Texas Hold'em Tournament Rules

poker rules tournament

Every single day, thousands of poker players try their luck against friends, family and strangers in both online and live Texas Hold'em tournaments.

The idea behind tournament poker is that every player puts up a buy-in and gets tournament chips.

Play goes on as normal with the blinds going up in regular pre-determined intervals and until one player is left with all the chips.   

Where you are eliminated is where you finish in the tournament.

In a standard Hold'em tournament, 10% to 20% of the field is paid out with most of the money reserved for the top spots.

Because you can win so much more than your initial buy-in, big tournaments attract both pros and amateurs trying to make a big score.

Each room's rules vary slightly so it's always a good idea to brush up before the tournament starts.

Here are some of the most standard rules for playing a poker tournament.

  1. Entrance Fees - All entrance fees most be paid before play begins. Generally the house takes a 5%-10% fee for providing the tables and dealers and administering the game. This is true both live and online. For example in a $200+$20 tournament, $200 goes to the prize pool and $20 would go to the house.
  2. Seat Assignment- Your seat will randomly be assigned to you. You will usually be given a card with your table and seat number on it. That is your seat until a tournament director tells you otherwise. Unlike in cash games there are no seat changes.
  3. Starting Stacks- When you arrive at the table your starting stack will be at your spot.
    • Tournament chips have no cash value, and you cannot cash out at any point during the tournament.
    • It's always a good idea to double check your chips against the posted starting stack to make sure you have the correct amount of chips.
    • The total amount of your starting stack varies from tournament to tournament.
  4. Blind Levels - The way tournaments differ from cash games is that the blinds increase at regular intervals.
    • This is to force play and get the action going. You can usually get a sheet from a floor person that tells you the schedule of blind increases and what the blinds will be.
    • Online you can find this information in the tournament lobby.
    • It's a good idea to get familiar with the blind structure before playing. If the blinds increase and your dealer has already cut the cards, the blinds will increase on the next hand.
  5. The Deal - The deal proceeds exactly as it does in a cash game. The two players to the left of the button are the small blind and the big blind. After each hand the button moves one seat to the left. The button is determined in the first hand completely randomly.
  6. Absent Players - All players must be dealt into the hand and their blinds/antes forced into the pot whether they are at the table or not. If the player is not present by the time his second card is dealt, his hand will be ruled dead.
  7. Breaking Tables - As players are eliminated the tournament director will start breaking tables in a pre-determined order. If your table breaks, you will be assigned randomly to an empty seat at one of the remaining tables.
  8. All-in Bets - A player who declares himself all in plays for all of the chips in front of him. If the other player has more he is only entitled to an amount equal to his own stack. The same goes for an all-in player that has less than his required blind. He is only entitled to what he put in.
  9. All-in confrontations - When two players are all in and the action is completed, both hands must be exposed face up before the rest of the board is run.
  10. Calling the Clock - A player can request the pit boss to force a player to choose an action in a set amount of time (typically 90 seconds). If the player fails to act in that time, his or her hand is folded. Only a player seated at the table at the time the current hand was dealt can call the clock.
  11. Multiple Busts - If two players go broke on the same hand the player with the greater amount of chips at the start of the hand finishes in the higher position.
  12. Showing Cards - Intentionally exposing a card is illegal in tournament play and a hand can be ruled dead as well as a time penalty issued.
  13. Inappropriate play- Inappropriate play such as swearing and or throwing cards is punishable by a penalty.
  14. Coloring up - The lowest chip denomination in play will be removed from the table when it is no longer needed in the blind or ante structure.

    All lower-denomination chips that are of sufficient quantity for a new chip will be changed up directly. I.E if you have five $25 chips you would get one $100 chip and have one odd chip. The method for removal of odd chips is as follows:
    • Starting at seat 1, (if there is a professional dealer, this will be the player directly to the dealer's left) deal this player one card face up for every odd chip they hold. Continue clockwise around the table until all players have one card for each of their odd chips.
    • Add the $ amount of all odd chips together. You want to replace the odd chips with chips of the next lowest denomination. For example: If there are eight $25 chips, you want to replace them with two $100 chips.
    • If there are an odd number of odd chips on the table: If the amount of the final chips is equal to half, or more, of the value of the next lowest chip, these chips are replaced by the higher value chip. If the total value is less than half, the odd chips are simply removed from the table.
    • Give the first replaced chip to the player with the highest value card by rank. With every player only eligible to receive one chip, continue giving a chip to the player with the highest value card until all chips are gone. This is known as a chip race.
  15. Hand-for-hand play - As play approaches the bubble (when the money starts)play may go hand for hand. This means that all tables will deal a hand and the next hand will not be dealt until all tables have completed their hand.
  16. Heads up- When two players are left you have reached heads up play. In this scenario the small blind is the button and acts first before the flop but last on all ensuing streets.

It is up to you to know the basic poker rules when playing in a tournament.

Not properly educating yourself can cause you to unknowingly commit an infraction and get penalized or even disqualified.

Additional Texas Hold em Rules

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Brian 2010-06-21 16:44:02

If two people bust at the same time and both have the same amount of chips who would be the higher ranked in the tourament. Is it determined by there hand or by position. If position, would it be the earlier position that would be renak higher?

micah 2010-06-18 07:06:25

who takes the pot on a hand where a low straight appears on the board and all players cards are either the same as in the flop, turn and/or river or face cards. since you only play with the five that make a straight does the winnings go to the highest card out of all or the highest card in relevance to the hand shown or does the pot get split between all who are in on the hand

Andy 2010-06-13 20:51:13

Sean, I have remebered other questions, I was playing PKR the other night and somebody underraised everyone called the big blind of $10 until it got round to the button who raised to $17 all in. the action got to me on the small blind and because I hadnt acted I could raise and the minimum raise on there was to $27 and not $20? The rules seem to conflict so much, please I would like standard rule confirmation of this all no limit poker rules.

my final question is, I was on home poker tourney website where it gave an example of the underraise. Player A bet $100 and player B raised $100 more to $200 Player C goes all in for $240 and Player A calls meaning player B cannot raise as he has already acted thats fine. The confusing part is it says player A could of raised becuase player B raised, this does not make sense to me because I thought if you had already acted before the underraiser you were only allowed to call, please help me here!!!


Andy 2010-06-13 20:29:56

Hey Sean, Im confused in that in tournaments is it the same as in
cash games like when you bust out and want to buy in again, you
have to post an amount equal to the big blind or wait for the big blind. In a tournament do you have to post if you are switching tables when not in the big blind?

Second Question, lets say blinds are $5/10 minimum being 10 and UTG calls and the next player goes all in for $8, does this reopen the betting round for the UTG if nobody raises? Im confused because it isnt an underraise but a bet that is under the minimum, does this have an affect?


Kevin Andrews 2010-06-10 03:23:55

hi sean,
i was playing in a tourney and was the big blind, when my hand was dealt to me i picked up my cards and put them behind my chips without looking( like i always do).
I started speaking to the person under the gun who had folded and when the action got round to me i realised that the dealer had mucked my cards without me seeing.
the tourney director told me that my hand was dead cos its my responsibility for my cards, i explained to him that my cards were put behind my chips as i had done all night but the dealer had mucked them with the rest of my cards,
i told him that i thought he was wrong, was i right?

Jeremy Kopp 2010-05-28 01:00:37


The person leaving the tourney with the considerable chip stack has killed his chips. If the player states that he is not coming back to the table and leaves his/her chips, they are then pulled and considered dead.

Bob 2010-05-25 23:33:25

Hello. Let's say we have a 10 player tourney paying out to 3rd. If a player with a nice chip stack has to leave the game, what happens to his chips? Isn't it possible if you just take his blinds as the deals go around that he could end up in a money position without even playing, while the other players take each other out? Thanks alot for all the information here.

marion 2010-05-23 02:10:49

A question:

Is it compulsory to show your hand in showdown if your opponent has the winning hand.
If 1. he calls your raise and shows his hand, which is better than the hand you are holding, can I muck my cards or is it compulsory I show them.
Can I muck my cards at any time.

Ben 2010-05-13 10:14:36

Hi Sean,

Just read through this entire article and though I would say thanks. Some good questions in here and your responses are very concise. Nice work fella.

Sean Lind 2010-05-11 20:01:12


The 50% rule typically only applies to Limit poker, in no Limit you must make the full raise, or it's just a call.

As for the small blind, in that scenario it is a raise, the dealer will just have to ask the player what he intended. If the dealer tries to make him just call it's a mistake, since the 100 chip is live.


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