A poker tournament is, for all intents and purposes, a tournament where the players compete at poker. Sounds simple enough but the skill and knowledge that go into it all are a little more nuanced.  Whether your small-time or often find yourself at a high stakes table, winning a tournament can provide you with enough money to turn your life around.

Here’s a brief guide to how they work.

The Prize

Many would think that the prize is what it’s all for but that’s not entirely true. Sure, a huge cash prize can be what entices a lot of people to play but you mustn’t rule out glory, which can be a hefty prize in its own right.

Traditionally, the prize is money but it can also be a bracelet or other item that acknowledges your feat. The player that makes it to the end with all the chips is the winner. It’s worth noting that the chips themselves have no real value and are mostly of notional value. Unlike cash games, the player cannot just cash-out when they’ve had enough as the chips only denote the player’s placing.

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The Buy-In

This is the amount that is requested for the player to put forward in order to take part in the game. Some games, like high-stakes, will have larger buy-ins, whereas those with low stakes or purely notional value can be free.

Sometimes the buy-in can cover the cost of running an event and sometimes the buy-ins are what everyone is playing for; the more players, the more money for the prize.

Playing Format

The Poker variants can differ for each tournament; From Stud and Hold’em to H.O.R.S.E and Omaha.

The most common type of tournament follows the “freezeout” format. All the players start equally but when a player loses their chips, they leave the game, and the table shrinks. This can be done with multiple tables running simultaneously and the pool shrinks down to the players who reach the “final table.”

Sometimes, during “rebuy tournaments,” you can buy your way back into a game for another go but this is usually reserved for players who didn’t lose all of their chips.


The players are free to bet whenever the opportunity arises, yet they are frequently subjected to a ‘fixed limit’ betting system. This ensures the bets and raises are restricted t specific amounts and though the amounts increase throughout the tournament, it stops players from raising the stakes too high, too quickly.

There is, however, also the opportunity for ‘no limit’ games. These allow players to bet whatever amount they wish in whatever opportunity they get, even in the early betting rounds. This does mean that a player can go all-in early on and lose everything immediately.  These games make it much easier to bluff with aggressive betting.

I hope this has proved as a helpful summary of the basics surrounding Poker tournaments. If there is any advice to give to those looking to join a tournament; try to win a few games consecutively before joining a tournament as more often than not is it when you lose once, you’re down for the count.