Online poker tournaments give you the chance to make a huge return from a low buy-in, and with the amount of competition amongst poker sites, tournament guarantees are getting higher and higher.
In this article, we'll be giving you our best tips in making money playing online poker tournaments.
Online Poker Tournament Refresher
For those who're just getting into poker, an online poker tournament is an event where players pay a buy-in for a chance to compete for a collected prize pool. Each player is given a set amount of chips and the blinds start at a low amount. After set intervals, the blind levels increase and antes are introduced.
As players are eliminated, tables are balanced to make sure there is an even number of players on each table. Once enough players have been eliminated, usually around 85-90%, the remaining players are "in the money" and are guaranteed a return even if they are knocked out.
The tournament continues until there is only one table of players remaining - this is called the final table. As the biggest prizes are given out at the final table, the players have an option to make a deal with each other about how the remaining prize pool is distributed but the decision has to be unanimous.
If no deal is made the tournament is played until one player has all of the chips in play. This player is declared the winner and wins the top prize.
A sit-and-go tournament works in the same way as a regular tournament but it has a set number of players and will start once the number of players has registered to the tournament. Sit-and-go is often comprised of a single table of players, but some online poker tournament sites offer sit-and-go for up to 180 players.
A multi-table tournament is what most people think of when they think of an online poker tournament. There are no limits to the number of players that can register and the players are playing for cash prizes. The play takes place over multiple tables until they get down to the final few players.
A satellite tournament is similar in structure to a regular tournament but the difference lies in the prize pool. In a satellite tournament, you're playing for an entry or a 'ticket' to a larger buy-in tournament. This is a way for players to play in big tournaments, even if they don't have the bankroll for it.
A re-buy tournament is akin to a normal tournament but in the first couple of hours of play, if a player is eliminated they can buy back in. Once the re-buy period has been completed, the tournament plays out in the same way where players are eliminated until they reach a winner.
Ways to Win Online Poker Tournament Prize Pools
The way you make money in online poker tournaments is by outlasting your opponents and being in the last 10-15% of players for MTTs, or 25-30% for SNGs. Here are some tips to help you do that in your next tournament:
Study Your Opponents
The great thing about online poker tournaments is that you can see the screen name of every player at your table and every player in the tournament. This allows you to search on poker tracking sites such as Sharkscope and get an idea of what their poker ability is.
Some sites such as Run It Once Poker and GG Poker have a built-in HUD that gives you basic information on how your opponent has been playing. It's important to use this information if you have it available as knowing whether your opponent is tight/passive/a reg/a fish could make the difference in how you play a hand.
Value Bet Your Hands
This is important in every form of poker, you can't rely on players to bet your hands for you. Unless you have a strong read that they're overly aggressive, you'll make much more money by betting your strong hands for value rather than checking for deception.
In an online poker tournament, chip accumulation is vitally important to your survival and progression throughout the tournament. If you're missing value bets you're not accumulating as many chips as you should be and you'll feel the consequences of that as you get deeper into the tournament.
Play a Tight Early Game
In the early stages of tournaments, the blinds are often a tiny fraction of your stack and pots are small with no antes in play. Some players will go crazy in the early stages, playing loads of hands with the reasoning that "it's so cheap to call!".
This kind of thinking will soon deplete your chip stack and will quickly put you into a shove/fold situation. In the early stages of a tournament, you should be playing tight and taking advantage of the loose players. Whilst chip accumulation is important, chip preservation is just as important and chips saved can be as valuable as chips earned.
Loosen Your Late Game
As you get deeper into the tournament, the blinds become a bigger proportion of your chip stack and antes are introduced. This makes each orbit more and more expensive so winning chips to cover these costs is vital.
You should be widening your range, especially in late position, to try and steal the blinds and antes as you get deeper into the tournament. Just winning the blinds and antes in the late game can make a big difference to your chip stack and could help you make an extra pay jump or two!
Be Familiar with Positions
Positional awareness is something every good poker player has. It's the knowledge that players' ranges will change depending on their relative position at the table. This goes for both calling and raising - a UTG+1's calling range will look very different to a BB's calling range for example!
Not only should you be positionally aware at the table, but you should also be aware of your position in the tournament. Knowing if you're close to the bubble or close to a money jump should have an impact on how you play. If you're short-stacked you may make a slightly tighter decision to try and make sure you get that $ and if you're one of the big stacks you can use these money jumps to steal chips from players who are trying to survive.
Don't Only Bluff When Qualified for the Prize Pool
Some players think that until you get into the money you should be playing as tight as possible and only bet your good hands. This is not the case as good poker requires you to bluff as well as a value bet. If people know you only bet with a good hand, they'll stop calling your bets and you won't win many chips.
This doesn't mean you should go crazy trying to bluff every spot, good poker is about timing and picking the right spots and the right hands to bluff is what separates the good players from the bad players.
Play Defensively During the Mid-Point
The mid-point of a tournament is a tricky one to navigate as you can't win the tournament at this stage but you can certainly lose it. Online poker tournament requires a lot of discipline as one misplayed hand can throw away hours of hard work.
When you're in the middle stages of the tournament make sure you're not just playing a hand because you haven't played for a while, or taking unnecessary gambles. Have a reason for each decision you make and stay disciplined.
Be Aggressive During the Bubble Phase
The bubble is an interesting time in a tournament and requires a different strategy depending on your chip stack. If you're one of the chip leaders the bubble is a great opportunity to steal chips from players who are just trying to make the money. The bigger the bubble, the more pressure you can apply to shorter stacks.
However, if you're one of the shorter stacks your priority should be to get into the money. This means playing on the tighter side and accepting the fact that the bigger stacks will be able to bully you. It's a necessary sacrifice to improve your overall win rate.
C-Bet Good Situations Only
Managing your chip stack is very important in online poker tournaments and chip preservation is just as important as chip accumulation. Therefore we don't want to be wasting chips by c-betting in bad situations. These bad situations would be:
- If we have no made hand/draw and little/no fold equity
- In a multiway pot with 3+ callers when we have a low equity hand
- Against a player we've identified as a calling station when we have a low equity hand
Instead, we should stick to good spots such as when we have a range/nut advantage or we can use money jumps to pressure our opponents into folding.
Guide to Long-Term Earnings When Playing Online Poker Tournaments
Now that we know how we should play once we've entered a tournament, what can we do to profit over the long term?
Establish a Career Bankroll
Having a proper bankroll is essential if you want to make money long-term. Poker tournaments are notorious for their variance so if you aren't properly bankrolled one downswing could wipe you out.
You should have at least 100 buy-ins for your average tournament buy-in amount, though if you're looking to play as a career you should have at least 200 and maybe even a 300. When it's your career you can't afford to go broke so conservative bankroll management is the key to making it in the long term.
Invest Time and Money in Studying
Poker theory is always evolving, if you look at the standard of play between now and 10 years ago they're light-years apart! If you're not constantly improving as a player then any edge you may have had will be shrinking until it no longer exists.
Investing money into technologies such as solvers or training sites such as Run It Once or Raise Your Edge gives you the resources to improve as a poker player. After that, it's about investing your time and energy into absorbing the information and using it when you play.
Be Familiar with Other Poker Variants
Online poker tournaments aren't exclusively No-Limit Hold'em. There are a variety of poker variants used for tournament poker and some of these have large guarantees similar to some Hold'em tournaments.
Online tournament series such as SCOOP and WCOOP have a wide range of mixed game tournaments with huge guarantees. The large guarantees and the chance to win a prestigious title attract a lot of players that are unfamiliar with the variant, so if you have the experience you have a much better chance of doing well.
Set a Realistic Goal
A great way to succeed at anything in life is to set realistic, attainable, but challenging goals for yourself. If you set your goals too high you may become disillusioned when you don't make them, and if they're too easy then you won't feel any accomplishment for having achieved them.
Players will start playing tournaments and set a goal like "I'm gonna win a tournament every day!", or "I'm going to make $10K every week", which are impossible goals for anyone to hit. Instead, you should try and make goals about something you can control, like how many hours you play, or how well you play in a session.
Be at Your Best Condition
Poker is a game that requires intense thought and is hard to play well, even at the best of times! Playing whilst tired, sick, hungover, etc. puts you at an unnecessary disadvantage and should be avoided - this isn't a job where you can half-ass it.
Being well-rested, alert, and free of obligations will put you in the right frame of mind to play. Tournament poker can take a long time if you make a deep run so it's important that if you decide to play a tournament that you have the time to play all the way through - you'll leave a lot of money on the table if you have to sit-out and lose your stack deep in a tournament.
Online Poker Tournaments: FAQ
We've collected and answered the most common questions about how to make money playing online poker tournaments:
How can I make money from playing online poker tournaments?
You can make money from playing online poker tournaments by playing good poker and consistently finishing in the top 5-10% of the field. Winning players will often have a cash rate of around 20% and the amount that they win in that 20% exceeds the buy-ins for the 80% of the time they don't cash.
What are the top prizes of satellite poker tournaments?
In satellite tournaments, the top prize is an entry or a 'ticket' to a larger poker tournament. These satellite tournaments allow players with small bankrolls the chance to have a shot in a larger tournament, without having to shell out for the full buy-in.
What are STT and MTT among online cardrooms?
An STT is a single-table tournament and is another term for a sit-and-go. These are tournaments that have a very limited number of players and are only played over one table. An MTT is a multi-table tournament and is a poker tournament where the number of players can exceed that of one table.
What is the bubble phase of a poker tournament?
The bubble phase of a tournament is the phase just before players enter the money. When there are a handful of people left to go it is called the soft bubble, and when there is only one player left to be eliminated before everyone else makes the money it is called the hard bubble. Once that player has been eliminated the bubble has been 'burst' and all remaining players are in the money.
Are poker tournaments better than cash games in terms of earnings?
Poker tournaments offer the chance to make a large return from a small buy-in. Some tournaments offer 1000x your original buy-in if you win. No matter how good your cash session is it's hard to win 1000 buy-ins! However, tournament variance is a lot more extreme, and whilst your winning days will be bigger than cash games, so will your losing ones.
Online poker tournaments are a really interesting form of poker, and one lucky score could be life-changing. Using the tips in this article, you may have a better chance at hitting that life-changing win!
This article was published on November 15, 2021, and last updated on October 26, 2022.