Texas Hold'em Tournament Rules | Rules for Tournament Poker

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Texas Holdem poker tournaments might be the greatest innovation in poker in the past half-century.

With a small (and pre-determined) investment poker players can experience the unique thrill of running deep, stacking up chips and ultimately playing for both a life-changing payday and the title of sole survivor.

It's poker at its most scintillating and every single day thousands of poker players try their luck against friends, family and strangers in both online and live Texas Hold'em tournaments.

Want to learn the ins and outs of Texas Holdem Tournaments so you can play a few yourself? Read on below for a full walkthrough of all the most important Texas Holdem tournament rules!

What is a Texas Holdem Tournament?

The idea behind tournament poker is simple: Every player puts up a buy-in and gets a set number of tournament chips. Unlike a cash game, where players can buy in for different amounts and leave the table at any time, Texas Holdem tournaments have a set beginning and end.

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Players can only buy in to the tournament over the first few levels (up to the end of the "late registration period," as determined by the tournament organizers) and receive the same starting stack.

A single table tournament is called a "Sit-and-Go" (SnG) and begins when all the seats at a single table have been occupied. A Multi-Table Tournament (MTT) spreads the tournament players over multiple tables and gradually consolidates the field down to fewer and fewer tables as players are eliminated

A Texas Holdem tournament is over when one player has acquired all of the tournament chips and is declared the winner. 

All of the buy-ins for the tournament are collected into a total prize pool which is then paid out according to a pre-determined schedule of rising payments.

Usually around 10-20% of the field "makes the money" in a tournament with a "min-cash" being the smallest amount a player who cashes can win.

It's typically a little more than the original buy-in while the prizes for the players at the final table make up the majority of the payouts.

The winner of a Texas Holdem tournament takes home the largest share of the prize pool. In most tournaments this is hundreds to thousands of dollars; in the bigger buy-in events the winner's share can be well into the millions!

Texas Holdem Tournament Rules

When players sit down for a cash game they pick a table with a set blind level (eg $1/$2 or $2/$5). Those blind levels don't change as play goes on. For a change in blind levels, players have to get up and move to a different table with different limits.

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In a Texas Holdem tournament, the blinds (required bets from two players before the start of each hand) increase at set intervals to both force the action and adjust for players accumulating chips by eliminating other players.

Play in a Texas Holdem poker tournament proceeds hand-by-hand with the blinds going up in small increments in regular pre-determined intervals (anywhere from minutes to hours).

Players can't then just sit around and wait for big hands as they will run out of chips as they pay higher and higher blinds.

When you've run out of chips, you're out of the tournament. Where you are eliminated is where you finish in the tournament and determines if you win money and how much. 

In a standard Hold'em tournament, as mentioned, 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 Texas Holdem tournament's rules vary slightly so it's always a good idea to brush up before the tournament starts.

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Standard Texas Holdem Tournament Rules

Each poker tournament has its own set of rules that will govern play. Whether you're playing in your own local card room or stepping up to the World Series of Poker, the tournament rules will be prepared by the Tournament Director beforehand and posted/distributed for all to see.

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It is VERY IMPORTANT before you sit down in a Texas Holdem tournament that you read the local rules beforehand. These will guide you to all the standard rules that will apply in the tournament. 

While a lot of the rules will be consistent across venues and TDs, minor variations will always exist and it's important to know how rulings will be made.

Different types of tournaments - eg Bounty Tournaments, Heads-Up Tournaments, Freezeout Poker Tournaments - will all have different rules variations as well so it's critical to know exactly what type of tournament you're playing in.

Here are some of the most standard rules that will apply when paying most Texas Holdem tournaments.

  1. Entrance Fees - All entrance fees are usually 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 until your table is "broken" as players are eliminated and the remaining players are consolidated.
  3. Starting Stacks- When you arrive at the table your starting stack will be at your seat.
    • 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.
  17. Deal-making - In most circumstances players are allowed to make a deal to distribute the remaining prize money at any point. All players must be in agreement as to the altered payouts, which are usually distributed according to ICM or each player's remaining amount of chips. Tournament directors typically ask players to leave a small percentage of the prize pool aside to play for and to determine an ultimate champion of the tournament. Total payouts are divided entirely at the players' discretion so a player who finishes third or fourth can feasibly take home more money than the eventual tournament winner.

It is up to you to know the basic Texas Holdem Tournament Rules when playing in a tournament. Not properly educating yourself can cause you to unknowingly commit an infraction and get penalized or even disqualified!

Texas Hold'em Sit-and-Go (SnG) Tournament Rules

A Texas Holdem Sit & Go tournament (SnG) is a tournament that is typically played on a single table. Play begins when all seats at the table are full. Players pay a fixed buy-in and get the exact same amount of starting chips.

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Play proceeds hand-for-hand with the blinds rising incrementally at set intervals. When a players loses all of his or her chips, he or she is out of the tournament.

Play proceeds until one player is left with all the chips. The top 3 players are usually the only players paid with the winner getting the majority of the prize money.

Texas Holdem Jackpot SnG Rules

Texas Holdem Jackpot SnGs like PokerStars' Spin & Gos and 888poker's BLAST tournaments have become extremely popular over the last few years.

These are turbo (or hyper turbo) SnG tournaments with blind levels that increase very quickly. Most ore played with just 3 or 4 players per tournament.

Players pay a set buy-in and get the same amount of starting chips but the total prize pool - which is usually just the sum of all the buy-ins less the fees - is multiplied by a random multiplier before the tournament begins.

This can mean the prize pool is anywhere from 2x to 10,000x the total buy-ins. The largest ones on PokerStars, for example, pay out $1m to the 3 players with the winner taking $600,000 or more for just just a $5 or $10 buy-in.

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Additional Texas Hold em Rules



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Sean Lind 2010-03-29 22:57:59

Marshall,

If there is no betting on the river, the player in first position needs to show first. So in your example the big blind needs to show.

Marshall 2010-03-29 20:40:07

Sean,

Hey what up playa? I have been wondering some time about who is the player to show first. For example, I know if you bet and someone calls you show first. But say player 1 bets and you raise (post flop). The turn is checked and the river is checked, who shows first the last player to bet or the player first to act since action was checked. Say player 1 is the big blind and you are under tha gun.

Thanks again

Sean Lind 2010-03-24 22:20:45

peter,

When a table breaks the players are moved to fill holes in the other tables at random. This means you might end up paying the BB multiple times in a row, which is unfair, but no way around it.

If you're being moved from one table by the director (or software) as a balance, not as a broken table, you are supposed to be moved to the same position relative to the blinds as you left from.

peter 2010-03-24 22:04:49

i was playing a tournement on the net and was on the bb for 500 was doing well waith 5000 chips next hand the table either broke or i was moved straight onto bb again on another table for another 500 that cost me a 5th of my stack after the small blind i was moved again to the centre of another table and put me on tilt this seemed very unfair can you tell me are there any rules regarding this thank you

Sean Lind 2010-03-24 21:54:20

Marshall,

You're welcome for the answers. Once again, this tournament director is wrong.

If a player has less than the big blind, and thus is all in as the big blind, a player must call the full amount of the big blind to limp, regardless of the size of the actual all in.

On the flop that rule does not apply. If the blinds are 4k/8k and the player is all in for 2k, the bet is only 2k to call. The rules will never force a player to complete a bet.

The reason you must call the full big blind preflop is the bet is a forced bet, meaning that big blind is always required. On the flop there is no forced bet, so if a player only has 2k, that's the only bet you need to call.

Marshall 2010-03-24 21:11:51

Hey thanks again Sean,

Those were my feelings as well but I'm not one to argue. I've recently been playin a lot of tourneys where the blinds eat most players up. Last week I was playin 4000/8000; 3 players to the flop. On the flop the first player went all in for 2000. The director forced me and the other player to call 8000 because the bet had to be at least the big blind. So this created a side pot between me and the other guy when we just wanted to call the 2000. Is the the correct play or can i just call the all in for 2000 and see the turn?

Thanks again Sean
Marshall

Sean Lind 2010-03-24 19:39:03

Marshall,

the tournament director clearly doesn't understand the betting rules, or they didn't understand that he was in the big blind.

If under the gun limped for 600, and the next player went all in for 800, then under the gun would not be allowed to raise when action got back around to them.

In your scenario the big blind hadn't acted yet. Because of this, he had full option: fold, call or raise.

In a betting round every player must receive full option once, unless the betting is re-opened (in which case most players will have full option again). Print this out, and bring it to that tournament director, if he has an issue with this explanation he can come discuss it with me here.

Marshall 2010-03-24 05:21:51

Thanks Sean,

Hope you dont mind if I ask another. Playing recently in a No-limit tournament. The blinds were then 300/600 and the person under tha gun went all-in for 800. P1 calls, P2 calls, dealer calls, small blind calls, big blind tries to raise but the tournament director would not let him. He claims since the player that went all in did not have enough to complete a raise then once that bet was called the betting was closed. Is this the correct ruling?

Marshall

Sean Lind 2010-03-22 19:05:54

Marshall,

This is one of those "it depends" scenarios. Basically, showing your cards prematurely isn't against the rules directly, but angling is (in most places). So if you're showing your cards to angle, that will result in a dead hand.

If you show your cards as a mistake, then your hand should remain live. It's not right to punish a person for an honest mistake, especially when the mistake benefits their opponents, not themselves.

It's really at the dealer/floorman's discretion. But if you want a firm ruling for a home game, I'd go with:

You can show your cards whenever you please, as long as you show one show all.

Marshall jackson 2010-03-21 16:32:10

Sean,

I'm still wondering about the ruling where cards are shown prematurely. Reading the rules above: (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. This seems to be different than the player still playing the hand with the other players just knowing what they have as you said above. What up wit dat?

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