In 2003, Chris Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker and walked away with a $2.5 million prize. It was a defining moment for the game, as Moneymaker earned his spot by winning an online poker tournament.
From that moment, every online gambler wanted to follow in Moneymaker’s footsteps, triggering a golden age of online poker and turning this industry into the behemoth that it is today.
What are Online Poker Tournaments?
The goal of an online poker tournament is to last as long as possible. The format differs with regards to the speed, rules, and even the variant of poker being played, but the end goal is always to try and be the last one standing.
If so, you’ll walk away with a prize. If not, you could still win some money, but it all depends on the format and how many people you’re up against.
What Are the Types of Online Poker Tournaments?
Most poker sites have at least two options when it comes to poker tournaments: SNG and MTT. You will find these options on all good sites, but they cover a wide variety of game variations, and on the bigger poker sites, there are lots of unique ways to play.
Sit and Go (SNG) Tournaments
Also known as single-table tournaments (STTs), sit-and-go tournaments are a quick and easy tournament variation where all the action takes place on a single table.
These games usually run for less than an hour and are a good option if you don’t have a lot of free time. The total number of players varies, but there are often around 4 to 9 per table, with either 1, 2, or 3 placers paid.
Multi-Table Tournaments (MTT)
Multi-table tournaments can have anywhere from two tables to several hundred. The biggest tournaments host over 10,000 players, creating prize money for hundreds of finishers.
The downside to these tournaments is that they can take many hours to complete. They will often have 5-minute breaks every hour, but they rarely break for the night like live poker tournaments.
Depending on the total player numbers and rules, these tournaments can last anywhere from 1 hour to 12 hours on average.
Knockout/Bounty Hunter Tournaments
In a bounty hunter tournament, you win money every time you knock a player out. A small percentage of their value is then added to your own head, making you a bigger target.
These tournaments function like normal MTTs in that the main goal is to be the last person standing and earn some prize money. But the bounties add another incentive and tend to make players more aggressive.
An all-in tournament is one that automatically forces all players to go all-in on every hand. There’s very little actual poker here and it’s purely a game of chance.
These tournaments are rapid, even where there are thousands of players. They are often used as part of promotions and giveaways. Some are all-in until the final table.
Online poker tournaments allocate the total prize money based on a fixed percentage, such as 50% for 1st, 25% for 2nd, 10% for 3rd, and 5% for 4th, 5th, and 6th.
It means that you won’t be leaving empty-handed if you just miss out on the top spot, and you’ll be thankful for that if you’re just spent 4 hours working your way to the final table only to suffer a bad beat.
Winner-takes-all tournaments don’t have that safety net and give everything to the winner. These tournaments are usually small, with just a dozen or so players, but they can be much bigger.
If you want the absolute maximum jackpot prize money and don’t care about consolation prizes, these tournaments are ideal. If you’re happy when you make a profit and hate coming away with nothing, they are best avoided.
Turbo Poker Tournaments
If you want the experience of an MTT but don’t have several hours to kill, look for a Turbo tournament. Some of these tournaments work by shortening the length of time that players have to act, as well as the time between ante/blind increases. As a result, players can’t simply sit around and let the tournament pass them by and they are forced to act.
Formats like Zoom Poker (available at PokerStars) take things to another level. In Zoom Poker, you are moved to a new table and given a new hand every time you fold. The transition is rapid, and it greatly increases the number of hands played per minute.
Deep Stack Poker Tournaments
A deep stack tournament is the opposite of a turbo tournament. The levels are slowed and players are given deeper chip stacks. These games usually don’t attract as many players as turbo tournaments, but they can still have hundreds of participants.
You should only sit down at a deep stack tournament if you’re prepared for a very long gaming session.
Where Can I Play Online Poker Tournaments?
You can play online poker tournaments at P2P poker rooms. These are the sites that pit player against player, with the operator merely providing the software and taking a small amount from each buy-in or rake.
Most online casinos have some variation of virtual poker, video poker, and live casino poker. But these games are all played against the house, they all have a house edge, and they are contested over single hands and not entire tournaments.
On the flip side, sites like PokerStars organise tournaments that thousands of players can join. Everyone pays a buy-in, most of this money goes into the pot (creating all of the prizes), and then the site takes a small cut. The site has no vested interest from that point, so it doesn’t participate in the hands and there is no house edge.
If you want to take advantage of the high payouts offered by games of poker, as well as the ability to turn skill, knowledge, and patience into big payouts, you need to stick with P2P poker rooms as opposed to online casinos.
How Do They Differ from Live Tournaments?
Online poker tournaments function a lot like live tournaments, but there are some key differences:
- Virtual Dealers: All of the action in an online poker tournament is controlled by a virtual dealer who is governed by a random number generator.
- Speed: Live tournaments can take several days to complete as each hand is very slow. Online tournaments speed things up with much shorter time limits and fast play.
- Intermissions: The slow play of live tournaments means you can be waiting several minutes between hands, giving you time to relax. You can also sit out a few hands to give yourself a prolonged break. With online poker tournaments, you don’t get that time, and so there are 5-minute intermissions every hour.
- Variety: The speed, simplicity, and convenience of these tournaments mean there are often several of them active at once. You can also play multiple tournaments during the same day, so if you get knocked out in one, you can just jump into another.
FAQs about Online Poker Tournaments
Yes, you can join a tournament type known as a “freeroll”. These games are usually offered to new members, and you can also find sporadic freerolls available throughout the week.
Generally speaking, new player free rolls have the biggest prizes, but it largely depends on the size of the site and how many players it gets through its doors.
Some of the smaller freerolls will give you just a few quid for finishing first and others offer up to £200.
It depends on the tournament type. A sit-and-go typically fills a single table, so you’ll usually find just 3 to 8 other players. An MTT, on the other hand, can have thousands of other players.
The biggest tournaments on sites like PokerStars offer hundreds of thousands of dollars to the winners, and there are also occasional tournaments that exceed £1 million..
You’ll be hard-pressed to find an online poker room that doesn’t offer mobile gaming these days. As a result, you should be able to play online poker tournaments on your tablet or smartphone. As long as you have a strong and stable connection (you don’t want to be folded out because of a disconnection) then you’re good to go.
Everyone has their own strategy, but most experienced poker players will recommend playing tight for most of the tournament and then playing aggressively around the bubble. Most players do the exact opposite of this, so you can take advantage of their apprehension and scoop up all those chips..
No, of course not. Luck certainly comes into it, especially when you consider that you’ll be going up against many other talented players. But poker is mostly down to patience, knowledge, skill, and getting a good read on your opponents..