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HOME POKER TOURNAMENT GUIDE


Planning & Hosting a Home Poker Tournament

 


Home poker tournaments are lots of fun and provide an enjoyable change of pace to your home poker game experience. HomePokerEdge.com has all the information, tips and advice you need to plan and hold a great home poker tournament.

Organizing and playing a home poker tournament is not difficult, but a successful home poker tournament requires some advanced organization, planning and preparation. We offer our home poker tournament check-list to summarize what you need to do and when to do it.

We also include descriptions of poker tournament variations such as time limit tournaments, hand limit tournaments, multi-game, double-or-nothing, heads-up and bounty tournaments.

Home tournaments can also be used for a special purpose, like an unofficial satellite to a higher buy-in tournament or for a gaming trip. For example, a home poker tournament with a $50 buy-in and 10 players could enter the winner in a $500 buy-in tournament, send them on a weekend poker trip to a nearby casino or purchase airline tickets to Las Vegas or some other poker destination.



Managing The Tournament: The Poker Tournament Director's Role

 

Every poker tournament, including home poker tournaments, needs a "Poker Tournament Director" to oversee and run the event. When you are hosting a home poker tournament, you've committed yourself to being the tournament director. Besides planning and organizing the tournament, the tournament director oversees the entire operation and makes sure things run smoothly. The tournament director collects buy-ins and re-buys and makes payouts. They must keep track of time and announce when the re-buy period is over, when the blinds or antes increase and when it is time for a break. They oversee table and seat assignments and determine when and how to breakdown tables and move players from one table to another. They inform players of rules and enforce them and resolve any disagreement. Keep in mind that the tasks of the tournament director multiply and become more complicated the larger the number of players and the higher the prize pool being played for. It is not an easy task and it can be very distracting. If your tournament is small (1 or 2 tables) you should be able to handle those tasks and play as well. If your tournament is larger, it is best if you devote your time and attention entirely to director duties.

When the Tournament Director is also a player, a process must be in place for a third person to make rulings in any dispute that the player/director is involved in. When planing a multiple table tournament, consider having a "deputy" tournament director for each table to provide additional oversight and assistance. Make sure to select and orient your deputies to their responsibilities in advance.


Attracting Poker Tournament Players

 

You will probably need to find and invite more than your usual number of players to your home poker tournament to ensure you fill the seats. This is especially true if you want to hold a multi-table event. Send e-mails to your basic player group and substitutes (see our Home Poker page for more information on that). You may also consider on drawing from a larger group of people to invite. You can do that by networking with the players you know (and trust) and asking that they forward information about your tournament to other players they know. But, be careful about how far this extends and keep attendance to people who are known and trusted. Start sending your notices well in advance of the tournament date. If there is a limit on the number of players say so in your announcement and make entry based on the first X number of players responding. The cost of the buy-in and re-buys can greatly influence the attractiveness of your tournament. Keep them reasonable and you will find more players interested. The expected length of your tournament may also be a factor.

Once the player list is set, send a confirmation to each player so they know they are included. Remind them of the date and time and be sure to encourage them to arrive on time. Additionally, you should also share with them as much information about the tournament plans and rules as practical.


Equipment & Supplies

 

The equipment needed for a tournament is the same as a regular cash game. If you are planning a multiple table tournament, make sure you have enough equipment to accomodate all the players. You will need adequate table space and seating for the number of players, with additional space being desirable for players who have been knocked out to start their own cash game. Have two decks of cards for each table, plus back up decks as well as a sufficient number of chips. Make sure you have a timer. Timers could be a simple as a basic digital cooking timer, but using a laptop or desktop computer is a better choice. There are many poker tournament timers available on websites both for sale and free and they will often perform other functions besides simply timing. Our Poker Resources page has all the information you need about poker tournament timers & managers, poker chips and poker tables, plus directories of manufacturers, vendors and suppliers.


Pay Close Attention to Money Matters

 

Give ample thought and consideration to all things relating to money and be prepared to maintain it's security. Realize that the more money that is at stake, the greater is the potential for arguement, conflict or cheating and the more prepared you need to be in managing the tournament and especially in enforcing the rules. The more tournaments you host, the more experienced you will become. While experience is helpful, advanced preparation is the key, so do not let lack of previous experience stop you. Keep the cost of the tournament affordable to the player pool you are drawing from. Make sure all money is collected before the start (no credit extended to anyone). Make sure all the money is counted, the amount is recorded and the cash kept secure and accounted for at all times. Make certain any additional chips are kept secure.


Decide on the Game

 

The classic and most widely played poker tournament game is Texas Hold'em, but that is by no means the only choice. 7 Card Stud and Omaha tend to be the other most frequently played alternatives, but you can chose whatever game or games you wish. Multiple game tournaments are also a possibility and are covered in our section on Poker Tournament Variations further down on this page.

Hold'em tournaments can be played with 9 or 10 players at a table. For 7 Card Stud, or a multiple game tournament that includes any variation of 7 Card Stud, limit the number of player to 8 per table.


Limit or No Limit?

 

Select either limit or no limit poker. Although pot-limit is also an option, unless the players are experienced in pot limit, it is probably best avoided as you will spend too much time trying to keep track of how large the bets can be. Limit will usually allow for longer play before players start busting out. In no-limit a player can be out in one hand. Since no one wants to leave after 5 minutes of play you will likely want to offer re-buys in a no limit tournament. You can also combine both limit and no-limit. Typically, you would play a limit game for the first few levels, then switch to no-limit for the rest of the tournament.


Plan Ahead & Write it Down

 

One of the most important things to do when holding a home poker tournament is to have your basic structure and rules in writing. You want to avoid situations or misunderstandings that may lead to arguments or bad feelings. Having things in writing will help immensely. It is also imperative that you plan and announce in advance how you will handle each task. For example, the order to breakdown tables or keep tables balanced in a multi-table tournament. Advanced planning is crucial. You cannot make organizational decisions on the spur of the moment.


Announce the Plan

 

Before the tournament starts the Tournament Director should verbally announce the rules of play, blinds, length of levels, break times, re-buys, number of places paid, etc. Include an opportunity to ask questions or for clarifications. Since this information should also be in writing, distribute a copy at least to every table and preferably to every player.


Buy-In & Starting Chips

 

Set the cost of the initial buy-in and set the starting amount of chips. The starting chip amount really doesn't matter except with respect to the ratio of starting stack and starting blinds. An approximately 50:1 or 100:1 starting ratio works pretty well. (eg. for 1000 starting chips an initial big blind of 10 or 20.) A high starting chip to starting blind ratio will lengthen the time it takes to play the tournament. A lower ratio will shorten it. View chip values to learn the usual values assigned to the different colors of chips.


Re-Buys, Add-Ons & Freeze-Outs

 

If you allow them, set the cost and number of re-buys or add-ons allowed and the cut off time for making re-buys. A reasonable period to allow re-buys/add-ons is for the first hour or the first 2 or 3 levels of the tournament. Allowing re-buys will increase the prize pool but will also lengthen the time it takes to complete the tournament. Use high denomination chips for re-buys so that you will have fewer low denomination chips to trade out later. A "rebuyer" can make change with another player. Generally re-buys or add-ons should be set at the same cost and chip amounts as the initial buy-in.

Re-Buy: A player may optionally purchase additional chips if they lose all their chips or their chip value falls below a certain set amount. Re-buys are allowed only for a set period of time at the beginning of a tournament. A player making a re-buy must do so before the next hand is played.

Add-on: A player may optionally purchase additional chips before the end of the set add-on period, regardless of how many chips they already have.

Freeze-out: Neither re-buys or add-ons are allowed. When a player loses all their chips they are eliminated from the tournament.


Blinds & Levels

 

Determine the starting blinds or antes and create a logical step-wise increase for each level or use our Poker Tournament Blinds Structures. The length of the levels and how rapidly you increase the blinds and betting limits have the most significant impact on how long a tournament lasts. Although the time period of each level are often equal, this does not necessarily have to be the case. You could, for example, start with two 30 minute levels in which you allow re-buys. Once completed, you could then shorten the remaining levels to 20-25 minutes each to move the game at a slightly faster pace. Determine when there will be breaks and how long the breaks will be. Make sure this information is provided to all the players.


Seat Assignments & Starting Button Position

 

Seat assignment for a poker tournament should be made by random draw. For a single table tournament take 1 card of each rank from a deck for the total number of players. For example, for 10 players use the ace to 10. Designate the table place of seat #1. Count around the table clockwise from there for seats 2-10. Mix and place the cards face down on the table. Each player selects a card. The card rank designates the seat number. Ace is seat #1, the other assignments are obvious.

In a multi-table tournament write down the table number and seat assignments on individual pieces of paper. Players select a paper which gives them their assignment. Alternatively, use slips of paper just to make table assignments, then use the card drawing method to determine each player's seat. When a multiple table tournament gets down to 9 or 10 players take a break and re-draw for seats at the final table.

After seat assignments are made the starting position of the dealer button needs to be selected. The selection process must have been determined and announced beforehand. The easiest method is to place the button at seat number 1. This makes seats 2 and 3 the small blind and big blind, respectively. Alternatively, the tournament director can select the starting button position by drawing a card randomly from the cards used to make seat selections


Coloring Up & Chip Races

 

As tournament betting limits increase you will eventually reach the point where the lowest denomination chips are no longer needed. When this occurs they are exchanged at equal value for higher denomination chips, something that is often refered to as "coloring up". It is virtually certain that some players will have an odd amount of chips that are not able to be evenly exchanged. When this occurs an exchange is made by means of a chip race. All affected players place their odd chips in front of them. A single card is dealt to each player for every chip they have. The highest card (suits break ties in this order-highest to lowest: spades, hearts, diamonds, clubs) receives one higher value chip, and this goes on to 2nd highest, 3rd, etc until all the low value chips have been exchanged for an equal value of higher denomination chips. Once a player wins a chip he/she is not eligible to win another. A player is not allowed to be "busted" by the chip race. Such a player automatically receives first priority for a higher value chip. Use break time for chip exchanges and races.

If you don't want to bother with a chip race, here is an alternative method of replacing lower denomination chips when a player has an odd number of chips. Just give a higher denomination chip for every player who has half or more of the value of that chip. For example, if "coloring up" from $100 to $1000 chips any player who has 5 to 9 $100 chips will get one $1000 chip. Any player with 1 to 4 chips will receive nothing. As noted in the description of chip races, the exception to this method would be any player that would be eliminated by the exchange. They must be given a higher value chip.


Tournament Breaks

 

The only breaks in a poker tournament are at the designated times and for the specified length of time. The game goes on with or without a player at all other times. Blinds are taken from the appropriate positions even if the player is absent from the table. There should be no waiting for a player to return. If a player is not sitting in his/her seat when it is his/her turn to act their hand is dead.

If your tournament allows for re-buys or add-ons, take a break at the end of the re-buy period. Use this time to count the final prize pool and determine the payouts. Write it all down and inform the remaining players


Tournament Payout

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Poker tournament payouts can be anything you want as long as it is stipulated ahead of time and everyone is made aware. All the money collected should be payed out. Here are some options:

Winner take all. Useful if you wish to award one large prize like a buy-in to a larger tournament or if there are just a few players. However, most people dislike playing down to 2nd place and getting nothing for it. If you still want to award a large 1st place prize consider increasing the buy-in. You can then still pay out the large prize to 1st but have something left for 2nd place.

Multiple payouts. For 9 or 10 players it is common to pay the top 3 places a portion of the prize pool. Often it is 50% for 1st, 30% for 2nd and 20% for 3rd. For 5 to 8 players perhaps just pay 2 places, with something like 1st = 2/3 and 2nd = 1/3. For more than 10 players consider adding one more payout spot for every 5-10 additional players.

This Poker Tournament Payout Calculator will calculate the $ payout for each winning place for you.

Other payout possibilities:
5 or fewer players – Pay one place.
6-8 players – Pay 2 places in a 70:30 percent or 2:1 ratio.
9-12 players – Pay 3 places in a 50:30:20 percent ratio.
13-20 players – Pay 4 places in a 40:30:20:10 percent ratio.
21-30 players – Pay 5 places in a 40:25:20:10:5 percent ratio.
31+ players – Pay 8 places in a 30:20:14:10:8:7:6:5 percent ratio.


Bounty Payouts

 

To spark additional competition, consider adding a "bounty" payment. Designate a portion of each buy-in to the bounty prize pool. For example, with a $25 buy-in $20 could go to the main prize pool and $5 to the bounty prize pool. Every time one player eliminates another player from the tournament a bounty is paid to the winning player. In this example it would be $5.


Tournament Deal Making

 

Once a tournament gets down to a few players it is common for a deal to be discussed by the remaining players to split the remaining payouts. The tournament director should not have any rule interfering with this. If or how players make a split is entirely up to them. The important point is that participating in any deal or not is a decision each remaining player has the right to decide on his or her own and that to reach a deal, each player must agree to the terms. There is no deal without unanimous consent. If you are a player in this situation, you should expect that someone is going to bring up the idea. Prepare yourself in advance to understand the difference between a fair and unfair deal so that you can make a good decision. See David Skalansky's book Tournament Poker for Advanced Players for his take on how a fair deal might be calculated.


Before You Play

 

This should go without saying, but, before hosting or engaging in any poker tournament or game, it is each individual's responsibility to understand and accept the risks involved and to make certain it is legal to do so.


HOME POKER TOURNAMENT CHECKLIST

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Advanced preparation and planning is vital for a successful home poker tournament. Here is a simple checklist of the things you need to do and when to do them.
To see this checklist (plus some additional suggestions) as a separate page that you can save or print click here.


3-4 Weeks Before

 

Formulate your tournament plan:
Decide on how large a tournament you wish to have.
Assess how much room (tables & chairs) and equipment (chips, cards and timer) you have to determine if you can accomodate a tournament of that size..
Match your tournament to the resources you have: Get more equipment if you need it or scale back on your tournament.
Decide how long you want the tournament to last.
Set a date and start time of tournament (make sure you allocate sufficient time to play tournament).
Give careful consideration to the cost of the tournament. Keep buy-in and re-buys affordable to the pool of players you are drawing from.
Draft your rules, blind structure and schedule, and starting chip amounts. See our Poker Tournament Blinds Structures for guidance, samples and additional advice.
Send out invitations to potential players, sharing as much information on the tournament as practical.


1 Week Before

 


Confirm with your players the date and time of the tournament and their intention of attending.
Print rule sheet, blind structure and schedule, buy-in, starting chips, re-buy(s).
Send a copy to each player.


1-2 Days Before

 


Send out a final reminder to all players. Encourage them to arrive on time.
Count decks to make sure they are complete. Have extra decks, just in case.
Prepare more copies of rules and blinds structures.
Check that timer is working. If timer is battery powered, have extra batteries.
Get extra money to make change.


1-2 Hours Before

 

Set out tables and chairs.
Divide out the starting number of chips for each player. Place each set in a plastic bag.
Make sure each table has cards, dealer button, rules and timer.


Immediately Before Start

 


Collect all buy-ins. Count money and record amount. Keep money in a secure place.
Distribute chips to each player. Store remaining chips in a secure place.
Tournament Director announces rules, blind structure and schedule and break schedule.
If applicable, announce when re-buy period is over.
Make seat assignments.
Start playing.


At First Break

 


First break should coincide with end of re-buy/add-on period.
Count money, calculate payoffs and announce. (If there are no re-buys/add-ons, do this before the start of the tournament.)


Some Additional Things to Consider

 

Do not forget to build in time for periodic breaks, for example, one 5-10 minute break every hour. Use break times to color up and remove small denomination chips when they are no longer needed.

Before organizing any tournament, but especially for a lengthly (5-6 hour) tournament give serious consideration to things like these:
Accounting for breaks, your tournament is going to last an hour or more beyond the actual playing time.
People are going to get thirsty and hungry. Do you want to provide drinks and food for them? Do you want to clean up after them?
If you get eliminated early in the tournament, do you really want to wait for several hours for it to finish and your guests to leave?


POKER TOURNAMENT VARIATIONS

 

Here are some of the types of poker tournament you might consider playing. You can find samples of tournament level structures for various types and lengths of tournaments on our Poker Tournament Blinds Structures page.


Time Limit Poker Tournament

 

You can squeeze several single table poker tournaments into one evening of play by means of time limit tournaments. For example, you might try 3 tournaments each lasting 75-90 minutes or 2 each lasting 90-120 minutes. With 2 or 3 tournaments to play there is more opportunity for players to make it to the money. You will have to adjust the format to quicken the pace of the game, so re-buys or add-ons would not be allowed. You also may need to shorten the time for each level, make steeper increases in the blinds, especially toward the end, and perhaps reduce the starting chips. Since the speed of play is accelerated expect luck to play a larger factor in the outcome.

As you get closer to the end keep an eye on your chip stack and that of the other players. You or some other player may have to make unorthodox or desperation plays, so be alert. Players who have enough chips may try to stall to run out the clock and assure themselves a part of the prize pool. To counter this, it is desirable to require players to take their action within a set period (eg. 30 seconds). Try to think about the things that might happen ahead of time and formulate a basic plan of response.

You need to have an arrangement to determine finishing places if 2 or more players are still alive at the end of the time limit. The easiest way is to award places based on the number of chips each player has, with the largest chip amount being the winner, second highest number of chips 2nd place, etc.


Hand Limit Poker Tournament

 

Rather than limiting a tournament to a specific length of time you can limit it to a set total number of hands. Each blind level lasts for a specific number of hands. You may have to adjust the format, for example, make steeper increases in the blinds, especially toward the end, allow no re-buys or add-ons and perhaps reduce the starting chips. Using a hand limit eliminates the incentive for players to stall for time in the later stages of a time-limit tournament. Make sure you have a means of accurately tracking the number of hands.

You need to have an arrangement to determine finishing places if 2 or more players are still alive at the end. The easiest way is to award places based on the number of chips each player has, with the largest chip amount being the winner, second highest 2nd place, etc. Also, as you get closer to the end keep an eye on your chip stack and that of the other players. You or some other player may have to make unorthodox or desperation plays, so be alert. Try to think about the various scenarios ahead of time and formulate a basic plan of response.


Bounty Tournament

 

To spark additional competition, consider a bounty tournament. A portion of each buy-in is designated for the bounty prize pool. For example, with a $25 initial buy-in $20 could go to the main prize pool and $5 to the bounty prize pool. Every time one player eliminates another player from the tournament the eliminated player(s) pay their bounty to the winning player. In this example it would be $5. The tournament director can collect bounties at the start of the tournament and distribute them as needed. Alternatively, every player can include $5 cash with their chip stack. If they get knocked out they give the $5 to the player who beat them. The one bounty prize that is always left at the conclusion of the tournament is awarded to or kept by the winner.


Double or Nothing Poker Tournament

 

Best suited for a single table, no re-buy format, a double or nothing tournament plays down to half of the original participants. For example, 10 starting players would play down to 5. Each of the surviving players split the prize pool evenly. All that counts is that a player makes it to the cut off point, regardless of how many or few chips they have. They all win the same amount, which will be double their buy-in.


Heads Up Poker Tournament

 

Players play one-on-one (heads up) until 1 of the players has all the chips. A losing player is eliminated from the tournament. Winners move on to play other winners in heads up matches until only 1 player remains. A heads up tournament is more difficult to arrange than other formats, since to make the match ups work properly the number of starting players has to be a power of 2. That is, you must start with 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, etc. players.


Free-Buy Poker Tournament

 

A “free-buy” tournament is a clever merging of a free tournament with add-on and re-buy features. Players may enter the tournament at no cost, but during the course of the tournament they also have several opportunities to make optional cash purchases of additional chips. It is these additional chip purchases that establish and build the prize pool. If everyone played just free poker you wouldn’t have a prize pool, therefore, you must include incentives for players to make additional chip purchases. Here are some ways to do that:

Give only a modest amount of free chips, perhaps just 15 to 20 times the starting big blind. (For example no more than $1000 at starting blinds of 25/50.) Along with a no-limit format this will introduce the chance to bust out fairly soon unless an add-on is made.

Offer an immediate add-on purchase before the start of the tournament. For example, you could offer players the chance to purchase an additional $1000 in chips for a set fee. You could even give a bonus for making a double purchase, for example $2500 in chips if they pay twice the fee.

Offer unlimited re-buys during the first few rounds of the tournament whenever their chips fall to or below a pre-determined level. Set the level fairly low, but don’t let players have to wait until they are totally out of chips before they can make a re-buy.

At the end of the re-buy period offer a final add-on purchase. Again, consider giving additional chips for a double fee.


Multiple Game Poker Tournaments

 

While the typical home poker tournament consists of playing just one poker variation, that is by no means the only possiblity. As an alternative you could play a multiple game tournament format where each game is played for one level and the games are alternated in order. Multiple game tournaments are probably best suited for experienced poker players who do not need to be instructed on how to play the differing games. Players who are proficient in all the games being played are at a distinct advantage over beginners. Multiple game formats are also a bit more complicated to set up and manage.
Some common multiple-game tournament formats include:

HORSE: Stands for Holdem, Omaha, Razz, Stud (7 card), Eight or better 7 card stud (high-low).
(HEROS plays the same 5 games, but in a different order.)

HOSE: Stands for Hold'em, Omaha, Stud (7 card), Eight or better 7 card stud (high-low).

SHO: Stands for Stud (7 card), Holdem, Omaha (high).

HOE: Stands for Hold'em, Omaha, Eight or Better 7 Card Stud*.
* For the "E" Omaha High-Low Eight or Better can substituted for 7 Card Stud Eight or Better for the ease of using a blind format for each rather than mixing games with blinds and antes.

TRIPLE STUD: 7 Card Stud (high), Razz, 7 Card Stud High-Low Eight or better. All 3 games utilize an ante format making it easier to manage.