135th place.

Before signing up for a tournament, always check the details of the tournament, available in the tournament lobby, for prize pool amounts and pay out structures.

How is tournament play different from cash game play?

Aside from the set buy-in, in a poker tournament the blinds and in many cases antes, increase at a steady rate determined in a set time structure (determined by the type of tournament). This means players do not have the time to always sit and wait for a good hand or they will lose all their chips paying the blinds and antes. Therefore the strategy for playing in tournaments, especially at the higher blind levels, is completely different from cash game play. To learn more about playing in tournaments, PokerWorks offers excellent strategy tips for tournament players.

What is the best way to learn to play tournaments without it costing me a lot of money?

One word - FreeRolls! Every online poker site offers Freerolls which are tournaments that are 100% free to enter. Prizes can range from cash to seats in another tournament that has a cash prize pool or even a seat to a big tournament event. FreeRolls are the very best way to get the feel of tournament poker without investing any money. Not only that, while the buy-in may be free, you can still win cash. For a listing of FreeRolls, check-out PokerWorks FreeRoll Tournament page:

What does an entry fee mean and why do I have to pay it?

A poker site makes money from tournaments by charging a tournament entry fee which is separate from the buy-in. This is the administrative fee the poker site charges to cover the cost of hosting the tournament. When a tournament is listed with $5 + $0.50 buy-in, five dollars is the buy-in which goes to the prize pool and fifty-cents is the tournament fee which goes to the poker site.

How do I play in a big tournament if I can’t afford the buy-in?

Big prize pool tournaments are accompanied by big buy-ins which put many of them out of reach for many players with small bankrolls. To make sure that all players have the opportunity to play in all tournaments, online poker sites host satellite qualifier events. These events can start with FreeRolls, or very small buy-ins of a dollar or less, where players can win their seat to the big tournament, without having to pay a big buy-in.

I don’t like No-Limit, are all tournaments No-Limit Texas Hold’em?

No, they aren’t although it may seem like they are.

Most big tournaments such as monthly Million Dollar events and series main Events are No-Limit Texas Hold’em. Several tournaments are usually offered in both limit and no-limit stakes and all poker rooms that host poker tournaments host them in the same variety of games as they offer in cash games. However, most of these varieties are not guaranteed big events, but regularly scheduled tournaments. Check the tournament schedule on your favorite poker site and you will find a multitude of game choices, from Stud and Omaha to mixed games.

What does GP mean?

Guaranteed Prize pool. This is a tournament that guarantees the prize pool will be a certain amount, regardless of how many players enter. If there are more entrants than necessary to meet the guaranteed prize pool amount, then the prize pool will be even bigger than what the guarantee is set at. You may find a guaranteed prize pool tournament with just a few hundred players which is very good for the players, they are still playing for a guaranteed amount but have less competition; this creates a very lucrative overlay for the player.

How many players can enter a tournament?

That depends on the tournament and how the hosting poker site has set it up. Most tournaments have a maximum amount of players who can register. This number can be as low as 9 for a Sit’n Go, up to 30,000 for a big Multi-Table guaranteed event, or even higher. When registering for a tournament, the maximum number of entrants will be listed in the details.

What are the different formats of tournaments?

Tournaments are as varied as the players who play them. Here are the most common varieties, formats and structures of tournaments:

•    Multi-Table or MTTs: These are tournaments having several tables and a set start time. MTTs are the most common formats used for big tournament events allowing thousands of players to enter.

•    Sit and Go Tournaments: Sit n’ Go (SNG) tournaments can vary between 1 table of 9 players all the way up to 20 tables with 180 players. SNGs have no scheduled start time; the tournament begins when the required number of players have registered; if a player registers and isn’t present when the tournament starts, their chips are blinded/anted off. SNGs are extremely popular with players who don’t have hours of free time to play in a tournament.

•    Freezeout Tournaments: Freezeout tournaments are the ‘Standard’ tournament structure. They start at a fixed time and have a specific starting chip stack; once those chips are lost a player is eliminated from the tournament.

•    FreeRolls: These tournaments are totally free to enter, with no buy-in or tournament fee required.

•    Re-buy Add-on (R/A) Tournaments: These online poker tournaments have a ‘re-buy period’ which is usually during the first hour of play. During this time, players have the option to buy more chips for an additional fee, when they lose their starting stack or get below a certain amount. Re-buy tournaments also usually have an add-on option at the end of the re-buy period where players can add a final amount to their chip stacks. All options are elective, so players can opt to pay only the entry fee, buy the ‘add-on’ amount of chips, make re-buys, or any combination of the options.

•    Turbo Tournaments: Turbo tournaments have extra fast blind levels, ensuring that play is looser as players desperately try to keep from busting out from the ever increasing blinds. Since the blinds increase so fast, the Turbo events don’t last as long as normal MTT tournaments do.

•    Double Stack Tournaments: These tournaments give the players a bigger starting stack of chips and usually have slower blind levels, giving players more ‘play time.’ Double Stack tournaments are very popular with players who enjoy playing a long time and want to see a lot of flops.

•    Satellite or Qualifier Tournaments: These tournaments are available in many formats but they all have one thing in common; they all award entries into big buy in tournaments as prizes. These tournaments are hugely popular with players who want to get a seat in a big buy-in event by investing a small amount of money.

•    Steps Satellites; These are Satellites in which the player has to win several in a series of “Steps” in order to win the grand prize – a seat to a major event. For example; to win a seat in the World Series of Poker (WSOP), a Steps satellite was offered for just 10 cents but the player had to win 10 Step satellites to win their WSOP Main Event seat. Most poker rooms, both on-line and land based, offer Steps Satellites or Satellite Qualifiers to all major events. The buy-ins and amount of Steps required to win the first place prize varies from poker room to poker room.

•    Super Satellites: These are Satellite events that award a seat to a target event. The buy-ins are normally bigger than regular satellites to cover the cost of the seat being awarded.  An example is a Super Satellite to the WSOP Main Event may be a tournament with a $500 buy-in. The Super Satellite awards as many seats as possible from the prize pool and one seat is awarded for each $10,000 in the pool.