Editor's Picks - Best Tournament Poker Sites
Since the WSOP hit the big time in the mid-2000s, poker players have been drawn to poker tournaments like bored housewives to reality TV. The invention of online poker made poker tournaments even more accessible as you could play massive events with real-money prizes without waiting in lines or even leaving your own home. The biggest poker tournaments now exist online with regular tournaments that draw tens of thousands of players every week. Single table Sit & Go tournaments also exploded online and are available 24/7 every day of the year.
Not all online poker sites are created equal when it comes to online tournaments, though, so if you’re a huge online tournament lover you’ll want to pick the best site to hone your craft. You’ll likely want to focus on at least three criteria: volume, variety and rewards. If you play a ton of tournaments you’'ll want to want a huge player base so a tournament is always starting. Variety is also important if you like to play tournaments in games outside of standard No-Limit Hold’em freezeout events.
Some sites give you plenty of options with bounty, shootout and even fast-fold tournaments. Below is a our extensive list of poker site reviews to elect the best tournament poker sites online. Read the full review to find out more on their daily tournament offerings or click "Play Here" to open a new account at each site and start playing within minutes. If freerolls are your thing, check our list of exclusive PokerListings freerolls here.
ABOUT POKER TOURNAMENTS
Ever since Chris Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker Main Event in 2003, interest in tournament poker has gone through the roof. Once a backroom game only played by professional gamblers in the corners of Las Vegas casinos, poker has exploded into mainstream culture.
Poker has made its way into homes around the world as people watch major poker tournaments on their televisions and play at online poker rooms on their computers. The largest live poker tournament in history was in 2006 when the WSOP Main Event reached 8,773 players, sending eventual winner Jamie Goldhome with a first-place prize of $12 million.
Winning a poker tournament of that size certainly takes a ton of luck, but that doesn't mean tournament poker isn't a skill game. The best players have an edge over the rest of the field and, over time, will win more than their less-skilled peers. But it's the element of luck that makes tournament poker so attractive. Anyone with a chip and a chair has the chance to beat the best in the world, and come home a millionaire.
Our editors have scoured the web to find the best online poker tournament sites. These top poker rooms offer a wide range of multi-table and sit-and-go tournaments. Many of them also offer freerolls and satellites regularly and if you read our reviews you will be able to find the majority of tournament sites in the online poker industry. Below is a quick primer on what a poker tournament is and a guide to some of the most popular types of tournaments you’ll find online. You'll also find some quick strategy tips to help you on your way.
What is a Poker Tournament?
Unlike a cash game which can run indefinitely, a poker tournament begins at a predetermined start time with each player buying a ticket to the event at a set price and starting at the same time with the same number of chips. Players play until they are eliminated by losing all of their chips. A set number of finishers (typically around 10% of the total starting field) get paid on a descending scale from the winner down to the last paid finishing spot.
All players who finish below the lowest paid spot (for example in a 100-person tournament, all players finishing from 100th to 11th) leave the tournament with nothing but a story. Buy-ins for poker tournament can run from just pennies online up to $1 million - the most expensive tournament in the world right now!
Multi-Table Tournaments (MTTs)
Multi-table tournaments are the standard in online poker. As with all tournaments, you pay a buy-in fee and you get a stack of chips. When those chips are gone you are out of the tournament (unless of course it's a rebuy tournament, in which case you can buy another stack of chips if you bust within a certain time period from the beginning).
MTTs, as you might assume, take place over multiple tables with a specified number of players per table and have a designated starting time. When players start to bust out from the tournament and the number of players at a table becomes uneven to the rest of the field, that table is "broken" and players are randomly distributed to other tables with empty seats. It's hard to win MTTs but when you do it's usually a big score. The biggest online poker sites now offer multi-day, multi-million dollar online poker tournament series several times per year.
The PokerStars WCOOP or SCOOP or the 888poker XL Series are good examples. These are extended week-long or two-week long series where 8-10 tournaments will run per day at several buy-in levels. Guarantees for the prize pools over the course of these series are in the $30-$100 million range and offer a TON of value to players new and experienced. The Main Events are jammed with players and typically offered at three buy-in levels. The top level often has a $1m guarantee for the winner. Satellites to all levels of events also run around the clock. A series leaderboard with added prizes is also usually offered plus dozens of free tickets and prizes awarded in loyalty rewards. Check our rundown of the best poker tournament series online here:
Sit & Go's (SNGs)
Sit & Go's were pioneered online and are still incredibly popular. A Sit & Go is usually only one or two tables and begins as soon as every seat is filled. Most poker sites have Sit & Go's starting every couple minutes or even seconds. Payouts typically go to the top three players, depending on the number of tables. On some of the bigger poker sites online, sit-and-gos start up so quickly it's almost difficult to select and open seat in time. Sit & Go's are an excellent format for new poker players as they get to experience tournament poker without having to compete with hundreds of other players.
Shootouts are a combination of MTTs and Sit & Go's. The overall tournament will have a huge field, but you will only play at one table at a time until there is just one person left at each table. The winner of each table will move on to the next round and the action will repeat until there is a winner. The number of rounds depends on the field size but if you just keep winning each Sit & Go-style table, you’ll win the tournament.
Online poker already moves faster than live poker, but if you really want to crank up the action you might want to try a turbo tournament. Turbo tournaments are just standard MTT or Sit & Go's where the blind levels increase quickly, making fast play and quick decisions a necessity. If you only have a limited amount of time than turbo tournaments are a fantastic way to get a ton of action in a short time span.
Online tournaments have huge payouts too. Bounty tournaments are simply MTTs where there is a prize for knocking out a player. Sometimes there are bounties placed on certain players, like celebrities and poker pros while in other tournaments you get a bounty every time you bust a player. There's a certain strategy to bounty tournaments and some players love them.
Satellite tournaments are just tournaments where the prize you're playing for is the buy-in to another bigger prize pool poker tournament. Chris Moneymaker won his $10,000 seat into the 2003 WSOP Main Event through a $40 satellite, for example. In some satellites you're not just qualifying for a poker tournament but an all-expenses paid vacation to an exotic location AND a poker tournament.
Weekly Guaranteed Tournaments
Almost every online poker site has a massive weekly poker tournament with a huge guaranteed prize pool. These tournaments are incredibly popular because players know they are getting a huge prize pool. Perhaps the most famous is the PokerStars Sunday Million, which originally offered a guaranteed prize pool of over $1 million but is now considerably bigger because of the amount of players willing to put up the $200 buy-in. If you’re willing to pay a fairly large buy-in, you could potentially win hundreds of thousands in these events.
Differences Between Poker Tournaments and Cash Games
Aside from being able to re-buy and cash-out whenever you like, tournament play sees the blinds increase on a predetermined schedule. This is very different from the static blinds of a cash game which will allow players to dictate their own pace of play. Another major difference between cash games and tournaments are the stack sizes. The stack sizes in a cash game are typically closer to each other than in a tournament, where some players will have many times that of the average stack while others may just hold a single chip. A successful tournament player needs to understand how to play with all stack sizes, while a cash-game player can choose to only ever sit behind a stack of a specific amount.
Tournament Stack Sizes
How you play in a tournament will mostly depend on two variables: the stage of the tournament and the size of your stack. The size of your stack is measured in two ways:
- Your stack in comparison to the average stack size.
- Your stack in relation to the blinds.
The more chips you have, the more risk you're able to shoulder. In other words, you can make plays which risk 5,000 chips if you have 50,000, but the same play would be foolish if you only hold 6,000. The most important thing to understand in a tournament is your chips are your tournament life.
- Chips = Life
When you run out of chips, your tournament is over; everything you do in a tournament should be based on this one concept.
Stages of a Poker Tournament
There are three basic tournament stages:
Since everyone gets to play the early stages of almost every tournament, this is the part in which all players have the most experience, feel the most comfortable and have a lot of chips in relation to the blinds. Everyone's on an equal footing and it's hard to find anyone looking to gamble. People in this stage are rarely looking to get it all in with anything but the nuts.
If you find a player willing to play a large pot, they either have the nuts, they're looking to gamble or they're trying to build a big stack early through sheer aggression. More often than not, though, they have the goods. The standard approach to playing in this stage is to play very ABC tight-aggressive poker. It makes no sense to make big moves to steal the blinds, since the blinds are worth relatively nothing compared to the size of your stack. The idea is to make it through the early stage with average or above chips, giving you room to maneuver as you enter the middle stage.
The middle stage will range from being deep-stacked at the start (lots of chips compared to blinds) to short-stacked near the end. In this stage chips are quickly becoming more valuable and each round of blinds potentially brings you one step closer to elimination. It's at this point you can no longer afford to sit around waiting for only the best hands.
You need to steal blinds and protect your chips to keep yourself from getting short. Once you get too short your only move left is all in. As Dan Harrington wrote in his famous Harrington on Hold'em tournament strategy books, it's always better to take a risk to keep yourself sitting with a healthy stack than to wait until you've been whittled down and forced to take a risk just to stay alive.
If you take the risk to stay healthy and lose, you still have a handful of chips to try again with. If you wait until you're in dire straits you have no second chance. The goal with the middle stage is simply to stay alive and get yourself into the money (a tournament pro, though, likely cares little about making the money and plays to win at all times). Once you're into the money, you've entered the late stages of the tourney.
The late stage will have many players with very few chips and a few players with a lot of them. This is the time of a tournament when everyone's willing to gamble. Once you're in the money, people no longer care about going bust and are aiming for the win at all times. You need to play very aggressively, make few or no mistakes, and get lucky at the right times to have a shot at the title.
Luck is always a part of poker, and in tournaments it becomes a large factor of the game in the later stages. With the blinds being very large, and many stacks being very short, most players will be playing a simple all-in or fold game. You need to be willing to take coin flips, and have the luck to win them if you want to finish in first.
How to Become a Better Tournament Player
First, read every poker strategy article, book, forum, thread and page you can find. Watch poker on TV, listen to webcasts and watch strategy videos. But above all else, you're going to have to play as much poker as you can. The more tournaments you play, the better you will become at playing them. Many of the best tournament players in the world play hundreds to thousands of tournaments each year. Read, play, reflect and discuss!
How to Win Satellites to Play Live Poker Tournaments
By Bryan "PrimordialAA" Pellegrino
Live tournaments are an interesting breed of poker not only because of how they play but because they are spread out all over the world and therefore offer many unique experiences. Players who enter these tournaments get to play for stakes and in fields much bigger than they might be used to, and they also get to explore new cities and countries. Many players thus find poker tournaments to be awesome vacations, especially if they can find relatively cheap ways to enter.
If you’re thinking about doing some tournament travel I’d first recommend looking carefully for a location that you want to visit and have the time for. I recommend Europe from March through the fall: some of my favorite tournament spots are Barcelona, Budapest, Vienna, and Deauville. During the winter, there are attractive tournaments at the PCA in the Bahamas, the Aussie Millions in Melbourne, and the LAPT in various Latin American cities.
Best Ways to Satellite Into Live Poker Events
I have two preferred methods for satelliting into live events:
- The 3x-turbo rebuy satellites on PokerStars and
- The flatter live satellites
(By ‘flatter’ I mean the satellites that award seats to roughly 1/5 to 1/7 of the field.)
The 3x-turbos appear to have a lot of wild play and variance but I like them because the goal is relatively simple. Before the add-on the best strategy is simply to minimize the number of rebuys you take; after, the tournament resembles a small turbo satellite, with just a few tables of players fighting for one or two packages. There are often rebates given to the next handful of players, and these prizes help soften the swings. Finally, these tournaments are desirable because they take only 2-3 hours instead of a whole day.
Live Satellites Are Softer
Live satellites awarding seats to over 10% of the field have larger buyins, of course, but the variance is smaller than in satellites paying 5% or less of the field and the competition is often much weaker than you will find in any other online poker satellite. More specifically, these tournaments are much better to play than the $700 weekly satellites online which are full of tough players.
Once you win or buy the seat you have to plan for the trip itself. I would strongly recommend that you arrive at least two days early; three is even better. This will allow you to adjust to jet lag and to get comfortable in the new city. You will also want to get into a routine that fits the new time zone because the 12-hour days you will (hopefully) be playing will be unforgiving if you’ve not adjusted to the local time.
Set Aside Extra Time for Sight-Seeing
You’ll also want to set aside time before or after the tournament to see the new place. Many people make a point of seeing every notable building and museum but I prefer not to get caught up in worries about seeing them all. Such a project is fine for some people but more often it makes what should be a fun and enriching experience into a chore and a blur. I prefer to relax and experience a new culture: for example, there is often unfamiliar and delicious food available.
It’s worth setting aside extra time and planning ahead to avoid familiar food and tourist traps—you can always grab a burger or some street kebab if you don’t like what you try but a good meal can be a highlight of the trip. When you’re going out at night don’t be shy about asking for recommendations; people are happy to give you ideas. Asking locals often leads to a much better time in a new city than you would have if you went to a club full of tourists—even if the tourist club is a good time, it figures to be nothing you can’t get at home.
Be sure, however, to be aware of what’s around you and to stay safe. No big city has only safe districts and you can get into trouble even if you’re in a basically safe location. So when you’re going out, be smart and bring friends.
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