How Do Poker Tournaments Work?

How Do Poker Tournaments Work?

How Do Poker Tournaments Work?


Poker tournaments online are hugely popular, and a great way either to learn the game or take on a challenge at the highest levels. For a fixed buy-in, you can play poker knowing that that’s all it will cost – and a deep run in a large event can turn a small investment into a big win.

Tournament Basics

In tournament poker, every player buys in for a set amount and receives the same number of chips at the start. The difference between tournaments and cash games is that these chips have no cash value, and you can’t jump in and out – tournaments play down to an overall winner as players get eliminated along the way.

Blinds and Increasing Stacks

In cash games, blinds are fixed, while in tournaments, they get bigger as the tournament progresses. This keeps the action going while players’ stacks get larger as they absorb the eliminated players’ chips.

Prize Distribution

Prize money is awarded to players who reach the top finishing positions, depending on the structure of the tournament. The prize pool will usually be distributed between the top 10-30% of the field, with prize amounts increasing as the tournament progresses. Full information on each tournament’s total prize pool and distribution of prize money is available in the lobby.

Satellite Tournaments

Satellites are special tournaments in which the prizes are fixed amount entries into a goal tournament (or later stage satellite). In satellites, the available prize pool is divided up into ticket amounts, with any prize money left over that is not enough for a ticket awarded to the player finishing one place outside of the ticket-awarding spots.

Tournament Rules

Here are some important rules to keep in mind during a poker tournament:

  1. Entrance Fees: Entrance fees are shown in the lobby next to the buy-in of a tournament. For example, a $100 + $10 tournament will put $100 of your buy-in towards the prize pool, and $10 is the entrance fee.

  2. Late Registration: There is usually a period after a tournament has started (shown in the tournament info) during which you can still buy in and join the game. After this period ends, no new players can join, and the tournament plays down to a winner.

  3. Seating: Players are seated randomly with their starting stack when a tournament starts. As new players join during late registration, new tables are created, and players may be moved to balance the numbers on each table. As players bust out, the tournament condenses, and tables are “broken,” which again involves some players being moved to new seats as necessary.

  4. Absent Players: All players must be dealt into every hand. Any blinds or antes are posted automatically for players who are sat out (away or disconnected), and their hand is folded when action comes to them.

  5. Tournament Speeds and Structures: There are a variety of structures and speeds of tournaments available, ranging from slow to hyper turbo. These variations cater to players who prefer different pacing and blinds rising speeds.

  6. Tournament Types: Tournaments can have different formats, such as bounty or knockout (KO) tournaments and progressive bounty (PKO) tournaments. These formats place a portion of every player’s buy-in as a bounty on their head, adding an extra element of excitement to the game.

  7. Hand-for-hand Play: In tournaments with fields over 100 players, hand-for-hand play is introduced as the money bubble approaches. This means that one hand at a time is dealt on all tables, and play is paused until every table has completed that hand.

  8. Simultaneous Eliminations: If two players bust out in the same hand, the player with the higher number of chips at the start of the hand will be recorded as finishing in the higher position.

  9. Heads Up Blinds: When a tournament gets to the heads-up stage (two players remaining), the button posts the small blind and acts first in the initial betting round.

  10. Timebank and Disconnection Timer: Players have a pre-set shot clock for their turn, and there’s a longer timebank they can activate. If the timebank runs out, the player’s hand will be folded. There’s also a disconnect timebank that starts when the system recognizes a disconnection.

  11. Synchronized Breaks: Most tournaments have breaks at the same time, once an hour.

  12. Multiple Flights: In multi-flight events leading to a Final Day, players can enter more than one flight. The highest finishing stack from qualifying flights is carried forward to the next stage.

  13. Tournament Cancellation Policy: The tournament cancellation policy varies depending on the stage reached. The organizers reserve the right to delay or cancel a tournament without prior notice, and specific refund policies apply.


Understanding how poker tournaments work is essential for any player looking to participate in these exciting events. By familiarizing yourself with the rules, structures, and dynamics of tournaments, you can improve your chances of success and enjoy the thrill of competition. Remember to always check the specificdetails and rules of the tournament you are participating in, as they may vary depending on the platform and event. Good luck and have fun playing poker tournaments!