New To Online Poker Tournaments? This Guide Contains All You Need To Know In One Place!
Planet Mark's Intro: This page is for players who are new to online poker tournaments. You will find a ton of information here to get you off to a profitable start – plus links to articles focusing on the strategy and topics which interest you the most.
Questions covered in this poker tournament FAQ include the types of tournament you will find online, what to expect in terms of profits, the best sites for different kinds of tournament and where to find information on winning strategies to get you off to a great start! Links to more detailed articles will open a new tab from this page, so you can keep the main guide on-screen while browsing areas which interest you.
For those looking for easy games to get started (or to gain valuable experience) I am strongly recommending 888 Poker at the moment. This site has grown significantly over the last couple of years, thanks to their focus on recreational and amateur players. This has created some very easy to beat tournaments - especially at the lower to mid buy-ins. For many countries, 888 offer $88 free with no deposit or credit card information needed to check out their real money games. See if you qualify by checking out www.888poker.com now!
Side Note: 888 is a non-US site - US based readers can check out the best US tournament sites in this article instead!
How Do Poker Tournaments Work And What Makes Them Different From Poker Cash Games?
In a poker cash game the chips in front of you have an actual dollar value. Whether you play for big bucks in Vegas or pennies around the kitchen table, bets are made in the chip equivalent of real cash. Furthermore, in a cash game players can purchase more chips at any point, up to the agreed limits for the game – so if you lose your chips you can simply buy yourself a new stack.
In poker tournaments, players purchase a stack of chips for an agreed price – usually between 1500 and 3000 chips - and then play until their chips are gone, at which point they are eliminated from the tournament. These games finish when one player has won all of the chips. In order to keep the games to a reasonable length of time the betting levels are increased as the game goes on, forcing players to play hands before their chip stack disappears via the 'forced bets' of blinds and antes.
Around 10% to 15% of the field gets paid in a typical poker tournament, with the biggest payouts for the winner and the players at the final table. As you will see from this FAQ, there are many variations on this central theme.
What Different Types Of Poker Tournament Can I Play Online?
While there are 100’s of ways tournaments can vary in the details of price, betting, game type and speed – these can be boiled down into the following broad categories.
Freezeout Tournaments: This is the standard poker tournament, so much so that the word ‘freezeout’ is not even used by most sites. In these games you get stack of chips in exchange for your buy-in, usually between 1500 and 3000 chips – and when these are gone you are out. Between 10% and 15% of the entrants will get paid, the amount depends on their finish position and will usually be between double their buy-in and up to 100 times this for a top 3 finish.
Rebuy Tournaments: A common option is to allow players to ‘rebuy’ more chips during a pre-defined period. Online the ‘rebuy period’ is usually the first hour of the game, with players allowed to buy more chips if they are at or below their initial chip stack. After the first hour there is usually an additional ‘add-on’ of yet more chips. Being able to rebuy can make many players more willing to take risks early – making these entertaining games! There are more variations within the rebuy tournaments theme, including ‘second chance’ and ‘1 rebuy, 1 add-on’ games.
Sit and Go Tournaments: Using the strict definition, a Sit and Go (or SNG) tournament is simply a tournament which starts as soon as the required number of players join – instead of having a defined starting time. In reality there are certain sizes of game which are popular for Sit and Goes. These are 1-table (6 or 9 players), 2 tables, 5 tables, 10 tables and evem 20 table 180 player games. With smaller fields these games need far less time, making them a popular beginner’s choice. My course 'Planet Mark's SNG Blueprint', goes through how to make a profit grinding this form of tournament.
Satellite Tournaments: These games award prizes of seats in other tournaments, ranging from online games through to some of the world’s biggest events like the World Series or European Poker Tour games. Smaller buy-in satellites can also award prizes of seats in bigger satellites (sometimes known as ‘supersatellites’). This is a popular format, with many variations in speed, betting and poker game played. These games are hugely popular and we have a dedicated section for them here.
Knockout Bounty Tournaments: These games have an added twist, with a proportion (usually 20% to 50%) of each player’s buy-in designated as a bounty payment for whoever knocks them out! These prizes are awarded instantly as soon as you knock someone out of the game. Find out more about strategy for these fun games in this article.
Turbo / Speed Tournaments: Fast games are some of the most popular online and go under different names at different sites. What makes these games appealing is that the faster increases in betting levels force players to play more hands to avoid being left behind!
There are other types, with variations in the poker game played, fast-fold poker and tournaments that you can enter multiple time among the many variations available.
What Kind Of Profits Are Achievable, And What Are The Risks?
You can look at profits from poker tournaments in two ways. First the short term wins and second the average returns over 100’s or even 1000’s of games. Because a single win will often give players a bankroll boost of $1000’s (or even more zeros!), the profits from tournaments are considered ‘high variance’. An individual player might have a long run of games without even cashing, then suddenly hit the final table of a big event and win a large amount of cash.
Because of this volatility in returns, pro players look at their results over the long term of 1000’s of games. This is measured as a return on the stakes paid to enter the games. Tournament specialists can achieve return on investment (ROI) figures of 100%, while beginning and learning players will be doing well to achieve 30% to 50% return on their stakes. Since a single win has such a big effect on this number, samples in the 100’s of games are not considered big enough to judge a player’s true ability.
Your risk is that you will lose the money you deposit. In fact, if you only deposit a small amount this is the single most likely outcome. Poker players avoid losing their money by using ‘bankroll management’, which means following strict guidelines about the percentage of your total cash used in any one game. Bankroll Management guidelines for tournaments will seem super-strict to new players - the pro standard is to play no more than 1% of your bankroll in any one tournament. There is no reason that new players should be quite this strict, as long as you know the risks and are ok to reload if necessary.
How Many Players Can I Expect To See In Different Games And How Long Will The Game Last?
The number of players in each game varies from site to site, by buy-in level and with the time of day. Peaks are in the European Evenings and weekends (particularly Sundays). At the biggest site, PokerStars.com, evening games with buy-ins under $11 will often attract 3000+ players – especially if these games have guaranteed prize pools. At smaller sites, for example Red Kings on the NYX network, the same evening game will get 150+, making the field far more manageable. 888 hit a sweet spot for me, having small fields in most events, and then 500+ in some of the big prize guaranteed games where hitting the final table will really make a difference.
Large field tournaments can last for many hours, if you final table an 8PM $5 game somewhere like PokerStars, you can expect to be playing at 3am! Smaller games run for 3 to 5 hours, and are more suitable for players who have to get up for work or study the next day.
Do Tournaments Count Towards Clearing Bonuses?
Yes, in fact tournaments are one of the better ways of clearing bonuses – both the welcome bonuses awarded by the sites, and reload / promotional bonuses offered later. The amount of your bonus cleared will depend on the fee for the tournament, for example in a $5+50c game you are paying 50c to the poker site, of which up to 50% will count towards clearing your bonus. You can compare how quickly bonuses clear playing tournaments in my SNG Bonuses Compared article (the fees are the same, so this directly translates for multi-table tournament players!).
Which Are The Best Sites To Play Tournaments On?
This will depend on what you are looking for in terms of size and choice of games, and whether you are an experienced player looking to switch to tournaments, or at the start of your poker career.
Pokerstars.com is the biggest and best site online, and has 1000’s of poker tournaments of all buy-ins running every day. The downside is that the fields are often huge at the lower buy-ins (I'm talking 3000 players+ huge!), making these games a big time commitment. PokerStars host the biggest weekly game, the ‘Sunday Million’ which pays more than $150,000 for the winner each week! They also host the biggest events, with the 'World Championship of Online Poker' (WCOOP) the highlight. Everyone should play the Sunday Million at least once in their poker careers - just make sure you have the time available for a deep early-morning run! You can claim up to 3 welcome bonuses at PokerStars - use Marketing Code PSP3108 when you register - use this link to see the world's most popular site for yourself!
America's Cardroom Poker is the clear best choice for US based players when it comes to tournament action. This site has carved out a niche for itself, and has the only $1,000,000 guaranteed games available to US players - along with regular 'Online Super Series' events. You will also find a lot of Sit N Go and smaller buy-in action here plus some solid promotions. Check out the latest promos including Sit N Crush and 'The Beast' next time you visit. Find out when the next 'OSS' begins and hit the qualifiers for the million guaranteed at www.americascardroom.com.
888 Poker are my top pick as mentioned above. They hit the sweet spot between having big enough fields (without being overwhelmingly big) and games which are soft enough to be easy to beat. Tournaments are themed on different fish, with the biggest ones called 'The Whale' and smallest 'The Goldfish'. These have guaranteed prize pools, and a fixed system of buy-ins which makes running qualifier games easy too. Once you see the number of novice opponents and how much easier these tournaments are to beat than those at other sites, you will wonder why you did not play at 888 earlier. Brand new players from most countries will be able to get $88 free upfront (no deposit or credit card info needed) to try out the games. If you do one thing for your poker bankroll today, make it that you check out the super-soft games at 888 Poker with your own eyes! See www.888poker.com now!
What Tournaments Are Recommended For New Players?
There are 100’s of individual tournaments to choose from here. I have chosen the my top 10 for 2018 and made them into a dedicated article: 10 Best Beginners Tournaments
OK, I Got The Basic Idea – Where Next To Learn A Winning Strategy??
Well, you certainly came to the right place for strategy content – in fact I recommend you bookmark this page now (or the homepage) now and keep coming back to the regular updates!
First up you will need to understand how your approach needs to change at different stages of a poker tournament. This stage-by-stage strategy will show you what is important at various points, as well as how to avoid some common pitfalls. While you can often make ‘moves’ in tournaments, you are going to need some discipline in hand selection. Again this depends on the stage that the game is at – my Poker Tournament Starting Hands article explains all.
Once you have these basics down, you can start adding specific details to your skill-set. I’m going to recommend you take one of these ideas, work on incorporating it into your game – and then come back for another strategy to add on top. This stops players becoming overwhelmed with ideas all at once and potentially making a mess of the execution!
#1 – Nail those odds and outs. You will need to know the odds of certain hands hitting to make sure you are not making a mistake when drawing to those straights or flushes. Read Poker Odds and Outs for more.
#2 – Bluffs are an important part of any balanced poker strategy. Before you start throwing around those chips hoping your opponent will somehow find their fold button you need to read-up on two important types of bluff. The semi-bluff is an important weapon in any players arsenal, and the continuation bet is a profitable move too.
#3 – Suited connectors are hands like 7-8 of spades, which can hit hidden straights and flushes on the flop. Since your opponents never believe you have these hands, you can often win a huge pot those times you do hit. Be careful though, you need the right ‘implied odds’ to be able to play them. This article explains how to profitably play suited connectors and small pairs before the flop.
#4 – Hand reading. As you improve your own game, it is time to start trying to assess your opponent’s hands more accurately. This article is a basic guide to Poker Hand Reading.
#5 – Re-raising can work wonders for your chip stack, particularly during the mid to late stages. When you see another player raise and re-raise them again they will immediately start fearing you have a monster hand. My article on 3-betting explains how to use this powerful move, particularly against timid opponents.
#6 – Sooner or later you will reach a final table, and with the big money at stake you had better be prepared with the right strategy and moves! I recommend reading my article on 5 Final Table tips before you reach the last few players of a big tournament – where one mistake could cost you $100’s!
There are plenty more articles, including pro player insights, reviews of top-rated software tools and detailed reviews of all the best tournaments and poker sites all on my ‘Poker Tournaments Main Page’.
In the meantime, make sure you check out those super-soft tournaments at 888 Poker soon – this is a great way to get your poker tournament career off to a profitable start! You can choose from up to 6 great welcome bonuses too!
888 Poker - My Pick For Smaller Tournaments Which Are Super-Easy To Beat