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Tournaments are the ultimate in poker excitement! There’s nothing quite like winning every last chip in the game and walking away with an enormous pot and you don’t need to wait until you’re an expert to get in on the action. There are so many tournaments available (especially online) that attract players of all levels of experience that you’re sure to find one suitable for your ability.

Many credit televised tournaments (especially the use of the lipstick camera) and satellite tournaments for poker’s sensational rise in popularity. Tournaments are held in land-based casinos, card rooms and online and come in a variety of styles, such as single table and multi-table. Once you’re comfortable with your poker skills, entering an online tournament is an excellent way to practice your general game and to learn how to improve your play in tournaments (both live and online).

Everyone entering a tournament pays a registration fee. It’s a buy-in (that goes into the prize pool) plus an entry fee (what the casino charges to host the event it’s usually 10% of the buy-in).

The money you spent for the registration fee is all you’re going to pay and it can give you hours of play this is great value for your money and a reason people like to play tournaments. It’s also a good way to manage your poker budget if you tend to overspend.

After registering for the game, each player is given the same amount of chips before the game starts. In all tournaments (except ones with time limits), the game ends when only one player has won all of the chips and everyone else is broke. We call this kind of tournament a ‘freezeout.’ In games with time limits, the winner is whoever wins all of the chips (if it’s before the time limit is up) or whoever has the most chips when the time is up.

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The money from the buy-in (not the entry fee) goes in the prize pool and is usually divided three ways: 50% to the winner, 30% to the second place finisher, and 20% to the player in third place. So if you had a tournament with a $22 registration fee and 10 people, the money is divided as follows:

$2 from your $22 registration fee goes to the casino and the rest goes in the pot:

Pot total: $20 x 10 people = $200
1st place: 50% (50% of $200 = $100)
2nd place: 30% (30% of $200 = $60)
3rd place: 20% (20% of $200 = $40)

You can imagine how much bigger the payout would be with hundreds of players! Your initial $22 payment would give you hours of play and hundreds or thousands of dollars in prize money. The big tournaments, like the World Series of Poker, have $10,000 buy-ins with multi-million dollar pots!

If you don’t have $10,000 to spare, you can win your buy-in or seat for the WSOP and other big tournaments by winning a satellite tournament for a fraction of the cost. They’re held in casinos, card rooms and online in fact, the WSOP winners in 2003 and 2004 both won their seats in online satellite tournaments. The winner in 2003, Chris Moneymaker, spent $39 for the registration fee for the online satellite tournament that he won, which earned him an entry-fee into a larger satellite tournament. The top prize in that tournament was a seat at the WSOP, where he went on to win to win $2.5 million! Moneymaker lived four hours to the closest legal card room, so leading up to his WSOP debut, he had only played online and had no experience playing tournaments in person. His success and many other online players who have come since him highlight the importance of online poker and how it can help you be a better tournament and all-round poker player.

Visit Poker Stars to enter satellite tournaments to qualify for a seat in the WSOP and the World Poker Tour. Their qualifying tournaments include the $10,000 registration fee, travel to Las Vegas, spending money and anywhere from five to sixty nights’ accommodation! Besides the satellite tournaments, Full Tilt Poker has tournaments of all kinds running throughout the day, so you’re guaranteed to find something you like.

The game played to choose the world champion at the WSOP is Texas Hold ‘em, thus making that poker variant the most popular tournament game. But there are tournaments for all poker games (Omaha, Draw, etc…), so don’t forget to practice those as well!

Beyond practice, good tournament play requires concentration and stamina. Unlike regular games where you can leave and come back to the table later, breaks in tournaments are short and at set times and games can last up to 14 hours or more in one day. A typical game would have an hour break for lunch and a ten minute break every one-and-a-half to two hours. If you don’t have 14 hours to spare, there are formats that are much quicker, such as single table tournaments which take about 45 to 60 minutes to finish or speed and turbo tournaments which are even faster.

To make sure that games don’t go on for days and days, the blinds and betting limits increase every fifteen minutes or every ten hands (depending on the tournament structure). This speeds up the time it takes for players to go broke (lose all of their chips). If you can’t stay until the end of the tournament and have to leave (but you still have chips left), you can’t cash them in and must forfeit the chips.

Playing in tournaments is exciting and an excellent way to dramatically improve your game. Read our section on how to start playing in an online tournament. Also check out the different tournament formats, strategies and a list of some popular world tournaments.

The best sites for online poker tournaments are Poker Stars and Full Tilt Poker. Both are hugely popular with tournaments of varying games and buy-ins held throughout the day.

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