Introduction to Tournament Poker

Poker has without a doubt become a world-wide phenomenon. We’ve seen players like Chris Moneymaker, Phil Ivey, and other professional players become household names. This is in part thanks to televised poker tournaments. With nearly every sports channel airing some form of tournament poker, it’s only natural that people would want to download and try it out for themselves. The idea that a player can win the World Series of Poker with just a $22 satellite tournament seems next to near impossible – but it happened!

If you haven’t guessed this article is focusing on tournament poker and the various poker tournaments online including satellites, guarantees, freerolls and more. This article is geared towards new tournament players who are either just downloading their first poker site or is still learning the different structures of the games. If you’ve played your fair share of poker tournaments, you’ll likely want to check our tournament poker strategy section which offers a few articles on how to move from cash games to tournaments, some No Limit Holdem tournament strategy or our MTT strategy article.

What is a Poker Tournament?

Poker tournaments give you the ability to win huge cash prizes without the risk of having to play high limit poker games. Instead of playing in one single game, the tournament gives you the opportunity to compete with a large number of players, sometimes hundreds or thousands. With so many people registering for a single event, a $2 tournament can easily pay out a considerable prize for the top players. Tournament poker is perfect for the beginner who’s learning how to play poker and doesn’t want the risk associated with playing cash games.

Types of Online Poker Tournaments

You’ve seen the advertisements on television and probably watched at least one episode of Poker After Dark or High Stakes Poker. Tournament poker has become insanely popular and even more so than cash games. It doesn’t matter which poker site you log into, you will always find more players involved in online poker tournaments then you will ring games. The variety available is what draws in the players. Nearly every single poker game that you can play online is available in a poker tournament. Even more so the wide variety in stakes from freerolls to massive guarantees, has given players the shot at winning a huge amount of money at a very little cost. Below is a quick summary of the different types of poker tournaments you can expect to find online.

Multi-Table Poker Tournaments – Multi-table poker tournaments, otherwise referred to as MTT’s are in usually massive events with hundreds if not thousands of players competing in the same tournament. These tournaments are scheduled at fixed times throughout the day and provide you with the same opportunities as what you see on TV. MTT tournaments give you the opportunity to win huge prizes, seats to live events like the World Series of Poker or even the European Poker Tour. Typically they’re played as a re-buy or freezeout. A re-buy tournament allows you to buy additional chips when you’ve almost out or have lost yours,  whereas a freezeout means you have one chance and one chance only to compete in that event.  Both formats have their advantages and disadvantages.

Sit n Go Poker Tournaments – Sit n go’s are a favourite for a large number of tournament poker players. These types of tournaments give you the flexibility of playing tournament poker without having to commit a long period of time to playing. Standard SnG tournaments seat 6 or 9 players however poker rooms like Pokerstars, Full Tilt and PartyPoker offer multi-table SnG tournaments ranging from 18 – 180 players per event. You’ll find SnG tournaments are typically in a class of their own with turbo, heads-up, bounty tournaments, winner take all and step tournaments to name a few.

Free Poker Tournaments (Freerolls) – Freerolls are free online poker tournaments given to players who join a new poker room, a reward through the VIP player rewards program or by claiming a poker bonus. The prize pools in these events can vary from a free tournament ticket to cash prizes. These poker tournaments are absolutely free and extremely popular. Since a free poker tournament is free you can expect the registration to fill quickly, and in most cases the events are full hours before it’s scheduled to start. Free poker tournaments are available on all online poker sites, although the frequency of these events will vary from one room to the next. As a general rule, the skill level in most freerolls is in large part at the beginner level.

Tournament Poker Formats

Satellites and Qualifiers – Satellite tournaments and qualifiers are just as popular as the free poker tournaments. These tournaments give players the opportunity to win a seat into a much larger poker tournament with a significantly higher prize pool for less money than it would cost them if they bought in directly. The way a satellite tournament works is players will pay a smaller entry fee with 1st place usually receiving the ticket to a bigger event. The prize pool is consistent. This means the number of buyins will always equal the number of seats awarded.

Guarantees and Money Added Poker Tournaments – This type of poker tournament is very popular because the prize pools are guaranteed to be a certain amount. In a guaranteed tournament, the poker room guarantees that the prize pool will be at least a fixed amount regardless of whether the buyins meet the guarantee. What this means is, if the buy-ins falls short of the guarantee (called a tournament overlay), the poker room kicks in the additional funds to make sure the amount is what was offered. Overlay tournaments are definitely valuable and something players should be looking for. If a guarantee meets the buyins, any additional buyins will be added to the prize pool.

Re-Buy Poker Tournaments – In our MTT section we discussed re-buys. In a re-buy tournament, players will be able to purchase additional chips usually within the first hour. Depending on the event, some tournaments will allow multiple re-buys, while some only allow one. If you register for a re-buy you need to play close attention to the rules as they can vary from one game to the next. You’ll also notice that most re-buy events will give you the option to “Add On”. An “Add On” works the same as the re-buy except the option to purchase additional chips to “Add” to your stack will only be given during the first break.

Bounty Tournaments – A bounty tournament is a very unique and fun type of playing tournament poker. The way this game is set up is each buy-in is split with a % of the buy-in going towards the prize pool while the remainder used as a bounty. Each time you knock out a player from the tournament, the bounty will be awarded to you and immediately deposited into your account. Some poker sites split the %’s 50/50 which means you only need to knock out two players and the bounty pays for your entry fee.

Online Poker Tournament Structure

All online poker tournaments are well structured. Unlike ring games where players pay an ante each round, you only need to pay your buy-in once plus the tournament fee to enter. The games revolve around blind increments which are set at fixed intervals. For example, the standard online poker tournament is schedule to increase blinds every 10 minutes which means if the blinds start at 25/50, they will increase to 50/100 after the 10 minutes is complete. Online poker tournaments never set a cap on how high the blinds can go. This is because most poker tournaments online can take anywhere from 3 – 6 hours depending on the size of the event. Payouts are based on the number of registered players. A sit n go tournament with 6 people usually pays the top 2 players unless otherwise stated, where as a 9 player will pay the top 3. In multi-table tournaments, the payouts are based on the overall number of registered players. You can view the payouts for any tournament online by clicking the “Lobby” tab.

Benefits of Playing Tournament Poker

The biggest and most obvious benefit to tournament poker is the risk vs. reward. In cash games, a considerable amount of your bankroll is at risk and with the swings involved some players prefer not to take that risk. With online poker tournaments, the risk is significantly reduced. At the very least you’ll lose your buy-in, not your entire bankroll which is good bankroll management. You also have the ability to play from your own home 24 hours a day, seven days a week and choose the poker tournaments you want to play based on game format, buyins, and even skill level. With poker tournaments available on every poker site online, you will have no problems finding the game that fits your style.

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