Poker has become immensely popular in recent years, especially the phenomenon of poker tournaments. As a poker player you may be wondering: How can I get involved in the poker tournament scene?
There are three main places to play in a poker tournament: At home, online, or at a casino. They each have their own advantages.
1. At Home.
This includes any poker game that is informally organized, either by you, someone you know, or a friend of a friend. As long as the rules are clearly outlined beforehand, you do not need any fancy dealers or tournament directors to play a poker tournament. All you really need are cards and chips. What's nice about a home poker game is that the financial stake can be strictly regulated. If your friends are comfortable risking twenty dollars, that can be the buy in for your tournament. If two dollars or two hundred are more their speed, that's fine too. There's no restriction on how many chips you can distribute, as long as everyone starts with the same amount (and you have enough chips). Even if everyone is only kicking in five dollars, you can all start with 10,000 in chips in front of you, just like the entrants to the World Series of Poker!
When setting up your own home poker tournament, a few things need to be established. First up is the prize payout structure. If your tournament only has about ten people, some people like to give about half the prize pool to the winner, 30 percent to the second place player and 20 percent to whoever comes in third. If you have more people, you might want to spread it out so that more get paid. Important note: Holding back a percentage of the prize pool for yourself as the organizer is illegal in a home poker game in many states, even if you're just using the money to pay for drinks. Be sure you know local laws before you withhold any prize money.
Then you have to establish how many chips everyone starts with. More chips usually equals more fun, but keep in mind if you have too many chips on the table, the tournament may go on much longer than people are comfortable with, especially the people who get knocked out early.
Finally, you need to know the blind structure. The way tournaments (at least Hold'em tournaments, which are probably what you will be playing), progress towards a winner is with forced blinds that players have to put into the pot each round, amounts that rise incrementally as the tournament goes on. You want to start with smallish blinds, so that people have time to show off their poker skills before the blinds get too big. A small blind of 5 and a big blind of 15 is not a bad way to start, nor is a 25-50 start if you want to get things moving a little faster. After a pre-determined period of time (15 to 40 minutes is a good range; err towards the shorter amount to keep the game moving), double the blinds, so you move from 25-50, to 50-100, to 100- 200. This should give your tournament a fun pace.
One last thing to keep in mind for home tournaments: The players who get knocked out need something to do. All but two people are not going to be playing in the tournament for some amount of time; the guy who gets knocked out first is going to be waiting a long time. Have another table available for a side game and keep a TV or snacks on hand to amuse your less fortunately guests while they're waiting for the next game to start up.
Online tournaments are a great place to start, especially if you are inexperienced or do not have a casino in your area. Download the software for one of the many poker sites on the internet (some of the most popular include PartyPoker, PokerStars, ParadisePoker and PacificPoker), you're ready to go! Online menus will direct you quickly and easily to the tournament of your choice. The most popular tournament online is called the "Sit and Go," meaning that as soon as enough people sit, you're ready to go! Sit and Gos are generally single table tournaments, so if you beat everyone at your table, you win. You will typically face nine opponents, although there are tables that offer six handed tournaments and some sites even allow four handed and heads-up tournament play. The buy-in is up to you; SnGs are offered from as low as $ 6 to enter to as high as hundreds of dollars to start, whatever suits your needs.
You can also play multi-table tournaments, with three or four tables' worth of people, or even larger tournaments, with hundreds of entrants. The payouts are generally a measure of how many people play, so a six handed Sit and Go may pay only two players, whereas a big tournament might pay over a hundred. All of these types of tournaments have a range of buy-ins; you will certainly be able to find one you are comfortable with.
Unless you live in Las Vegas, California, Atlantic City, or within striking distance of a Riverboat or Indian Reservation, it's hard to get to Casino tournaments on a regular basis, but they can be a very rewarding experience. The advantage the online tournaments have over the casino ones is that the casino tournament is on a much stricter schedule. You have to show up around the time the tournament is scheduled to start or you are out of luck. Casinos do not have the room or resources to be running all sorts of tournaments 24 hours a day, although many have at least one daily and one nightly tournament and sometimes run single table satellites, where you can earn tournament entry fees, continuously. People enjoy casino tournaments because they feel they get the full poker experience. You are literally surrounded by poker, the sounds of riffling chips, the appearance of the various players, the feel of the felt, these are all things you can only get in an actual (referred to as "brick and mortar" or "B & M" ) casino.
If clicking down your opponent or picking up subtle tells is your game, you need to be at the casino. If you want to sit down next to a pro or celebrity you've seen on TV, the only place that's going to happen is the casino. In addition to the full poker experience, players also do not have to worry about bad internet connections timing them out when they're trying to move all-in with their pocket aces, or about frustrating software crashes. Of course, you can not play a casino poker tournament in your underwear (although I'm guess some have tried) and you can not just hop into bed after a grueling twelve hour tournament; you still have to drive home. Still, for some, the casino tournament is the only way to go.
All three of these options provide great poker tournament experiences, you should try as many as you can and see which one suits you the best.