So, you’ve figured out the rules of poker and you’re taking home some lucrative pots. Now fellow players are asking you to join them in tournaments. If you’re astute, you’re asking yourself how a tournament differs from the cash games that have served as your training ground. Well, look no further. We’ve put together a comprehensive guide on the most popular poker tournament formats you’ll face. 

Cash Games VS Tournaments

Poker tournaments differ from cash games in that each player pays an entry fee and then competes to win a portion of the ultimate prize pool. What’s more, during the event, the blind levels continue to increase regularly throughout the tournament. Then, after the close of the final round, the player left holding all the chips is declared. 

In this post, as opposed to our others, you’ll notice we talk more about chips than money. This is because, in tournaments where the buy-in and prize pot can be huge, chips are used to represent cash. Therefore, every chip thrown into the pot is considered legitimate cash that’s deducted from your balance. In tournaments, there is always a predetermined entry fee that every player has to stump up to enter. No entry fee, no game! The important thing about your entry fee, however, is that that’s the most you can possibly lose during the tournament. It’s also important to note that the combined entry fee of all participating players is what you’re playing for as this makes up the different portions of the prize pool.

How Many Players Are There?

A poker tournament must have a minimum of three players but really, there’s absolutely no limit on how many players can enter a poker tournament. It’s just a matter of whether those hosting the tournament have the capabilities to facilitate larger numbers. This is why online tournaments can be such a draw for both operator and player. With no limitations on space, they can attract tens of thousands of players, creating an insanely tempting prize pool for all involved.

Structure Of A Tournament

The rules and structure of a tournament will ultimately vary heavily from event to event. Yet, there are a few core elements that need to be in place, no matter the tournament. Before the tournament begins, operators must establish:

  • The number of chips every player starts out with.
  • The blind level structure.
  • How long each blind level will last.
  • If rebuys or re-entries will be allowed.
  • Whether it is a sit and go event or has a set start time.

Like we mentioned above, no matter the structure, the winner of a poker tournament is the last player holding all the chips. Once the action-packed showdown happens between our final two players, there’s no stopping until we have a champion. 

One element of poker tournaments that is important to note is the blind levels. Unlike in cash games, in poker tournaments, the blind levels do not remain the same at all times. In fact, they are set to increase at a predetermined time as this essentially decreases the stack size of all players. As a result, the players are pushed into continually attempting to increase their stack size in order to have a more advantageous position in the tournament. If players fail to accomplish this they’ll not only not be in a strong position to play but they could “blind-out” meaning they don’t have enough chips to cover the increasing blinds. 

Know The Stages

Start slow! Many players enter poker tournaments with the mentality that they should be trying to rake in as many chips as possible. The experts advise the exact opposite in fact. The beginning rounds of any tournament are all about survival and if you’re new to them, you should keep your focus on making it out alive. Remember, there are no second chances in a tournament and once you’re gone, you’re gone for good. So, don’t try to “win” the tournament in the early stages. Play the long game and hang in there to the bitter end!

If, by the mid-stage of the tournament, you’ve managed to collect a hefty stack your top priority should be protecting it. We understand that having the biggest stack at the table can be accompanied by a powerful ego boost. However, if you start playing too aggressively, it won’t be long before your rivals at the table take you back down to size. If you make it to the next stage (the bubble stage) with your stack intact, you can start switching up your playing style. This is where you get to leverage your stack against weaker opponents until...the bubble bursts. 

If at the bubble stage you’ve only accumulated a mid-sized stack, your playing strategy could get a little trickier. You don’t want to take on anyone with a big stack and yet, you still need to collect chips or else you’ll soon be a short stack in the final stage of the tournament. Yes, that is as bad as it sounds! The most common advice here is to not sacrifice a good hand in the name of playing tight but also, don’t play too loosely in an effort to scoop up chips.

The final stage of a tournament is where things get hot and heavy as players grapple to take home the prize. This is the time that’ll you’ll notice players switching up their playing style so be prepared for it. Short stacks are going to start playing a lot more aggressive as they have the least to lose at this point. Medium and bigger stacks won’t need to scramble as much to build up their chip balance but be sure that they won’t be folding at every hand either.

Tournament Format Variations

If we outlined all the poker tournament variations available then this post would be even longer than it already is. However, we will take a quick walk through the most popular variations and sub-variations of poker tournaments. They are:

  • Shootout
  • Bounty
  • Spin N Go
  • Double or Nothing
  • Satellite 

Shootout Tournaments

Shootout tournaments are highly popular across the online poker landscape. Essentially, shootout tournaments consist of several sit n’go’s played over multiple rounds. They begin with between 2 and 10 players at each table and in the initial stage, the game doesn’t stop until one winner is left on each table. After that, the winners from the previous round start fresh on a new table. The tournament continues in this format until the final sole winner is found. 

Bounty Tournaments

Bounty tournaments are probably the most like what you’d expect from a poker tournament. Essentially, they’re knockout tournaments but with an added bonus for players. In bounty tournaments, some of the prize pool is set aside and whenever a player is knocked out, the person that won their chips is immediately awarded this bounty. As you’d expect, the introduction of this added incentive wreaks havoc on optimal strategy. Most often, you’ll notice players in a Bounty tournament will be more open to Making loose calls or going all in. 

Spin N’Go Tournaments

If you’ve mastered the basics of poker tournaments and are looking for something a bit different, try spin n’go. These tournaments are known for being rapid, three-person sit n’go tournaments with 3-minute blinds. One thing that makes these tournaments interesting is how the prize pool is determined. The prize pool is randomly selected as a multiplier of between 2 times to 3000 times the buy-in. All participating players begin the game holding 500 chips each and when it’s over, the winner takes all. 

Double Or Nothing Tournaments

What makes double or nothing tournaments so unique is their interesting payout method. Instead of a winner takes all scenario, half the participating players win twice the value of their buy-in amount. There are variations on this where a third of the players win three times their buy-in and this is called a triple-up.

Satellite Tournaments

Satellite tournaments are special mainly because of the prize they offer to the winner. Unlike other tournaments where the prize pool is the main draw, in satellite tournaments the winner gains entry into a larger, more advanced poker tournament. The number of buy-ins to the satellite tournament factor into how many buy-ins are awarded for the larger tournament. This means more than one player can win themselves a buy-in if the satellite tournament is big enough and this is often the case. Satellite tournaments can be both multi or single table.

Poker Tournament Tips

  • Know the structure of your chosen tournament, there’s a lot of them.
  • Play the early stages of your tournament a lot more tightly than the later stages.
  • Adjust your betting size from stage to stage.
  • Pay close attention to the game and determine when you can most likely win with an aggressive playing style. 
  • Remember, don’t get too attached to the chips in your stack.

If you want to practice your poker tournament skills in a zero-risk environment, try checking out some of KamaGames’ popular poker tournaments. These tournaments will allow you to craft your own particular playing style across multiple tournament formats including MTT, Sit’N Go and Shootout Tournaments.