Types of Poker Tournaments

Types of Poker Tournaments

A poker tournament is a tournament where players compete with each other by playing poker. It can feature as few as 2 players playing on a single table called a "heads-up" tournament, and as many as 10's of thousands of poker players playing on 1000's of tables.

To enter a tournament, a poker player pays a fixed buy-in and at the start of poker tournament is given a certain amount of poker chips. The winner of the tournament is usually the person who wins every poker chip in the tournament.

Below are several types of poker tournaments that are available at online poker rooms.

Click for details on history, hand rankings/nicknames and poker terminology/glossary.


The correct definition of a bounty in poker is a type of tournament where the player is rewarded a prize for knocking out a specific player from the competition or, alternatively, any number of pre-determined players.

Many online poker sites today offer players the opportunity to enter bounties and get rewarded real cash when they eliminate a pro or celebritys from the competition. Bounties are particularly appealing because they allow players to win cash even without finishing in the money, only for eliminating the player/s with a bounty on their heads. Players are usually paid out immediately after they manage to knock out the specified player and there is no waiting until the end of the tournament to see any money. Naturally, all tournaments vary and the bounty on a player’s head will differ from site to site. In a slightly varied format, poker sites take a certain percentage of the buy in amount and place it on the head of each player in the competition as a bounty. A 100% bounty tournament may come with no prize pool but would pay out for each player knocked out.

Deep Stack

Deep Stack poker tournaments played at poker sites are characterized by the larger than usual amount of chips which players begin the competition with, in relation to the blind or ante. Most Deep Stack events begin with around 5,000 chips, although this number may vary from site to site. The blinds usually remain the same as they do in all other tournaments. The higher chip levels give players more play throughout the competition. In addition, poker rooms will extend the intervals between each level (from, for example, the typical 15 minutes to half an hour) in order to prolong play – especially during the earlier stages of the game.

Double or Nothing

Double or Nothing poker tournaments differ from traditional kinds of tournaments in their payout structure. Essentially half the entrants into these types of competitions double their buy in, while the other half will go on to lose their original buy in. The tournament also differs in that a larger than usual number of players cash. Also, there is no difference between the player who finishes first in the tournament, or the player who finishes last in cash. Therefore, in a typical Double or Nothing Sit and Go tournament between a game of 10, five players come out with nothing, while the other five get to double up. With a good strategy plan and a bit of luck, Double or Nothing poker tournaments can prove to be particularly lucrative.


A freeroll tournament is one of the most sought after types of competitive events at online poker sites. As its name implies, this kind tournament attracts players due to the fact that it usually carries no entry fees and could thus be a good starting point for first time players to build up their bankrolls without making an initial investment.

It is important to remember that some freeroll tournaments may advertise themselves as such but, upon closer inspection, might require one to deposit funds into a poker account or use points gained during play at the site as an entry fee. True freeroll tournaments therefore require no entry fee but the majority of them will have special entrance restrictions, so it is worth reading the small print before signing up.

Prizes for winning a freeroll tournament may vary, ranging from cash, points, entry fees into other tournaments at the site or even merchandise at the poker room’s online store. As can be expected, these types of events are hugely popular and sometimes generate some of the hottest action at online poker sites. Players can find information about these events on the tournament schedule at their favorite poker sites.

Freeze Out

Freeze out poker tournaments, run by popular poker sites are characterized by the fact that player will make one single buy in and, after losing all their chips, are eliminated from the competition. The tournament will continue until all the players continue to be eliminated, and the tables become smaller and are combined with other tables. The competition reaches its peak when all the tables have been combined to form one final table and these players fight it out until there is one player left at the end of the competition with all the chips in hand.


When players enter a poker tournament, they are obviously to keen to find out the prize money involved. This is made that much easier by looking up guaranteed tournaments in the tournament lobby. Guaranteed tournaments are usually cash tournaments where the prize pool is guaranteed to reach a specific sum of money. Some guaranteed tournaments are known to carry prizes reaching into the millions of dollars, while naturally there are more modest prizes up for grabs as well.

If, for example, a poker site posts a guaranteed tournament of $100K, it is essentially assuring tournament participants that the prize will be at least that amount and it may even rise some more. Poker sites usually make up the guaranteed sum from the buy in fee charged to each player. If there are not enough participants, the site will need to top up the amount to reach the guaranteed figure. This is called an overlay. These types of circumstances make the tournament extra attractive as it means that there is more money up for grabs then what the players contributed in the first place. If more than the expected number of players buy in to the tournament, their buy in amount is added to the guaranteed amount, meaning there is more money in the end to split among the winners.

Heads Up

A heads up poker tournament refers to a game that takes place between two poker players only. In most cases, the small blind is assigned to one player and the big blind to his or her rival. The button is rotated between the two.

Most players agree that heads up tournaments differ greatly to other types of tournaments and a serious change of strategy is required. The most important factor recognized for this type of play is aggression. However, it is also seen quite often that excellent players play at heads up tournaments without even adjusting their strategies whatsoever and make a fine profit from this fast and volatile form of poker tournament. Heads up tournaments are also less predictable than other types of tournaments, as it is difficult to say whether they will last over an over or be over in less than a minute.

Heads up tournaments generally take place in three different structures: Single elimination (the simplest structure), double elimination (when the player loses for the second time) and the round robin format (where players play a number of matches against different opponents and are then ranked based on their record before the top two face each other).


Limit poker tournaments are competitions held among poker players, where the bets as well as the raises are set at a fixed limit. This pertains to any round of the poker tournament. Limit tournaments either provide fixed bets for each different betting round throughout the competition, or they can offer spread limits, whereby each round in the poker game has a minimum and maximum bet limit. The word ‘limit’ in a tournament title usually refers to the level of stakes, or it could refer to the maximum wager at a certain point in the competition. Popular limit formats include low limit, medium limit and high limit, referring to the betting levels. High limit tournaments, for example can carry figures of $50-$100 and up.

Multi Table

Poker Tournaments

Multi Table Tournaments, also known as MTT's, are – as their name implies – poker competitions where a number of poker tables are involved at once. Essentially, all players begin the competition with the same number of chips, and they compete for each other’s chips as the blinds/antes increase. When a player runs out of chips he/she is eliminated from the competition. Throughout the tournament, players are shifted to other tables to keep the tables full (known as breaking tables).

The final round of the multi table tournament takes place when there is only one remaining final table, played out between the last standing players, with the winner being the player who finishes with all the chips. Traditionally, all top finishers in Multi Table Tournaments receive some type of reward, be it cash or other prizes. The number of players who receive a prize will depend on the number of players who registered for the tournament in the first place.

No Limit

A No Limit betting structure is when players are allowed to bet whatever amount of chips they wish, as long as it is over a set minimum. No Limit poker tournaments are generally characterized by the fact that each player around the table can bet or raise any amount they want.

Naturally, there are a few rules that need to be enforced in a No Limit tournament. This includes the fact that the raise may not be less than the blinds at any stage of the game; that the raise can’t be less than the amount of the last raise in a round of betting and that the raise can’t be more than the player has on the poker table.

It is interesting to note that the phrase ‘all-in’ was coined around No Limit poker tournaments – meaning that the poker player wagers everything he has left on the table.

Pot Limit

In order to let the pot grow geometrically, pot limit poker tournaments limit betting rounds, bets and raises to the size of the pot that it currently stands at. A pot limit tournament also applies a spread limit restriction so that the maximum wager equals the current size of the pot. Pot limit tournaments are attractive to poker players in that the limit is considered high enough to get their money’s worth in the competition should they land a strong hand, but not too high that their poker rivals can grab the pot too easily.


Private tournaments are traditionally real money single table tournaments that are initiated by the tournament organizer, where up to 9 players can play exclusively with each other at an online poker site. Many online poker rooms allow players to organize their own private poker tournaments once they reach a certain level on their loyalty program scale. Private tournaments allow players who know each other – be it friends, co-workers or family – to enjoy a game with each other and benefit from familiar faces around the poker table.

Upon joining a poker room, players may request to join private tournament groups that are already running at the site. It should be noted, however, that the tournament organizer has the last word in deciding whether the player can join the tournament or not.


As the name implies, rebuy and add-on poker tournaments essentially allow players to rebuy or add on additional chips while the game is being played out. The terms and conditions of each tournament differ, but the general rule of thumb is that rebuys and add-ons can take place until the end of the first break of the game, usually within the first hour of play. The terms of the tournament will also determine how many re-buys each player is allowed, with some allowing unlimited amounts, while others specifying a certain number.

Players can not simply make indiscriminate rebuys. They are only allowed to add on chips if the number they have is less than or equal to the number that they had at the start of the tournament. In other words, they are allowed to bring themselves up to a level playing field once more, but no more. In most rebuy/add-on poker tournaments, the cost of the re-buy is the same amount that the player paid for the initial buy in into the tournament. Some competitions allow players to perform double rebuys, whereby they pay twice the amount that they paid initially, but receive double the chips.


A satellite is essentially a poker tournament that has, as its prize, an entry ticket into a bigger and generally more lucrative tournament. It is usually worth a player’s while to try and enter the main tournament through satellites, as the buy in for the latter is usually much less than the buy in for the main event. Players could easily find themselves paying $20 for the buy in for a satellite tournament when the buy in for the main tournament is 10 times that.

Online poker rooms regularly run satellite tournaments, with the prize being entry into larger tournaments held at later dates at the site, or to popular land based poker tournaments such as the World Series of Poker event. Most include accommodation and flight expenses as well. One of the most famous satellite stories involves Chris Moneymaker who entered a $39 satellite tournament and found himself winning entry into the 2003 WSOP - a prize worth $10K. After an amazing rise through the ranks, Moneymaker finally won the gold bracelet and $2.5 million in cash!

Detailed information about satellite schedules are usually found in the tournament lobby of all popular online poker sites.

Shoot Out

A popular form of poker tournament, shoot outs call for a limited number of poker players to compete at different tables. During the first round of the tournament, the competition continues until one player is left with all the chips. In an elimination style, the winners from the second round are then combined with the winners from the first round at other tables, and again everyone plays until there is only one player at each table with all the chips. The tournament continues until the final player is left with the chips. There is no set number of people that can take part in a shoot out tournament. There can be as little as two or up to ten players per table, and the number of rounds can also vary.

Single Table

Single Table Tournaments, also known as STT’s, are another name for the popular Sit ‘n Go tournaments found at online poker sites. (Although some sites will also offer Multi Table Sit and Go’s).

STT's don’t have a scheduled starting time at poker sites, and simply start up when the required number of players sign up. This type of tournament structure is limited to a certain number of players, usually 5, 6, 9 or 10, although ten seems to be the standard number at most poker rooms. Each player in the game begins with a number of chips, and the top three finishers in the game get the money. While payout structures vary from STT to STT, the typical standard is 50% to the first placed player, 30% to the second and 20% to the third.

The appeal of Single Table Tournaments is easily understood, compared to the longer hours needed to commit to Multi Table Tournaments. STT’s offer fast, entertaining player, with good gains to be had.

Sit & Go

A Sit & Go is a type of poker tournament that enjoys enormous popularity at online poker sites. Also known as S & G and SNG for short, these tournaments are characterized by the fact that they are not pre-scheduled. A Sit & Go will begin whenever there are enough people interested in taking part in the tournament and they fill the seats set aside for that particular event.

There is no set number of players in a typical Sit & Go tournament and an event could include two players in a heads up match or as many as 360 players – depending on the type of tournament being run at the site. These are played in one table or multi table events.

The beauty of Sit & Go tournaments is that they are so diverse. Besides the number of players who take part, they can also be in cash tournament or satellite format. Two popular types of Sit & Go tournaments include the tiered Steps type and the Double or Nothing format where half the players win back double their buy in amounts. Games most likely to be found in a Sit & Go include Texas Hold ‘em, Omaha and Seven Card Stud.


Steps poker tournaments were first introduced by Party Poker and have become a popular addition to the tournament schedules at online poker sites. These are essentially a series of single table satellite poker tournaments where buy ins increase each time.

A typical steps tournament comprises of five steps and the final step usually has massive cash prizes up for grabs. The prizes in the first rounds of the steps tournament are entry into the next level. So, for example, winners of the first step benefit from entry into the next level, and so forth. The rules of steps tournaments vary from site to site, although it is usually acceptable that players buy in to any step of the tournament. It is worth noting, however, that it will cost more to buy in at the higher stages of the tournament, than the lower steps.

Step tournaments can be spread over a long time period. For example if a player wins the first step of the tournament, he or she doesn’t need to play the second step immediately, and the stage can be played even weeks later.


As their name implies, Turbo tournaments are exciting competitions offered by poker sites, characterized by the blind levels that increase so much faster than in standard poker tournaments.

Before the blinds and antes increase, most poker sites will set the length of each round to five minutes, although some sites settle on six minutes. The standard length of a round in other tournaments is ten or fifteen. In the event of Turbo rebuys, these stop at 30 minutes (as opposed to an hour in standard rebuy events). A twist on a Turbo tournament is a 2 x or 3 x Turbo event, usually played out as a satellite,) where the rebuy time is double (or triple) what it would be in a traditional rebuy tournament.

Starting stacks, rebuys and add-ons will naturally differ from competition to competition, and from site to site, and so it is important to check the details beforehand.


The online poker revolution has sparked online poker tournaments that have become bigger than many land tournaments.

Posted by CCJ Team