How do Poker Tournaments Work?

If you’ve ever played video poker at Palace of Chance, you know that it pumps out a lot of winners. But you’re not actually playing against other players. You’re simply playing against the machine. You win by ranking on the board. Poker tournaments are a lot different. Yes, they use a similar hand ranking system, but you don’t automatically win by having the best hand.


In fact, you can win a poker tournament by having the worst hand if you’re smart enough to bluff your way to greatness and get everyone to fold.

At online poker sites, there are two types of games—cash games and poker tournaments. In cash games, you simple sit down at the table with as much money as you like. It could be $50. It could be $500. Everyone has a different amount and everyone sat down at the table at different times. You can come and go as you please, and the money you win is yours immediately.

Poker tournaments are way different. While the rules of the game are the same, a poker tournament hands every player an equal number of chips to start, so the playing field is completely level. Your goal is to be the last player standing and take the top prize. Here are the basics.

  1. A poker tournament will typically have a buy-in that includes the prize pool and the tournament fee. It usually looks something like $15+2. In this example, $15 goes to the prize pool and $2 goes to the house for hosting the tournament.
  2. Everyone who sits down in the tournament receives the same number of chips. In many cases, it’s 1,500 chips.
  3. The tournament begins and everyone plays poker. The button moves around the table so everyone gets a turn being big blind and small blind, just like in cash poker games.
  4. Your goal is to win as many chips as possible. If you lose all your chips, you’re out of the tournament.
  5. As players bust out, tables are consolidated, so players end up getting shuffled around.
  6. The last player left standing wins the top prize. Remember, the $15 each player paid goes into the prize pool. So if you’ve got 500 players in the tournament, you’re looking at a prize pool of $7,500.
  7. The prize pool isn’t always winner take all. In fact, in most tournaments, the prize pool is distributed among the top ranking players. That means first place might walk away with $3,000, second place might earn $1,500, third place might earn $750, and so on.

That’s pretty much all there is to playing in poker tournaments. If you’re new to poker, we recommend learning the game by playing some video poker first. It’s a great way to get a feel for hand rankings before you sit down to play in real money poker tournaments.


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