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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Jay 2012-03-08 18:08:22

if small blind goes all in with less than double the blind is his raise capped or the rest of the players have to double the blind in a texsas holdem turny?

Chas 2012-02-14 15:18:06

When playing live games and someone wins the hand and doen't realise.... then walks away, then do I win the hand?

Michael 2012-02-14 07:52:35

What is the ruling when dealer overturns accidently the first or any burnt card?

shane 2012-01-22 00:22:27

Hi , my question is, Should a poker diretor be allowed to play in a active tornament whilst directing that tornament. My second question is Should his sister be allowed to play?

Mark 2012-01-01 14:58:10

4 players are left at the final table. Before the flob the player last to act decides to go all in. The first two players fold and as the last to act pushes his cards across the betting line to all in throws his cards to the muck pile. The last to act player then retrieves his cards from beyond the betting line before the dealer can grab them and calls the all in bet. Were his cards dead as a result of pushing them across the line? He did this because the all in players cards landed on the muck pile and were not retrievable. The last to act player took the pot in the result.. What should have been the floors ruling on this???

Lana 2011-11-27 22:23:05

How do you determine Who gets third and fourth place when you and the other person who has also gone all in has the same chip count and the same hand, and a third person takes you both out. We are in a league and this was a arguement for the night, do you just split the third place winnings and points or do you go by who went all in first would get the 4th place and who went all in second would get third place? Remember same hand and same chip count and neither won. Please help!!

Max 2011-09-24 16:15:49

we had an interesting situation at our weekly hold'em game...
4 players remained... players 1 and 2 mucked after the flop, and players 3 and 4 stayed in to see the turn and river. player 3 mucked, leaving player 4 to win the hand with a pair of 9s. player 4 proceeded to collect his chips while the next dealer in line began collecting the cards in preparation for the next deal. when player 3 learned that a pair of 9s had won the hand, he declared that he had actually held a pair of 10s, then reached into the muck pile and retrieved his hand, and then proceeded to take the winnings from player 4. obviously this is bad etiquette at best and 'illegal' at worst. what should our recourse be against player 3 during our next game?

She 2011-08-30 17:28:58

person dealing misplaces their cards during, actually placed them on the bottom of the deck, which they express the mistake and they have person that folded look at the 2 cards on the bottom of the deck and asks if they are the same.... which they are... they say those are their cards and proceeds to play.... shouldnt this be a mis deal or person dealing automatically folds?

Another question... person goes all in, no one calls them.... they lay down cards not exposing them... another player picks up cards, looks at them and shows another player.... shouldn't this player be removed from table?

frank 2011-08-15 16:37:50

I had a tournament game. We did not go around the table with the first blindes (time set at 15min/9 players). My question is... Do you go around the table back to the first dealer or just go to the 2nd. blind. Thank you for the help.

sherylee 2011-08-01 14:49:58

do u have to show both cards togeather regardles of weather u are all in or not. Like if i go all in n someone calls me n they show both there cards can i put both cards ova on the table but with one on top of the other with only the bottom card showing


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