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Poker Tournament (definition)

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A poker tournament is a tournament (which is a competition involving a relatively large number of competitors) where players compete by playing poker. It can feature as few as two players playing on a single table (called a "heads-up" tournament), and as many as tens of thousands of players playing on thousands of tables. The winner of the tournament is usually the person who wins every poker chip in the game and the others are awarded places based on the time of their elimination. To facilitate this, in most tournaments, blinds rise over the duration of the tournament. Unlike in a ring game (or cash game), a player's chips in a tournament cannot be cashed out for money and serve only to determine the player's placing. 

Buy-ins and prizes

To enter a typical tournament, a player pays a fixed buy-in and at the start of play is given a certain quantity of tournament poker chips. Commercial venues may also charge a separate fee, or withhold a small portion of the buy-in, as the cost of running the event. Tournament chips have only notional value; they have no cash value, and only the tournament chips, not cash, may be used during play. Typically, the amount of each entrant's starting tournament chips is an integer multiple of the buy-in. Some tournaments offer the option of a re-buy or buy-back; this gives players the option of purchasing more chips. In some cases, re-buys are conditional (for example, offered only to players low on or out of chips) but in others they are available to all players (called add-ons). When a player has no chips remaining (and has exhausted or declined all re-buy options, if any are available) he or she is eliminated from the tournament.

In most tournaments, the number of players at each table is kept even by moving players, either by switching one player or (as the field shrinks) taking an entire table out of play and distributing its players amongst the remaining tables. A few tournaments, called shoot-outs, do not do this; instead, the last player (sometimes the last two or more players) at a table moves on to a second or third round, akin to a single-elimination tournament found in other games.

The prizes for winning are usually derived from the buy-ins, though outside funds may be entered as well. For example, some invitational tournaments do not have buy-ins and fund their prize pools with sponsorship revenue and/or gate receipts from spectators. Tournaments without a buy-in are referred to as freerolls. A freeroll tournament is free to enter and usually the player is given one chance in the tournament. A variation on a freeroll tournament is called a "freebuy". In a freebuy event, a player can enter with a free entry, but if the player loses their chips during the registration period they are able to buy themselves back into the event.

Play continues, in most tournaments, until all but one player is eliminated, though in some tournament situations, especially informal ones, players have the option of ending by consensus.

Players are ranked in reverse chronological order — the last person in the game earns 1st place, the second-to-last earns 2nd, and so on. This ranking of players by elimination is unique amongst games, and also precludes the possibility of a tie for first place, since one player alone must have all the chips to end the tournament. (Ties are possible for all other places, though they are rare since the sole tiebreaker is the number of chips one has at the start of the hand in which one is eliminated, and hence two people would need to start a hand with exactly the same number of chips and both be eliminated on that same hand in order to tie with each other.)

Sometimes tournaments end by mutual consensus of the remaining players. For example, in a ten-person, $5 game, there may be two players remaining with $29 and $21, respectively, worth of chips. Rather than risk losing their winnings, as one of them would if the game were continued, these two players may be allowed to split the prize proportional to their in-game currency (or however they agree).

Certain tournaments, known as bounty tournaments, place a bounty on some or all of the players. If a player knocks an opponent out, the player earns the opponent's bounty. Individual bounties or total bounties collected by the end of a tournament may be used to award prizes. Bounties usually work in combination with a regular prize pool, where a small portion of each player's buy-in goes towards his or her bounty.

Other tournaments allow players to exchange some or all of their chips in the middle of a tournament for prize money, giving the chips cash value. Separate portions of each player's buy-in go towards a prize pool and a "cash out" pool. The cash out rate is typically fixed, and a time when players may not cash out (such as the final table) is usually established. The remaining cash out pool is either paid out to the remaining field or added to the regular prize pool.

Prizes are awarded to the winning players in one of two ways:

Fixed: Each placing corresponds to a certain payoff. For example, a ten-person, $20 buy-in tournament might award $100 to the first-place player, $60 for second-place, $40 for third, and nothing for lower places.
Proportional: Payouts are determined according to a percentage-based scale. The percentages are determined based upon the number of participants and will increase payout positions as participation increases. As a rule, roughly one player in ten will 'cash', or make a high enough place to earn money. These scales are very top-heavy, with the top three players usually winning more than the rest of the paid players combined.

Tournaments can be open or invitational. The World Series of Poker, whose Main Event (a $10,000 buy-in no limit Texas Hold 'Em tournament) is considered the most prestigious of all poker tournaments, is open.

Multi-table tournaments involve many players playing simultaneously at dozens or even hundreds of tables. Satellite tournaments to high-profile, expensive poker tournaments are the means of entering a major event without posting a significant sum of cash. These have significantly smaller buy-ins, usually on the order of one-tenth to one-fiftieth the main tournament's buy-in, and can be held at various venues and, more recently, on the Internet. Top players in this event, in lieu of a cash prize, are awarded seats to the main tourney, with the number of places dependent on participation. Chris Moneymaker, who won the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event, was able to afford his seat by winning an Internet tournament with a $39 buy-in. Greg Raymer, 2004 World Series of Poker champion, acquired his seat via a $165 Internet tournament.

The opposite of a multi-table tournament is a single-table tournament, often abbreviated STT. A number of places (typically, two, six or nine) are allocated at a single table, and as soon as the required number of players has appeared, chips are distributed and the game starts. This method of starting single-table tournaments has caused them to be referred to as sit-and-go (SNG) tournaments, because when the required number of players "sit", the tournament "goes." Sit-and-go tournaments of more than one table are becoming more common, however, especially in Internet poker. A single-table tournament effectively behaves the same as the final table of a multi-table tournament, except that the players all begin with the same number of chips, and the betting usually starts much lower. Almost invariably, fixed payoffs are used.

A tournament series may consist of either single-table or multi-table tournaments. In a tournament series, multiple tournaments are played in which prizes are awarded. However, a series leaderboard or standings system is often used and additional prizes, drawn from the individual tournament buy-ins, are awarded to those who perform best overall in the series. Major poker tournaments such as the World Poker Tour and World Series of Poker, use standings to determine a player of the year.

poker tournament 1.jpg

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