Unlike in cash games, when you play in a poker tournament you have no say to the table you will be playing at (unless you are playing in a single-table tournament like a sit and go.) As players register for tournaments they are randomly assigned table draws, and sometimes those draws can be favorable, seating you at a table of fish and sometimes those draws can go very, very wrong – and you could be the fish at a table of poker sharks!
When considering playing in a poker tournament there are a couple of things to consider:
By structure I mean three things:
- Starting chips. How many chips are you getting for your buy-in? At the WSOP the number is usually 3x the buy-in, so in a $1,500 tournament you will get T4,500 in starting chips. All other things being equal, you would rather play in a tournament that gives you T10,000.
- Number of levels. A typical tournament might start at blind levels of 25/50, then 50/100, then 100/200. But what if a tournament also offered a 75/150 level? Then you would get more play. Look for those tournaments that have slower blind increases, meaning more levels.
- Length of levels. The longer a level, in minutes, the more hands you will see at each blind level. Even with a nice starting chip stack and a good number of levels if the length of levels is 10 minutes the tournament will quickly turn into a push-fest. Find those tournaments with 30 minute levels or more.
Combined, these three important factors make up the structure of the tournament. When shopping around for poker tournaments in which to play, choose those tournaments with the best structure, meaning the most starting chips, most levels and longest levels. These tournaments offer the most “play” and will allow the poker cream to rise to the top and give you the best chance to win.
Normally the prize pool in a poker tournament is fully funded by the players entering the tournament. Imagine you are playing in a $100 buy-in tournament, and it is a winner-takes-all tournament. In this simple example, the prize pool will be $100 times the number of players in the tournament, minus some money for the house (the casino has to make money to pay staff, and to make profits!) So if there are 100 players perhaps the winner would get $9,000 ($100 x 100 minus casino profits).
One thing to look for, however, is poker tournaments with guaranteed prize pools. In these tournaments the casino is guaranteeing a certain amount of money will be paid out no matter how many people show up for the tournament. If there is a shortage of players this is called an overlay. So in our example, if this tournament had a guaranteed prize pool of $9,000 and less than 100 people showed up for the tournament, the casino would add money to the prize pool to get to the guarantee.
Of course it would never happen, but imagine if you were the only player to show up! You would pay your $100 entry fee and collect the $9,000 prize. More realistically, perhaps you only have to fight it out with 50 people instead of a 100.
Evaluating the structure and prize pool of a poker tournament is key to your success. Make sure you do it well and you will profit.
See you at the poker tables.