Texas Hold'em Tournament Rules

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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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Sean Lind 2010-03-17 22:26:59

You're welcome Brian.

There are a lot of rules articles on this site, but an all encompassing article is tricky, since there are so many unique situations and rules for this game.

I'm working on putting something like this together right now, but no idea of an ETA.

Brian 2010-03-17 22:12:36

Thanks. Is there anywhere I can get a detailed list of poker rules like the one you have just explained?

Sean Lind 2010-03-16 22:19:37


No, their hand is not dead. They are now forced to play the rest of the hand with their opponent having seen their cards that's it.

The player will also get a warning, if they continue to do it, seemingly on purpose, then the dealer/pit can choose to rule their hand dead.

Brian 2010-03-16 20:52:52

A player turnes over cards after the turn thinking the other player has no chips left, what is the rule? Is their hand dead?

Sean Lind 2010-03-16 20:14:24


You're welcome.

You never deal cards to an empty seat. Well, I should be more clear: You always deal to the stacks, never the players.

If there is a stack at a seat, they get a hand, regardless of there being a person present or not.

If there is no stack (like in your scenario) no cards are dealt to that seat.

David 2010-03-16 02:50:30

Thanks for answering so quickly. But I have another question in the same scenario. If the dealer button sits at the empty seat, and the previous dealer deals again, do you deal cards to the empty seat and just count them dead?

Sean Lind 2010-03-15 21:36:23


The dealer button will sit on the empty seat where the player should have been, and the blinds are just regular.

The next hand everything's back to normal. Basically, the person who was the button when the SB got knocked out remains the button for the next hand.

David 2010-03-15 16:01:31

what happens to the small blind if you knock out the person that would be dealer next? Does the small blind travel with the dealer button?

Sean Lind 2010-03-09 20:11:46


You are never required to answer a question from another player at the table. But you are required to clearly display your chips in a fashion which allows your opponents to accurately assess the size of your stack.

This means when they ask you can't cover it, and all large value chips must be in front at all times. Also, your chips must be stacked, they can't be in a random heap or pile.

If the player wants a true count, the dealer is allowed/required to cut down and count your chips, if you're unwilling to do it.

Bryan 2010-03-09 15:48:51

i was just about a rule.... if anouther player asks you how many chips you have? do you have to tell them or can you just show them your chips?......because i know alot of player ask that question trying to get information


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