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Poker Tournament Structures

Poker tournament structures do vary in limits and how each tournament is structured. Understanding the differences will ensure that you are prepared before you buy in to the event. Poker tournaments form a huge section of the online market, a market which is currently expanding and an exponential rate. A tournament offers up the chance to buy in to an event and win a large sum of money by making it to the money. The structure of a poker tournament is such that the pay outs will usually be split between the top 20% of finishing places. First place usually receives between 22 and 30% of the total tournament prize pool.

Buying in to a Tournament

To gain entry to a tournament you will need to "buy in" to the tournament. The concept of a buy in is exactly as the name suggests. The "buy in" will get you entry to the tournament and acts as a purchase for your starting chips. A "buy in" will usually get you 1500 chips, although it will be 2000 or 3000 or 10,000 in some larger events.

Structure of Blinds

Every poker tournament has blinds (big and small blind) throughout the contest. These are automatic bets which have to be made. In each round of betting 1 player will have to cover the big blind (first automatic bet) and 1 will have to cover the small blind (second automatic bet). The "dealer chip" passes round the table continuously and indicates who has the big and small blinds (first 2 players left of the dealer chip cover blinds). The dealer chip moves round the table clockwise. Throughout a tournament the blinds increase steadily, usually over 10 minute intervals.

The figures below indicate how the blinds structure increase in a typical poker tournament for multi Table and Sit and Go.

10 Min's
20 Min's
30 Min's
40 Min's
50 Min's
1 Hr
I hr 10 Min's
I hr 20 Min's
I hr 30 Min's
I hr 40 Min's
I hr 50 Min's
2 Hrs
2 Hrs 10 Min's
2 Hrs 20 Min's
2 Hrs 30 Min's
2 Hrs 40 Min's
2 Hrs 50 Min's
3 Hrs
3 Hrs 10 Min's
3 Hrs 20 Min's
3 Hrs 30 Min's
3 Hrs 40 Min's
3 Hrs 50 Min's
4 Hrs
4 Hrs 10 Min's
4 Hrs 20 Min's

There are of course different types of poker tournaments that you could play in. When playing online it is a good idea to make sure that you look at the tournament type to make sure there are no surprises. The structure of the different types of tournaments you will come across are listed below.

Knock out Tournaments

Knock out tournaments are very common when playing online poker. Each player after paying a "buy in", gets a set amount of chips and players are spread at random amongst as many tables as it takes to seat everyone (not exceeding 10 players per table). From this point play starts and as players are knocked out, remaining players are moved when required to balance the remaining tables. In the later stages of a tournament, you run a greater chance of being knocked out if you don't play enough hands as the blinds increase and start to eat into your stack. As play continues, there are more and more players going out trying to steal pots with marginal hands. You will very often see all in moves at the later stages of a knockout tournament. Of course as the tournament progresses you will loosen your starting hand requirements as you don't have time to sit and wait for a monster hand.

Players will continue to get knocked out until ten players are left and the play moves to one table. From there poker is played until one player has all the chips, a winner.

Limit Tournaments

A 'limit tournament' is as the name suggests, played with betting restrictions, or limits. Unlike the more popular "no limit" tournament which has no betting limit, .i.e. you can move all your chips in at any time, a limit game has a betting cap and you cannot bet more that the limit allows. The structure of the tournament can either be a "knock out tournament " or a "Shootout Tournament". This is often more popular for new players as there is a relative amount of protection from going bust too quickly.

See:Compare Limit Holdem Rooms

No-Limit Tournament (NL)

A no-limit tournament is very popular whether playing online or live. The appeal of the game is largely down to the aggressive and risky nature of the game (you can lose all your stack in one hand). In a No limit tournament and you can wager all your chips at any time during the tournament. The blinds structure is not any different for a no-limit event and value betting becomes far more common than in limit games.

Visit our poker games section if you want to find the best no limit rooms. We have them all listed and compare each of the rooms for a number of key features, each with a dedicated room review.

Satellite Tournaments

Satellite tournaments are ever more common these days largely thanks to the rise in popularity of the World Poker Tour and World Series of Poker both of whom offer online qualifying opportunities to their top events. A Satellite tournament is simply a feeder to a larger tournament. If you want to play in a major tournament, let's for the sake of argument assume the WSOP, you have 2 options. Firstly you could just buy directly into the tournament which would set you back a cool $10,000 or you could look to get into the event for much less. To do this you could play an online satellite event or qualifier which will give you the chance to win a seat for the buy in amount of the qualifier (this can be anything up from as little as $1!). The only catch is that you will likely have to win the satellite or place in the top few places.

Many top players try to qualify on the cheap, playing a few satellites, before buying into an event to see if they can get in for a fraction of he buy in.

Shootout Tournaments

A shootout tournament is slightly different in structure as the players are not shuffled around to balance tables as players are knocked out. Each table plays until there is one winner per table. All the winners then play against each other until there is one overall winner. This type of poker tournament is not used on poker rooms online with standard poker room software favoring the knockout tournament.

Re-buy Tournaments

When you begin a tournament you usually get 1500 starting chips. A re buy tournament allows you to buy another 1500 chips within the first hour as long as your chip count is less than 1500 (or below your starting amount). This option is available for the first hour only (usually, although sometimes an hour and a half) followed by an ad-on on the hour. Usually after the first hour there will be a short break, once tables have completed play, and all players in the tournament will have the option to purchase an ad-on. The add on is very often an amount over the starting amount and gives players the option to increase their stack before play continues. After the break, the re-buy time will expire and the tournament would then become a knock out event.

There is a lot of players that do not like the re-buy option as it induces a lot of loose play. The fact remains that many of the top tournaments played around the world feature re-buys so rightly or wrongly, it is still a common part of the game. On the positive side, loose play means the chance to build a decent stack at the expense of the idiots at the table that appear to have deep pockets and chase a mere sniff of a decent hand.

Poker Tournaments - What's the Appeal?

There are many reasons for the popularity of poker tournaments and satellites. Poker is the one sport that stands out from all the rest for the simple reason that you don't need to be a professional to play with the professionals. All you need is enough money to pay for the "buy in" and you get your seat. This is part of the attraction amongst players and with an abundance of opportunities to get into these events for a very modest buy in satellites, well, do you need any other incentive?

Additionally, tournaments are a great way to play poker knowing exactly what it will cost you to enter, and knowing you won't be risking more than you buy-in for (unless a re-buy tournament). It is very different from taking your bankroll to a no limit table where you have the option to bring more chips to the table should you bust out.


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