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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Vincent 2010-03-05 01:44:52

Yep - it helped a little. As i understand - i must call the blind limit not the player in BB to keep the integrity of the hand as intact as possible, so thats more fairly than just to call whatever the big blind goes all-in for. Ok, that makes some kind of sense.

Thank you very much for your answer..!

Sean Lind 2010-03-04 19:38:55


Really, we're just dealing with the integrity of the hand. It is a firm rule that a player must call the full amount of the big blind (or any raises made on top of it) to stay in the hand.

Since the player in the big blind doesn't have enough chips to cover that, they are forced as a short all-in.

Obviously we can't give that player more chips, and it's unfair to eliminate them while they have any chips. Also, we can't let them skip the blinds, as that's unfair to the other players at the table.

So we let them move all-in short. To keep the integrity of the hand as intact as possible, all players must still call the full amount of the big blind. If we allow you to just call the short all-in, you're basically playing a hand at a blind limit lower than the current state of the tournament.

That's the long answer, the short answer:

It's the rule

Hopefully that helps.

Vincent 2010-03-04 03:21:23

I just don't understand one thing - if player in BB position can't cover a full regular big blind limit (let's say that blinds are 100/200 but he have only 160), why am i forced to do that when i want to just call him? I mean, im not the one who is in big blind, i shouldn't be forced to bet full big blind - i should be able to call him (that is the player who have made the bigest bet at the table at the time) like in every other situation. But how can i call him if im betting more - that's more like a forced raise, but thats not a raise 'cause i called - so i dont even know what the hell that is!(?) lol

I posted this in 4 forums - the only answer was "blind limits are always determined by blind structure, thats why..." - well,is that supose to mean, that i must call the blind structure not that players bet(?) lol - i know life's fun, but can somebody give me a reasonable answer for this..?

Thank You!

Sean Lind 2010-02-26 20:01:52


When a player leaves his chips stay in play, blinded out. When the last chip is won by another player, the player who left is considered to have busted at that point, which can matter if the player leaves around the bubble (which has happened, even in the WSOP)

Katie 2010-02-26 08:09:40

Player leaves tournament. Are chips removed from table or blinded in until depleated?????


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