Are Poker Tournaments Played With Real Money?

Our explainer on why poker tournaments are played with chips instead of cash or real money.

are poker tournaments played with real money?
Are Poker Tournaments Played With Real Money?

Thousands of chips are moved into the pot in each poker tournament. Chips are key to the game of poker. Could they really be betting 50,000 or even 500,000 dollars in each game? In this article, we talk about the usage of chips in live poker tournaments and other cardrooms.

Do poker tournaments play with real money?

Chip stacks do not represent the amount of money a player won during poker tournaments. Instead, chips represent a player's standing among other participants. Winning more chips allow players to advance in a tournament ranking while losing chips present a risk of finishing within a low rank.

Money is still a part of poker tournaments where participants need to cover the buy-in fee. The organizers of the casino or cardroom determine buy-ins where the smallest average fees range from $200 to $300. Major tournaments such as the main event of the WSOP commands a buy-in of $10,000, which is why a free entry is the first prize among WSOP associated satellite games.

Each poker tournament with real money at stake has a prize pool, which is equal to the total buy-ins of every participant minus the rake. Only the top ranking participants can win a share of the cash prize.

Players who rank the highest gets most of the prize pool while others only take a small portion, which is slightly higher than the buy-in fee. Chips can still translate to real money as long as you can make it grow throughout the tournament by making decisive betting strategies based on probability calculations.

Why do poker tournaments play using chips rather than real money?

Poker tournaments use chips instead of real money as chips make for a safer environment, as well as much faster counting.


Security is the primary reason for using chips in poker tournaments. Horrific scenarios such as a tilting player grabbing all the cash within the pot and bolting out of the casino can happen. Casinos and cardrooms utilize chips to discourage any brazen tournament participants from running with the money since they are required to cash-in their stack in cages.


Other scenarios poker chips prevent are players going north where they increase their chip stock with their own money. Cheaters can take advantage of this by placing intimidating bets on their opponents. Players can also rise in the tournament ranking and easily reach a position that gives most of the prize pool by adding their own money to their chip stack.

Fast Betting

The third reason to use chips in a tournament is for fast betting and counting. Common players would take three to four times the time it takes to count a player's bet from a money or bill pile and send it to the pot just to call someone's raise.

Poker chips are colored according to their denomination, making it easy for a player to identify how much everyone places in the pot from across the table. Players can also quickly assess their total stack or their poker tournament standing because of the poker chips.

rfid poker chips
RFID casino chips are becoming the norm in large live events.

What about cash games?

Chips in cash games represent a player's bankroll or real money since it does not have a prize pool or ranking system. Why does it still require the use of chips instead of real money?

Preventing counterfeit chips is one reason why you still use chips on cash games. Each casino chip contains a unique serial number while higher denomination chips also contain RFID technology. Casinos will still allow players to walk home with their chips. Missing high denomination chips will have its RFID deregistered from the casino, encouraging cash game players to convert their chip stacks before leaving.

Betting habit is another advantage casinos use chips instead of cash. Imagine playing a $100/$200 poker cash game. Are you willing to call an all-in raise with ten $100 bills? Patrons are likely to hesitate to call that bet since they are risking a large chunk of their bankroll. However, bettors are willing to part with $1,000 or two $500 chips. In a player's subconscious, they see the chips as something to play with and not money that covers a month's rent or groceries.

RFID-tagged casino chips are also useful as analytical tools by providing managers useful data on what is happening in their cardrooms. Managers can see dealers who have been making mistakes in specific card games with RFID chips. Chips can also show how many players frequent certain poker cash games.

While chips do not represent a player's bankroll, they are used to determine rankings in a poker tournament. Chips also embed security measures making them a useful tool in casinos and card rooms.

This article was published on December 6, 2020, and last updated on December 10, 2020.