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Guide to Online Poker Tournaments

If you have seen the World Series of Poker or World Poker Tour on television, you know how exciting poker tournaments can be. But for most of us, live poker tournaments aren’t in the cards. Fortunately, there is the internet. If you want to try your hand at the online game, but still need to learn what exactly poker tournaments are, read on. We have put together a helpful beginner’s guide to set you in the right direction.

What Are Online Poker Tournaments?

An online poker tournament is a poker competition in which every player buys-in for the same amount of money and starts with the same number of chips. Just like in any other sport, the tournament ends with a winner. In this case, that winner is the person holding all the chips.

Tournament chips have no real monetary value; they cannot be exchanged for cash. Think of tournament chips as points, used to keep track of who is winning.

But if the chips can’t be exchanged for cash, how does prize money in online poker tournaments work? It is all based on where you finish, just like in a NASCAR race or a golf tournament. Every player’s buy-in is combined into the overall prize pool. That prize pool is then allocated to the top finishers in the tournament, typically the top 10-15%. So, if there are 200 players in an online poker tournament, the top 20 or 30 players will make money.

This means that while you, of course, want to win the tournament, you can still lose all your chips and win money, as long as you outlasted enough players. The overall winner – the player who has everyone’s chips in the end – will win the largest prize, but many other players usually will as well.

Everybody starts playing at the same, scheduled time in a poker tournament, though some tournaments do allow players to join late up to a point. What online poker tournaments do not have is a set end time. It all depends on how long it takes for a winner to emerge. The exceptions are extremely large tournaments that are scheduled over multiple days. In these, all but the last day have defined end times.

To guide the online poker tournament to a reasonable end so that it does not last forever, blind levels increase at set intervals.

Why Should I Participate in a Poker Tournament?

One of the primary attractions of a poker tournament is the amount of money it is possible to win a short period. The payouts are usually quite top-heavy, so the return on investment for the best finishers is generally much better than you would see in a cash game. The biggest online poker tournaments have paid seven-figure sums to the winner!

For lots of people, the appeal of a poker tournament is the strategy involved. It feels more like a true sporting event than does a cash game. Winning a big hand is not necessarily going to make you any money in a tournament like it would in a cash game, while losing a big hand can eliminate you from the competition. You must think about how far it is to the money and how you might be able to position yourself to make a deep run. Is it worth it to take a chance on this hand to build my stack or should I remain patient at the risk of falling behind?

Poker tournaments are marathons. There are twists and turns, uphill climbs and downhill cruises. A move you make in the first half-hour might set up another move two hours later. You might have your eyes set on the final table now, but a change in your chip stack could force you to change your strategy just to make the money.

It is a lot of fun and the beauty is, you don’t have to be a pro to play. Lower buy-in tournaments are great for novice or casual players, but even the higher buy-in competitions are doable for non-pros.

How Do I Play in an Online Poker Tournament?

Signing up for an online poker tournament is as simple as a few mouse clicks. Let’s look at the basic steps of how registering for an online poker tournament works.

Play in an Online Poker Tournament Step by Step:

  • 1

    Log in to your favourite online poker room

  • 2

    Click on the Tournaments tab in the lobby

  • 3

    Scroll through the listed tournaments and double-click on the one you would like

  • 4

    In the tournament lobby window that opens, click the “Play Now” or “Register” button

  • 5

    Confirm that you want to pay the buy-in

  • 6

    Wait for the tournament to start – you will be seated automatically

To the third point above, there are usually lots of tournaments to sort through, so don’t worry if it looks like a mess. You can usually click on the column headings to sort the listings, perhaps to order them by which tournament is starting next. Poker sites also have filters that allow you to limit the listings to a certain game type, buy-in, blind level speed, and more.

Take your time, click on things, explore a bit. What details are shown in an online poker tournament lobby can vary from site to site, but they are all similar. If you aren’t sure what a tournament description means, double-click to open the tourney lobby where you can get all the details you will need.

What are the Various Tournament Formats?

There are loads of different types of poker tournaments. There is no right answer as to what is the best type of online poker tournament – that is all up to your personal preferences. There is something for everyone, though, so let’s take a look at what you will find online.

Freezeouts

A freezeout is the classic type of poker tournament. It is also the simplest. You start with a set number of chips and if you lose them all, you are done. That’s it. The most famous poker tournament in history, the World Series of Poker Main Event, is a freezeout.

Rebuy Tournaments

In a rebuy tournament (also called a re-entry tournament), if you lose all your chips, you have the opportunity to pay another buy-in to receive a fresh chip stack and keep going. You can’t keep rebuying forever, though – there is a pre-determined “rebuy period,” usually defined as a certain number of blind levels. After that period is up, you can no longer rebuy and the tournament effectively becomes a freezeout.

Players tend to be more aggressive in rebuy tournaments, as they get a second chance (or third or fourth, depending on the rules) if they make a mistake. This can be of benefit to you, as players who are willing to rebuy will also be willing to play more recklessly, giving you a chance to take their chips. The rebuys are added to the prize pool, so the prize money can grow quickly.

Multi-table Tournaments

Fairly self-explanatory, a multi-table tournament is a poker tournament where players are spread across more than one table. The more players, the more tables. At a land-based casino, multi-table tournaments might be limited in size based on the capacity of the poker room, but online poker tournaments don’t usually have that restriction, as the software can just keep adding tables.

As players are eliminated, the remaining players are moved to different tables to keep tables as full as possible. Eventually, the competition gets down to the lone remaining table, the final table.

Sit and Go’s

Sit and Go’s are so named because as soon as everyone “sits,” the tournament “goes.” There is usually no set start time. A Sit and Go table waits for enough players and then starts.

Just like in any other tournament, the Sit and Go (abbreviated SNG or S&G) ends when one player has all the chips. Most Sit and Go’s consist of just a single table, but that is not a requirement. In a typical nine-handed, single-table Sit and Go, the top three finishers win money. Common prize distribution is 50% of the prize pool for first place, 30% for second, and 20% for third. Smaller Sit and Go’s might pay to just one or two places and larger ones will pay more players.

Shootouts

A shootout is kind of like a combination of a multi-table tournament and a Sit and Go. Each table in the shootout plays down to one player like in a single-table Sit and Go. There is no movement of players to different tables during play. Once every table has its winner, the winners then combine to create a new batch of full tables. Those tables then start again, everyone with the same number of chips, and play down to one winner per table.

This keeps going until someone wins the final table.

Satellites

A satellite is a qualifier for a more expensive tournament. Rather than winning cash, the winner of the satellite wins a seat into another tournament with a larger buy-in. If there are enough buy-ins, more than one person can win a seat. Satellites are a way for players to enter tournaments they might otherwise not be able to afford for a cheaper buy-in.

Poker Tournaments vs. Other Forms of Poker

Though poker tournaments are how many of us learn about poker because that’s what we see on television, the original game has a lot to offer players. Cash games are just that: poker games in which your chips are real money. If you win chips, you have won real cash.

Cash games differ from how online poker tournaments work not just in what the chips represent, but in how the game is structured. Cash games are more flexible than tournaments. You can join and leave whenever you would like. Within a minimum and maximum range, you can buy-in for however much money you would like. And the blinds never increase.

And in a cash game, you are not building toward an end game or positioning yourself to move up in the money. Each hand and each pot simply wins or loses you money. And if you go bust, you can buy back in as much as you would like and keep playing.

But no matter which form of poker you prefer (and you can feel free to enjoy both!), as long as you are having fun, that’s all that matters. Do you love the marathon strategy and risk of a tournament or the hand-by-hand profit-and-loss grind of a cash game? It makes no difference. Just enjoy playing poker.

Conclusion

Online tournaments are great fun, as the shift in strategy from cash games and the “do or die” feel to the competition can be exhilarating. They are an easy way to budget your poker bankroll, as well, as the upfront buy-in allows you to focus on the journey to the final table instead of the profits and losses from each hand. Online poker sites have tournaments for everyone – wide ranges of stakes, a variety of games, and different tourney formats make it possible to find an attractive tournament around the clock. When you are ready to dip your toe into the waters, check out one of our recommended online poker rooms to get into your first online poker tournament today.

FAQs

Playing in an online poker tournament is as simple as logging into the poker software, navigating to the tournaments tab, selecting the tourney you want, and clicking on the button in the tournament lobby to buy-in.

Online poker tournament length depends on the number of players and the speed of the blind levels. If you don’t fare so well, you could be done in a matter of minutes, but if you make a deep run, a tournament can last as long as an hour or two or even up to eight to ten hours for the biggest tournaments. Plan to spend at least a couple hours playing if it is decent-size tournament; you can look at recently completed tournaments to get an idea of how much time you might need to budget.

If it is real money online poker, then yes, you absolutely can win money playing poker online. It takes some skill and some luck, and you aren’t always going to have winning days, but winning money is something thousands of players do every day.

You can find poker tournaments and virtually any price point. Some go for a few pennies, while others cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars (most online poker rooms use U.S. currency). Some tournaments are even free, but those don’t always award real money prizes.

Yes. Not all online poker rooms accept South African players, but all the ones we have hand-selected on this site most definitely do.

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