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.


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.


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.


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.


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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mike 2010-08-28 07:15:28

Is there any tournement rule in no limit that you must bet the nuts?

Chris 2010-08-24 04:42:33

Please someone settle a little debate at my league. Can you blind raise / straddle under the gun in a tournament? I can't seem to find a rule stating different. Either side can you point me to some creditable site that has the rule.

George 2010-08-06 01:19:16

I have a question. When we are playing can there be a situation where there is more than 1 small or big blind, and is there different rules about this concerning a cash or tournament game.

Pixie 2010-08-05 17:49:17

Hi there,

I had a sticky one at a very low stakes tournament I was running earlier tonight.

I had a player turn up before the game, register and pay for his seat/stack, earning him a little extra chips for being on time and then mention he would be back soon as he had some pressing engagement.

Game commenced and he still wasn't back from wherever he'd taken off too. An hour passes and his stack remains active as he is a valid player, just not at the table.

Players have been raising around this stack and stealing blinds in the usual way without any issue. Quite some time in to this small low buy in game (12 players) the blinds go up to 1000/2000 and when the blind comes around to the missing player, he posts his remaining 1300 chips in the big blind position. Under the gun folds along with the next 3 players but then a player goes all in for about 5000. Action continues around the table with all players folding, including the small blind leaving the only two players in the game to be the 1300 all-in big blind and the player that shoved. Obviously the player that shoved his stack took everything except the 1300 that could be matched by the missing player's all in move.

I flipped the big blinds cards over to reveal AT while the player that shoved showed KJ. No one hit the board and the AT holds. I have the player that had KJ go ballistic at me for 20 mins for awarding a pot to a player that was not present at the table with him continuously referring to him as a dead stack and not as I see it, a player missing from the table.

Did I do the right thing in awarding the pot to the stack that had the better hand based on the fact that he was all in for that hand and thus could not be folded or was it a mistake to award the pot to the player who was not at the table.

I understand it is a very rare situation and very circumstantial as it would not be too often that a player registers and then doesn't play a single hand. I see it as a valid player's stack based on the fact that he bought into the game and just chose not to play/didn't make it back. Is this the way all pot for players that are not at the table should be played?

Thanks a bunch for your help.


lake rainy 2010-07-31 06:38:00

Should second place be determined if in tournament play that pays the top two finishes only, where the last three players finish all-in resulting in one winner? If so, would it be determined by most chips prior to the start of the hand or by the better last hand between the second and third players?

Frans 2010-07-14 14:02:08

It's not allowed to show one card when your in a hand. But you may talk! So if that's so may also tell what kind of hole cards you have or not. Because you may lie about your hand also.
Is this correct?

Matt 2010-06-30 00:49:09

I play in a regular weekly game and pay $25 per night. $5 to charity, $5 to a final pot and $15 towards the pot that night. There is a point system to determine the final 8 players in the final table at the end of the season for the accumulated total of the weekly $5 per player. I had accumulated enough points for a seat, but I am away a the moment and the final table is coming up.

My question is:

Can someone sit in for me? Or does it go to the next player on the list?

Jen 2010-06-27 04:27:54

Question, I am looking to join a holdem tournament in Vegas, and the buy in is 300+house. Now, is it usually only the last guy standing who wins money, or does the top 3 or 5 win?
Thanks :)

Kaye 2010-06-25 03:37:25

In a recent tournament, everyone had folded except 2 players at our table. On the turn, one player said why don't we just split this pot without showing our cards. Would that be illegal, improper, or good play?

George 2010-06-24 00:18:50

First to act has one and a half blinds and moves all in. Does the next player have to double the big blind to complete the bet? EX: Blinds are 8k and 16k, First to act goes all in for 12k, does the next player have to complete the bet of 16k or just call the 12k there is 5 people in the hand.

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