Official poker tournaments offer something that home poker tournaments can never provide; experience. And an exponential increase in the prize money compared to what you bought in (depending on your ranking).
It can be tough for a beginner to understand all the types of poker tournaments, that's why I've detailed all you need to know about the different kinds of poker tournaments, and how these tournaments work.
Key Differences Between Poker Tournaments
There's a variety of tournament types in poker, but what are the differences between them all? Tournaments vary by changes in in-game mechanics. There are events that don't have buy-ins, and there are tournaments that increase the blinds faster. Here I'll define the key differences between the types of poker tournaments.
A buy-in is your entry fee. It's the minimum amount of chips you need to be able to participate in any tournament. Although in freerolls, you don't have to pay the entrance fee.
Poker tournament buy-ins range from micro to high stakes, with inexperienced players and beginners occupying most micro stakes tournaments, and experience players and professionals occupying the high stakes tournament. All poker tournament payout structure usually indicates that the higher the stakes, the higher the risk.
Casinos also offer re-buy and re-entry tournaments, in which players are allowed to re-enter the tournament if they lose all their chips.
You can exit a tournament anytime you want. But remember that you might lose your money and waste your initial efforts.
On the other hand, there are tournaments in which players actively try to eliminate you. These are knockout tournaments. Here, players play their hands loosely, often playing cards you fold in regular tourneys, this is because knocking out a player is more rewarding than playing tight.
When a player is eliminated from the tournament, they can re-buy into the event by paying the buy-in cost. Although this depends on the tournament type. Re-buy and unlimited rebuy tournaments offer unlimited buy-backs in the early stages of the event as a means of getting a larger prize pool. Re-entries in poker tournaments tend to allow for a very aggressive start of the competition as players tend to bet with weak hands to grab big pots by surprise.
Re-entry tournaments, on the other hand, differ by giving the player the chance to re-enter the tournament even on its second leg. For example, if a player is eliminated on day 1 of the tournament, they can enter the event on day 2. Although this is limited to the amount of time given by the organizers.
In turbo, super-turbo/ hyper turbo poker tournaments, the speed at which the blinds increase is faster. Strategies differ in these events, with most players playing loosely compared to playing in regular tournaments. This happens because the blinds increase every few minutes, and most players are forced to go all-in to survive.
The prize is - of course - what you will win. Although it varies based on the tournament type. Satellite poker tournaments offer tickets to invitationals, while there are tournaments that feature a winner take all format. Guarantee tournaments offer a guaranteed cash prize, which creates a better turnout for their events.
Aside from these, casinos also offer tickets to other events as a prize. For example, the WCOOP gave winners a ticket to a UFC bout in 2019.
A "stack" is the number of your chips. Having a "deep stack" means you're most likely the chip leader on the table. Although there are tournaments that start with all players having deep stacks. (e.g. Deep-stack tournaments)
Depending on the tournament, the blinds increase at a specified amount of time. For example, in turbo/hyper turbo the blinds increase much faster, which calls for a different strategy to win. The table count also varies, some tournaments only have less than 10 players, and there are also MTTs (Multi-table tournaments) that have more than a thousand players.
Types of Poker Tournaments
The majority of poker tournaments nowadays use Texas Hold'em as the main variation of poker for their tournaments. Because it is the most famous poker variation, most casinos and online poker sites use Texas Hold'em as the go-to for main events. Thus, it's the most common poker tournament overall and generally the one you see on television, or YouTube.
Depending on the tournament, there will be variations to how Texas Hold'em is played. For example, some tournaments feature unlimited re-buys early on in the event - contrary to famous tournaments such as the main event of WSOP - and there are also events with special rules such as eliminations in knockout tournaments and speeding up the blind increase in turbo and super turbo.
Below, I'll be discussing the different types of poker tournaments and what differentiates them from each other.
A freeroll tournament is a tournament in which you're not required an entry fee. In a freeroll tournament, you're playing for free for a real prize pool (albeit small most of the time). To give you an example, most invitational tournaments are freerolls. (e.g. The Professional Poker Tour)
The term came from the fact that in the early 1950s to 1960s casinos gave their patrons a free roll of nickels to play at their slot machines, done as a means of enticing customers to play. Casinos offer this to usual players and valued guests. Freeroll tournaments aren't limited to poker, and casinos often offer other table games in their tourneys. Freeroll tournaments are win-or-lose. The best thing about freeroll tournaments is that you're playing for free, and you're guaranteed an amount if you win the game. The only bad thing about it is that you won't get anything if you lose.
Freezeout tournaments are the most popular poker tournament type. In this format, players enter the game with a fixed buy-in amount. If you lose all of your chips, you're eliminated from the tournament. A good example of a freezeout tournament is the main event of the World Series of Poker.
Freezeout tournaments can happen even with just two players on a table, but it can also be a huge multi-table event with tens and thousands of participants. There are freezeout tournaments that allow their players to re-buy chips when they lose their stack early on in the event. Freezeout tournaments that allow re-buys early on will have a larger prize pool, mostly because of eliminated players re-entering with another stack before the start of the freezeout. A disadvantage of this format is that unless it's a guaranteed tournament, the number of players will define the prize pool. With tournaments having re-buys early on taking additional time to finish.
Re-buy tournaments have the same rules and format as freezeout tournaments, the only difference is that players are allowed to re-enter the tournament early on if they are eliminated. The re-entry/re-buy period occurs during the first levels of the tournament. Various online poker sites and casinos offer this type of tournament.
The biggest difference between re-buy and re-entry events from freezeout tournaments is a bigger pot size, brought about by players re-buying before the end of the first period.
Unlimited rebuy tournaments offer you the chance to have unlimited buy-ins even until later parts of the event (Although it becomes a freezeout towards the end of the event). It is similar to re-buy tournaments and freezeouts, and the only difference is the number of re-buys and re-entries possible in the early stages of the tournament.
In this format, players constantly reload their chips whenever they lose their stack or lose a good amount of their starting chips. Players in this tournament play more loosely to accumulate a deep stack before the re-buy period ends. A bigger stack doesn't necessarily guarantee you the win, although it gives you a good advantage.
Turbo & Super Turbo
Turbo and Super Turbo tournaments use the same rules and format as the other types of poker tournaments, the only difference is the speed at which the blinds are increased. Various online poker sites as well as casinos offer this type of tournament.
In these types of tournaments, blind levels generally last for around 4 to 6 minutes, while the blind levels in super turbo variants last around 3 minutes or less. Turbo and super turbo tournaments end faster than the other tournament type, and getting to the final table takes only a few hours. The playstyle in these types is more aggressive, as more and more players get short-stacked quickly in the game. If you're looking to play a quick and engaging game of poker, turbo and super turbo are great choices.
Casinos guarantee prize money on their poker tournaments as this increases the turnout rates of poker tournaments. For example, if a casino guarantees a $200,000 cash prize, they will pay the guaranteed amount even if player turnouts are low.
Guaranteed tournaments don't have specific rules that change the gameplay of poker. Instead, this is purely to gain a better turnout for their events.
Satellite poker tournaments are qualifying events for larger tourneys. The majority of satellite tournaments are online-based, with most in-person satellite tournaments being qualifiers for high-stakes poker tournaments. Online casinos such a PokerStars have several tiers for their qualifiers, in which the entry fees are successively higher at each level.
Depending on your bankroll, satellite tournaments are worth it; especially for those playing at micro to low stakes brackets. You can win tickets to bigger tournaments and main events by investing only around $20 or less. Although for those with higher bankrolls, investing two to three hours of time and effort in satellite tournaments won't be as fruitful.
A knockout tournament is a special type of MTT (Multi-Table Tournament). It's a single-elimination poker tournament in which losers of a match-up are eliminated right away. The prize money is also split, with one-half distributed to players that knockout their opponents. Knockout tournaments are offered throughout various online casinos, with varying formats such as turbo, super/hyper turbo, knockout tournaments.
In knockout tournaments, it's not required to finish the game to increase your bankroll as each player you eliminate earns you a cash prize. Here, you can choose a specific game type, choose your buy-in, and set your game speed. There are two variations of knockout tournaments:
The original knockout format. A regular knockout tournament is a type of poker tournament that gives a reward of 20% to a player that eliminates a different player in their table. Although this depends on the tournament. Players shifted to progressive knockout or bounty knockout.
Progressive Knockout (Bounty Builders)
A progressive knockout tournament is a variation of a bounty tournament. Here, players also receive a cash prize for eliminating an opponent, but the difference is that if they knock out a player, half of that player's bounty will be placed on their own head. For example, if a player has a $50 bounty and you knock them out, you gain $25 for yourself and $25 as a bounty on your head.
In PKO tournaments, the game starts with half of your buy-in as your initial bounty, and half goes to the prize pool. Strategies with progressive knockout tournaments differ from those used in regular tournaments, this is because a lot of players play cards that aren't normally played in regular games - because eliminating a player with a high bounty is more rewarding than folding. Winning the tournament means you win the prize pool, the bounties you earned, and your own bounty.
A heads-up tournament features a one-on-one between two players at a table, with the small blinds and big blinds assigned to each player. The players on the table face each other until a winner is decided. Each of the winners progresses throughout the event until there is only one winner.
Since this tournament pits two players against each other, the overall number of participants must be even. Tournament rules apply in this type of poker tournament.
Sit & Go
Sit & Go poker tournaments are quick. These tournaments take no more than an hour and feature no more than 10 players. It's a single round elimination, and anyone who loses all of their chips are eliminated from the tournament. These tournaments are offered daily on online casinos
There are two sit & go variations. The 9-handed and the 6-handed sit and go tournaments refer to the number of players in the table.
A steps tournament is a satellite of sit & go tournaments made with tier systems, that move winners from smaller satellites to bigger ones. The players who win the first event progress on to the next, while the ones placing third and fourth, and so forth receive tickets for the same step or lower. The winners of the last tournament in the event receive invitations into more prestigious tournaments and series, one of which is the main event of the WSOP.
In deep stacks tournaments, you start with a huge number of chips with small blinds compared to your stack. For example, a player can start with 20,000 chips with blinds of 25/50.
A great number of good players favor deep stacks tournaments because they are given the freedom of having a larger stack and creating more plays. There is also less risk. For example, in turbo, all-ins and eliminations are more frequent due to the increase in blinds every few minutes. Often forcing the players to go all-in with a hand that they don't play. Deep stack tournaments feature more regular players than casual ones. If you're looking for a better quality of play compared to turbo/hyper turbo, deep stacks tourneys are a good choice.
Similar to knockout tournaments, a shootout tournament is an event in which a player has to eliminate the whole table to move on to the next round (contrary to most tourney formats where they combine tables to maintain an equal level play). These tournaments also reward players with tickets to larger tournaments. Although in these tournaments, the tables aren't balanced, and there must only be one player in each table.
A double, triple shootout, etc... refers to the number of succeeding wins you need to advance to the next event.
Most Important Poker Tournaments in the World
Frequented by the best poker players in the world, these poker tournaments are the benchmark of a great poker player. With main events reaching over $80 million in prizes.
Getting invited into these tournaments isn't easy. Yet, it's possible for anyone to enter and be invited into these tournaments; especially if you have the bankroll and the right poker strategies and mindset to win.
World Series of Poker (WSOP)
The WSOP is an annual poker tournament circuit held in Nevada, Las Vegas. Since 2004, the event has been sponsored by Ceasars entertainment. The World Series of Poker features over 100 events and includes most poker variations in their tournaments, Recently, the majority of the events are alternative forms of Texas Hold'em poker.
The World Series of Poker is the most prestigious poker tournament, with an invitation-only main event. The winner of the event is crowned the unofficial "World Champion."
The winners of each event in the circuit receive a cash prize that depends on the number of participants, and the number of buy-ins received.
World Poker Tour (WPT)
The World Poker Tour is an entertainment brand that features one of the most televised international poker tournaments. The most famous of which is the WPT main tour, with buy-ins ranging from $3,500 to $25,000. The winners of the event are given memberships to their WPT Champions Club.
The WPT circuit ends with a $25,000 buy-in main event (although the buy-in has dropped to $15,000 as of 2014). And has received a name change from the "WPT World Championship" to "WPT Tournament of Champions." The tournament is exclusive to winners of former World Poker Tour events, with the main prize lower than $500,000.
Professional Poker Tour
A reproduction of the World Poker Tour that featured invitation-only freerolls for certain players who've established themselves in other tournaments. The series was canceled after one season on the air.
European Poker Tour (EPT)
The European Poker Tour is closely similar to the World Poker Tour. The series of poker tournaments began in 2004 and is a big part of the reason why Texas Hold'em is as popular as it is today. A key difference compared to what was popularized by WPT is their 8-player final table, contrary to WPT's 6-player final table. The series is owned and managed by PokerStars (A famous online poker cardroom.)
World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP)
The WCOOP tournament, run by PokerStars, was made to be the online equivalent of the World Series of Poker. It's currently the biggest name in online poker tournaments, with a prize pool reaching over $100 million in 2019.
The tournament series uses different variants of poker, although the main event is a No-Limit Hold'em.
Spring Championship of Online Poker (SCOOP)
Similar to the World Championship of Online Poker, the tournament series is also run by PokerStars. Although the difference is that in SCOOP, there are three different stakes: Low stakes, Medium stakes (10x the low stakes), and High stakes (100 times the low stakes).
SCOOP offers over $135 million guaranteed in their tournament series. The event is also PokerStars' largest MTT tournament. You can get tickets to the event by playing Spin & Go tournaments at PokerStars which awards SCOOP and main event tickets as prizes.
Poker Tournaments - FAQ
How do poker tournaments work?
In a tournament, the overall winner or the one with the most chips wins the event, with awards given to those who are among the top participants and those who were eliminated last.
In some tournaments, tens of thousands of people compete against each other by playing poker. In other smaller tournaments, only a handful of players compete.
What are guaranteed tournaments in poker?
Guaranteed tournaments are events that feature a guaranteed cash prize, regardless of how successful the event is. Casinos offer this as a means of increasing player turnout.
What is a satellite in poker?
A satellite tournament is a qualifying event for bigger poker tournaments with higher stakes. Winners of satellite tournaments are given tickets to bigger tournaments.
How to play in a turbo poker tournament?
In a turbo poker tour, the blinds increase much faster, with most players preferring to go all-in instead of bleeding their chips. Antes also come into play at an early stage in the tournament pushing players to be more aggressive with their starting hands.
What are the most common types of tournaments in online poker?
The most common types of online poker tournaments are freezeouts and freerolls. With freezeouts being the main event of poker series' and freerolls
What types of tournaments take place in real casinos?
All types of tournaments can take place in real casinos as well as in online poker rooms.
What is a freeroll in poker?
Freerolls are tournaments that don't have an entrance fee. Frequent players of casinos are often invited into freeroll tournaments.
What is the best poker strategy to adopt in a tournament?
The best poker strategy solely depends on the tournament type and the player's mindset and risk tolerance level. You can't play the same strategy in a deep stack game or a super turbo.
How much money do poker tournaments payout?
A typical tournament awards between 60% to 70% of the cash prize pool to the top 5% of players. The remaining 30% to 40% is spread across the top 10% and 20%.
Some tournaments tend to favor many winners while others prefer fewer winners but with larger cash prizes. For example, the WSOP Main Event has had prize pools of over $50 million for years.
How long do poker tournaments last on average?
A tournament duration depends on the number of participants in the tournament. For example, an online tournament with more than a thousand participants takes around 9 hours to finish, while live events reach over a day to finish. The largest competitions in the world, such as the WSOP last several days.
What is an MTT in poker?
In poker, MTT stands for a multi-table tournament. A type of tournament that spans across multiple tables as opposed to single-table tournaments and sit & go. It is important to note that MTT is different from multi-tabling poker since the latter is about playing more than 1 game at the same time.
Every one of these poker tournament structures has specific gameplay rules and constraints. With millions of poker players worldwide, there is a public for any of these poker tournament types. Some people prefer heads-up whilst others enjoy quick online Sit & Go games. Each of these structures will require flexibility from the player's point of view in terms of strategy and this is what makes poker tournaments incredibly entertaining.