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The Beginners Guide Series: Types of Poker Tournaments

Poker’s variety is one of its primary reasons for its popularity. It is endlessly replayable since every game is different, and if you don’t like one form of poker, you can keep trying new ones until you find the perfect one. Common choices in poker include Holdem vs. Omaha or tournaments vs. cash games. We want to help you choose what is best for you, so this beginners poker guide will look at poker tournaments. We will explain what they are, how they work, and the various types of tournaments, from multi-table tournaments to sit-and-goes.

Single/Multi-Table Tournaments

Cash games are played continuously, with participants free to leave and join between games. Tournaments are not like this. In a typical tournament, the participants play poker until one person has all the chips. That person wins, taking the largest share of the prize pool. The rest of the prize pool is divided amongst the highest finishing players depending on when they are knocked out, with many entrants not getting money. Unlike in a cash game where you have minimum and maximum buy-in sizes, a tournament buy-in is fixed, meaning everyone has the same starting stack size. To help speed up elimination, blinds steadily increase throughout the tournament, and more forced bets, known as antes, are often introduced, with everyone having to pay them. 

Just like it sounds, single-table tournaments are only played on one table and only support up to nine or ten players. Multi-table tournaments are the more common poker tournament format, allowing you to host large events with potentially thousands of participants. Players are separated into many tables, which all play simultaneously, and as players are eliminated, fewer tables are used. When everyone is seated at one table, it is known as the “final” table, and the tournament is played until its conclusion.

Freezeouts, Rebuys, and Reentries

Tournaments can be further categorized depending on what happens when you lose all your chips. The most popular format is the freezeout. When your chips run out, you are eliminated and can’t rejoin the tournament. Some tournaments offer rebuys within a specified time window, close to the beginning of the tournament. You can buy back in when you fall below a certain amount of chips, usually paying the price of the original entry fee again. You will then be able to continue playing with a chip amount equal to what you started with. Re-entries are a variation of rebuys, in which you must be eliminated before you are able to buy back in. After paying, you will be reseated at another table with the starting amount of chips, as if you had just entered the tournament anew. 

Sit-and-Go Tournaments

We did say most tournaments aren’t like cash games, but Sit-and-Goes act as a hybrid between traditional tournaments and cash games.

Traditional tournaments are scheduled to begin at a particular time. This can be frustrating as it requires you to schedule a large block of your time on the tournament day and you never know how long you’re going to be playing.

Sit-and-Goes, as the name implies, allow you to just sit down and once the table is full, you play, similar to cash games. They don’t have a fixed start time. Entrants sign up, and the tournament starts when there are enough people to play. Sit-and-Goes are typically single-table, though there are some small multi-table sit-and-goes online.

Turbo Tournaments

For many people, tournaments can be almost aggravatingly slow-paced, especially with many players. Turbo tournaments aim to solve this by increasing the blind levels at a faster rate than your regular tournament. With its quicker pace, this blind structure is usually paired with a sit-and-go format for a conveniently speedy game. There are also further variations on turbo tournaments, known as ‘super turbo’ or ‘hyper’ tournaments. The blinds increase significantly faster and you can typically only find these tournament types online. 

Satellite Tournaments

A Satellite Tournament is a special kind of tournament that serves as a qualifier for more significant events. The prize pool usually does not pay out in cash but, instead, one or more entries to a tournament with a larger entry fee. Some satellites still give cash to those who fall short of the main prize.

Since the top prizes are usually an entry into the same, bigger tournament, satellites do not need to be played to completion if they offer more than one entry. If a satellite offers five entries, there is no need to continue playing when only five players remain. They all receive the same prize, so the tournament simply ends. Many large tournaments host satellites, typically online, including the prestigious World Series of Poker (WSOP).

Online satellites are a large part of the WSOP’s recent history, thanks to Chris Moneymaker. In 2003, after winning a satellite tournament, he won a seat in the $10,000 WSOP main event. Despite being an amateur who was new to live tournaments, he went against all odds and won the main event, proving that anyone can make it big if they have what it takes.