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How Do Professional Poker Tournaments Work?

The good news is that the basics are actually fairly simple. You’ll register with the casino/organization or individual who is running the tournament, pay your entry fee, and get assigned a table and seat number. You will start the tournament with the same number of chips as every other player in the tournament and you’ll play poker until your chips are all gone or you have all the chips.

That was a good question to ask, especially if you’re planning on playing in one any time soon. In all honesty, it’s one of the best ways you’re going to find to play poker, especially when you get to the point where you want to test your skills against the pros.

These tournaments absolutely changed the way that Texas Hold’em Poker is played, so getting an idea of how they actually work will help you figure out what to do when it comes time for you to register. 

Texas Hold'em Poker Tournament

The tournament will start with multiple games running at once and keep going until there is one person left holding all of the chips. Whether you are playing online or you are playing live, you’ll be a participant in one of the most exciting poker spectacles to which you’ve ever been a party. 

Basic Texas Hold’em Poker Tournament Rules

Texas Hold’em Poker Tournaments aren’t your typical friendly games. They attract people from all walks of life, ranging from legitimate Vegas pros to people who have played a hand or two online. There’s absolutely a lot of money to be made at each tournament and the vast majority of that money is going to go to the people who make it to the top spots. The only way that you are going to join those lofty ranks is to pay very close attention to the rules so that you’re better prepared than most of the competition. 

It’s a very good idea to figure out as much as you can before your buy-in, paying special attention to who gets paid at the end of the night and what kind of betting structure will actually be put into place. From there, though, it’s the house rules to which you will need to pay attention. 

The bad news for those who travel around playing poker is that virtually every tournament has a unique set of rules. It doesn’t really matter if you’re in a major WSOP event or if you’re playing in the backroom of your local burger joint, you’re going to be exposed to different rule sets every time you sit down. Your best bet is to figure out when and where the Tournament Director has posted the unique rules for the game so that you can get ready. 

Texas hold'em poker tournament sign

You might feel like you can roll with any unusual rules you find, but the truth is that you really do need to sit down and read all of the local rules before you buy in. This will tell you a lot about how the tournament is going to be played, what you should expect from your opponents, and ultimately what your odds are going to be. You aren’t going to find many major variations between tournaments, of course, but it’s the little things that are going to end up mattering when you look at your poker strategy. 

Types of Texas Hold’en Poker Tournaments

While you might think that Hold’Em is the same across the country, that doesn’t mean that all the tournaments are going to be the same. You’re usually going to be looking at one of a few types of variations, so you’ll want to know if the game is going to be one of the following:

Bounty

Bounty Tournaments tend to reward aggressive play. These tournaments offer side prizes to players who knock out other players, often in the form of cash prizes. Some bounty tournaments give you a prize just for knocking out another player, while others might have bounties on higher-ranked or more successful players. 

Freezout

Freezeout is generally thought of as the standard poker tournament and it’s certainly still the most popular. Freezeout tournaments allow you to keep playing until you’re knocked out. Once you’re knocked out, you’re done – no more buying in. A Freezeout Texas Hold’em poker tournament typically pays out to the top ten to twenty percent of players. 

Heads Up

Heads Up is one on one poker. You’ll see these at professional tournaments or higher stake tournaments, and it’s as pure a challenge as you’ll ever find. These tournaments can be all or nothing or they can be for a fixed amount, but they’re always interesting. 

You’ll also want to pay attention to the limits. These will fall into the following categories:

Limit

In a limit-based tournament, betting limits will be set before the game starts. They might change over time or they might stay the same, but these games tend to be a bit more methodical. 

No-Limit

In No-Limit Poker, you’ll be able to bet whatever you like once you get past the blinds. These games are fast and furious, with players easily being able to bully one another out of a hand. 

Pot Limit

In the pot limit, players can’t bet more than the pot size. This is a solid middle ground between the other two sides, favoring both aggressive play and more methodical actions at different times. 

Finally, you’ll want to look at how the tables are arranged. This might not seem like a big deal to you now, but it can have a huge impact on how the game is played over the duration of the tournament.

Popular Texas Hold’em Poker Tournament Structures:

Sit and Go

Sit and go tournaments are usually smaller and are centered on a single table. This type of tournament gets its name from the fact that the tournament doesn’t start until the table is completely filled – you literally can’t go until everyone sits.

Multi-Table

The most common tournament type, though, is the Multi-Table Texas Hold’em Poker Tournament. In this variation, multiple games are played across several different tables. As players get eliminated from the game, the games are consolidated down to smaller numbers of tables. By the end of the game, the remaining players will all sit together. The Final Table.

Basic Texas Hold’em Poker Tournament Rules

The first real set of rules you’ll need to figure out are those that have to do with the money and the seats. If you mess up here, you’re going to wonder where your money’s gone and you might even wind up getting kicked out.

You’ll need to know about the following:

Entrance/Registration Fees

You’ll always pay a fee before you enter the game. About ninety percent of this fee is going to go into the global prize pool, while the other ten percent goes to the house to pay for the tournament.

Texas Hold'em Poker Tournament

Your Seat Assignment

You’ll get a random seat assignment before the game starts. This is where you go until a tournament director tell you differently. In most cases, you won’t get up just because someone at your table gets eliminated – you’ll keep going until the Tournament Director decides to consolidate the tables. 

Tournament Chips

Tournament chips don’t have any cash value. They’re only for the game, so you won’t be able to cash out. You’ll be issued a starting stack at the beginning of the game, and you’ll always want to check it. Starting stacks definitely vary a great deal by the tournament, so check to make sure that you have what you’re supposed to have before the game starts. 

Blinds

If you’ve ever played a game of Texas Hold’em poker before, you know how blinds work – they’re set at the beginning of the game, and they typically don’t change unless all of the players really want to speed the game along. If you’re playing in a tournament, though, the poker rules for the blinds are a little bit different. Players will be expected to deal with bigger blinds as the game goes on, both to keep the games moving and to deal with the reality that the chip totals can get fairly large.

Texas Hold’em poker tournaments tend to vary in how they increase the blinds, but they’ll always be at set intervals. This might be measured by time (usually minutes or hours) or by the number of hands played, but you’ll always see escalating blinds in Texas Hold’em poker tournaments.

The Deal and the Dealer Button

Cards are dealt identically on all poker tables in the tournament. The person who starts with the button, however, is always randomized. The way this is determined varies between casinos/houses, but the house/dealer’s word is law here. 

Absentee Rules

If a player isn’t at the table, his or her blind and/or ante still goes into the pot. If he or she isn’t there by the time the second card is dealt, that player’s hand is dead and all bets are in the pot. 

Going All-In

If you declare yourself all-in, you’re betting all the chips in front of you on the chance that your poker hand is the best at the table. Players who see this bet can only win as many chips as they have in their own stack. If two players go all in, both have to put their hands face-up while the rest of the play continues. 

The Clock

A player can actually call for a time limit on actions. If the clock is called, the player in question only has a limited amount of time to make an action or he or she will have to fold. 

Rules of Conduct

Every Texas Hold’em poker tournament has its own rules of conduct. Players who swear, are unfriendly, or are hostile can often find themselves penalized. In some cases, these players will also be removed from the tournament. 

End-Game: Hand for Hand

When the players reach the top ten to twenty percent of players, they hit a state that’s called ‘the bubble’. In some cases, the game will start going hand for hand across all of the tables – once a hand is played, no new cards will be dealt until every table finishes its current hand. 

Making Deals

In some cases, players can actually decide to distribute the remaining prize money among themselves. This isn’t something that can be done by one or two players, though – all of the players have to agree to the split, and the split usually has to be done through some kind of house rule. In most cases, those who split the money will also have to leave something on the table for the person who wins the tournament. Depending on the house rules, though, this can lead to situations in which a lower-ranking player actually ends up walking away with more money that the person who actually wins the tournament! 

Winning a Tournament

The good news is that you’ll always know if you’ve won a tournament. A typical Texas Hold’em poker tournament ends when a single player has all of the chips and is declared the winner by the individual or organization running the tournament. The number of chips here doesn’t actually denote how much you win, though – there’s actually a schedule of payments that will let you know exactly how much you stand to win depending on how you place. 

Texas hold'em poker tournament

Most of the players in a Texas Hold’em poker tournament aren’t going to walk home with any money. Players who are in the last ten to twenty percent of players will typically bring home something, usually a little bit more than the buy-in.

It’s the players who make it to the end that are going to make the real money, though – the final winner’s going to get the most, of course, but finishing in the top two or three can be incredibly lucrative. While you’re probably not going to make millions in an average tournament, it’s not unusual to take home thousands of dollars when you win reasonably-sized local poker tournaments. 

Learn the Rules!

Every Texas Hold’em poker tournament is a little different, so make sure that you keep up with the poker rules. If you can’t find a copy of the rules on a tournament’s website, get directly in contact with the organization running the tournament. Remember, the organizers assume that you’re doing your research, so they won’t be slow to kick you out of a tournament if you forget one of these rules. Make sure to do your homework so that you can focus on the business of playing poker. 

♠ pokerjournal.org

Texas Hold’em – FAQs

Q: What is a Texas hold’em tournament?

A: It’s an event where people pay a set amount of money to enter and play poker. Everyone gets the same amount of chips. You play until one person has all the chips.

Q: How long does a Texas hold’em tournament last?

A: It depends on the tournament. It can be anywhere from a few hours to several days, but the average poker tournament is between 4-8 hours.

Q: How do Texas hold’em tournaments work?

A: There are blind levels that increase to move the tournament along. So, if the blinds are 25/50 at Level 1, the small blind owes 25 and the big blind owes 50. Level 2 might increase to 50/100.

Q: How do you prepare for a poker tournament?

A: You need to get into the right mindset so you’re more focused than your opponents. If you’re a beginner, just fold until you have a top 10 hand, then be aggressive and bet.

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