Online and On-Site Poker Tournaments

Poker tournaments have been a feature of land-based casinos for hundreds of years. Poker tournaments bring poker players together from around the world where they compete in pairs or in groups for a prize that reaches millions of dollars.

Today there are also online poker tournaments for online poker players.  Some of these online tournaments take place at online casinos and others are organized independently.

Poker Tournaments

Poker tournaments involve competitions of 2 or more players who vie for the tournament prize at the stated poker variation. Most poker tournaments involve Texas Hold ‘Em poker but there are also many tournaments for 5-Card Draw, 5-Card Stud Poker and 7-Card Stud Poker.

Poker tournaments can involve as few as two players who compete on a single table (a “heads-up” tournament) or as many as tens of thousands of competitors who play in a large auditorium that consists of thousands of tables. The tournament winner is generally the player who wins every poker chip. Second, Third and sometimes Fourth Place prizes are also often awarded, based on when those players were eliminated. 

Throughout the game, players’ chips aren’t cashed out for money – rather they serve to determine the player’s placing in the contest.  In that sense they don’t actually represent money, but are more like points to determine the winners.

How Tournaments Work

Players enter tournaments by paying a “buy-in.” Once the player purchases his buy in, he’s given a fixed quantity of tournament poker chips. A small portion of the buy-in usually goes towards the cost of running the event and the rest is used for the tournament’s prize.

Players use tournament chips, which have no cash value outside of the tournament. Some tournaments require the same buy-in from all players while others allow competitors to buy in at their preferred level. There are also options, in some tournaments, to re-buy or buy-back so that players can purchase more chips during the tournament itself.

Players are eliminated throughout the tournament when they have exhausted their chips and have no remaining options to buy any more chips.


In most tournaments, the play continues until all players are eliminated but one – that person becomes the winner.  You’ll never see a tie for first place in a poker tournament since the tournament continues till one player has all the chips.

Variations exist from one tournament to the next – some tournaments end by mutual consensus and in “bounty tournaments” a bounty is placed on some of the players so if a competitor knocks out an opponent, the player that knocked out the opponent earns the bounty. In some tournaments, players are allowed to exchange some or all of their chips for prize money while in others, a portion of each player’s buy-in goes towards prize pools and  “cash out” pools.

In most tournaments, players move around from one table to the next to ensure that the number of players at each table is kept even. There are also tournaments (“shoot out” tournaments) where the last player at each table moves on to the next round (single elimination tournament).  

Freerolls are tournaments in which the tournament prizes are derived from gate receipts from spectators and/or sponsorship revenues. It’s generally free to enter a freeroll tournament where each player has one chance to succeed. In “freebuy” tournaments,  a player can enter for free but he has the option to buy back into the event if he loses his chips during the registration period.  

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There are three types of poker tournament betting options.

  1. The structured system is a fixed limit betting system where bets and raises are restricted to specific amounts. The amounts increase throughout the tournament.
  2. The semi-structured betting system involves ranges for allowed raises. A player may not raise less than a previous player has raised.
  3. No limit betting, also called “structured betting” includes fixed antes, blinds and bring-ins. Each competitor is free to bet as much as he wishes, even to go “all in” by betting all of his chips, at any time. Sometimes, especially in no-limit Texas Hold ‘Em tournaments, some players bet “all-in” before the flop.


Organizations often run a poker tournament as a fundraiser while casinos, including online casinos, feature daily tournaments. There are also poker cruises where players can compete while on a cruise. The biggest tournaments generally take place at convention centers in Las Vegas.

The World Series of Poker events, the most distinguished poker tournament, takes place every year in the Rio Hotel in Las Vegas after having migrated from other Vegas sites over the years.

In Europe, the largest poker event is the European Poker Tour. Today the European Poker Tour is the largest poker tour in the world, both by both total players and prize pool.

In Asia, the biggest poker tournament event is the Asia Pacific Poker tour which is held in Macau.

The  most well-known tournament in Latin America is the largest South American poker event – the Latin American Poker tour Argentina event.

Australia’s premier poker tournament is the Crown Australian Poker championship, also known as the Aussie Millions. Aussie Millions encompasses the entire Pacific region.

The main live poker tournament in Africa, the All Africa Poker Tournament, is held annually at the Piggs Peak Casino in Piggs Peak, Swaziland

Almost every major city has its own poker tournament. Some are held as fundraisers while others are for-profit. The World Poker Tour broadcasts a series of open tournaments in multiple locations throughout the U.S. and the Caribbean.

Some European events have buy-ins of up to €10,000. The Caribbea Poker Adventure is a stand-alone event but that’s a bit unusual — most tournaments are held in conjunction with a tournament series so both are held at the same venue – some of these include the Commerce Casino’s LA Poker Classic, the Bicycle’s Casino’s Legends of Poker, the North American Poker Tour and the Grand Sierra’s World Poker Challenge.


There are also a number of online poker tournaments and poker tournament series.  The online venue enables these events to host hundreds of thousands of players simultaneously. Some of the biggest online poker tournaments include the World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) and the Full Tilt Online Poker Series (FTOPS). Tournament prizes at these online tournaments can go as high as one million dollars.

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