The game of poker has been around for many years. It is thought to have originated in the Wild West sometime in the 18th century and has since become a game played around the world by thousands.
The advent of online poker sparked a boom for the industry, beginning with the much-publicised World Series of Poker championship, in which the winner took home a huge prize after buying in for a stake of just $40. In 2020, online poker has been given a second win, with almost all online sites reporting a significant increase in new player numbers.
With poker widely available online in the UK, opportunities to enter tournaments are plentiful. There are many different types and sizes of tournament, ranging from six-seater sit-and-go tables to international events with thousands of entrants. Players who fully understand the nature of tournament events and how to strategize for them are in with a better shot of making it to the final table and taking home the prize.
Sit-and-go poker tournaments can be defined broadly as tournaments that allow only a predetermined number of entrants, which can reach as high as 360 players or more. However, the typical online sit-and-go tournament, or SNG, will be a single-table game for either six or nine players. Due to the small number of players, the prizes are not that great when compared to larger tournaments. These types of games are ideal for learning poker strategy or for those that want a quick event. Unlike in cash games, entrants can only lose what they pay to enter – small SNGs rarely offer the option to rebuy.
Multi-table tournaments, or MTTs, are the most popular choice for players who want to be in with a chance of winning larger prizes. These events are harder than SNGs and they take a lot longer. Depending on the total number of players, some of the biggest poker MTTs can last for several days. While it can be harder to get to the top in MTT events, one of the benefits is that more players get paid. Most tournaments will pay out prizes to the top 10% to 15% of players, with prizes increasing in value the closer they get to the top table. Some of the biggest events offer jackpots of millions of dollars.
Satellite tournaments are offered by online poker sites and in real life as a way for players with less cash to risk to be in with a chance of entering some of the larger tournaments. Players pay a relatively small buy-in and compete as usual. However, the top prize is not a cash payout but a free entry ticket to a much larger tournament. Winners of satellite events are effectively given free bankroll for a more lucrative event. One of the most famous cases of a satellite tournament entrant winning big was Chris Moneymaker, who took home a cool $2.5 million when he won the WSOP Main Event in 2003, having staked just $39 to play in the satellite.
- Endurance – one of the most important things to remember about any tournament is that once entered, players are committed to the bitter end, or until they lose all their chips. Unlike cash games, there is no option to cash in the chips already won and walk away. The event ends when one player has taken all the chips, and in some tournaments that could take a very long time. Before entering a tournament, players should consider how much time they are prepared to commit to the game.
- Positional play – Large MTTs will move players around as each table gets smaller when people are knocked out. This can make it harder to get a handle on opponents, as those opponents are changing on a regular basis. Playing positionally can help optimise the chances of winning even when sitting down at a table full of unfamiliar poker faces.
- Reading the table – Players who want to make it through a large tournament need to become experts at reading the other people at the table straight off the bat. While they may not have any prior information to help them spot tells or single out the weaker opponents, top poker players have honed the art of picking up on the smallest gestures and turning them into profit.
- Steal the blinds – In the earlier rounds of a tournament it is fine for players to sit back a little and fold more hands. As play advances, the blinds and antes become much higher and therefore worth stealing at every available opportunity. If the player on the button is playing quite tight, this becomes even easier.
- Defend the blinds – By the same token, once blinds become large enough to be worth stealing, they are also large enough to be worth protecting. In the later stages of a tournament, the player on the big blind should be trying to play at least 40% of their hands. With late-position openers, even decent suited hands such as Queen-seven can be worth playing to defend that blind.
- Build aggression – Each poker tournament has three distinct stages, yet many players make the mistake of playing the same strategy at the end as they did in the beginning. Elite players will become more aggressive with their strategy as the game enters the middle stage, and even more so at the late stage. As the number of players becomes fewer, less impressive starting hands can suddenly have much more chance of winning the pot.
Many online poker sites have tournaments that can be entered for as little as a cent or a penny, which can be a great way to practice tournament strategy and endurance before committing larger sums. Many also offer free tournament tickets as part of a sign-up package or loyalty bonus scheme.