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Poker Tournaments 101

by Rohan Das Posted on 15 Oct, 2020

If you have read my previous blog about how the IPC came into my life, you already know that the concept of a poker tournament was completely alien to me up until that point. When I first got started, there were some people who would organize a game and call it a ‘tournament’ but were just trying to make a quick buck by having multiple cash games running at the same time.

Those games used to  get busted pretty often, and luckily I never found myself in a situation where there was a ‘raid’ and was hauled into the police station just for being there. But I’m digressing. This week, let’s talk about what a poker tournament is.

DISCLAIMER – I am not going to give you tips and tricks about how to win one.

The Chips Are Everything & Nothing

When you buy into a cash game, you are handed a stack of chips which directly corresponds to the amount of money you’ve paid up front to participate in the game. You can choose to leave the game at any point and encash these chips for their full cash value.

In poker tournaments, it works a little differently. When you buy into a tournament, you are given a stack of chips whose value will differ from the amount you have paid to take part in the tournament. These have no value attached to them outside of the tournament you are taking part in and you cannot leave the game unless you get knocked out or win. The end goal of every tournament is to be the last player remaining with all the tournament chips in play.

Having said that though, tournaments aren’t winner-take-all affairs. In most cases the prize pool is distributed among the top 10-15% of players, with the winner taking home the lion’s share.

The Stakes Change

Unlike in cash games, the blind levels in tournaments go up at predetermined time intervals. This can vary from tournament to tournament. The blind levels tend to be longer for high buy in tournaments. This allows the players a little bit more wiggle room during the event.

So while it’s important to choose your hands carefully. You also have to keep an eye out on the size of your chip stack because your stack can go from healthy in one hand to short on the very next hand. This means that you might have to open up your hand range at different points in the tournament and you might see yourself bluffing more than usual to steal some pots and maintain a good level of chips.

One more thing to note is that most tournaments also introduce an ante after a certain stage. Like the big blind and the small blind, antes are also a compulsory bet that players must make before the cards are dealt. The key difference though is that antes are not restricted to only 2 players per hand and every player must put up the ante. Like the blinds, these too go up after every level and can range anywhere from half the amount of the small blind all the way up to the value of the big blind. This will also affect your effective chip stack and you will have to adjust your play accordingly.

Keep Your Eyes On The Clock

Since the blind levels keep increasing, you don’t have the liberty of taking too much time with your decisions and will have to act fast. The more hands you can play at a lower blind level, the better it is for you to be able to build up your chip stack.

If you take too much time with a particular decision, other players can request the dealer to call the clock on you and the tournament director will give you a countdown after which, your hand is considered dead if you do not match the bet in front of you. This is done because any delays will affect every player at the table and not just the ones involved in the hand. On the flip side, if a player is taking too long to make a decision, you too have the option to call the clock on them.

The Number of Players Will Affect the Payouts

In most cases, unless specified otherwise, tournaments do not have an upper limit on the number of individuals who can enter a tournament. Yes each table will play out 9 or 10 handed but the overall number of entries in a tournament are mainly restricted by the infrastructure available.

Now since, the prize pool is only paid out to a set percentage of the field, it’s in your best interest in a way if the field is large because that means that a larger number of people get paid. This however also means that there are that many more opponents trying to climb their way up the money ladder.

In all tournaments, you will see screens displaying a live counter of the number of total players and the number of players remaining, along with the updated prize pool. My personal recommendation is to take a look at this final count once registration has been completed and also keep an eye on the average stack size displayed on the screen and adjust your play to try and ensure that you go as deep into the tournament as possible.

Like I mentioned at the beginning, I wasn’t going to go into tips and tricks to win tournaments, but if you’d like I could tell you about how to play during the different stages of a tournament to the best of my ability and also how to generally make the most of your live poker tournament experience. If that’s something that you might be interested, let me know in the comments below.

Until next time, cheers!


About the author: Rohan Das is not now, nor has ever been a professional poker player, but has been associated with the Indian poker fraternity since 2011. He has a deep love for the game and is always encouraging new players to take up the sport. You can get in touch with him on Instagram @das.rohan



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