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The Basic Rules of Poker Tournaments You Should Know

Home » The Basic Rules of Poker Tournaments You Should Know

The Basic Rules of Poker Tournaments You Should Know

The words “Tournament Poker” surrounded by playing cards and gold poker chips.

Poker is undoubtedly one of the brightest stars in the phenomenal success of online casinos. Each year, more players learn the game and participate in the exciting offering of online poker tournaments, and each year, there is always a new name to add to the list of growing poker stars.

You don’t have to be a professional or even a particularly accomplished player to try your hand at a poker tournament. You could even be a beginner who wants to put your knowledge about high card rules and other poker basics into practice. All you need are some pointers to help you feel at ease with the basic tournament rules so you can compete whenever you choose. 

Carry on reading to learn more about the different types of poker tournaments, general poker tournament rules, and some quick poker tournament tips.

Types of Popular Poker Tournaments

The first thing to understand when setting out to play poker online competitively is the different types of tournaments you can participate in. Here are some of the more popular formats.

Bounty Tournaments

These tourneys offer players prize money (a bounty) for knocking out opponents during an event. Essentially, these action-packed events give you an opportunity to win by eliminating your competitors. BetMGM’s Progressive Knockout Bounty Tournaments are as exciting as poker tourneys get. Poker tournament rules reward you with 50% of the eliminated player’s bounty in cash, and the remaining 50% is added to your bounty each time you take a player out of the competition.

Sit & Go Tournaments

This format does not have a scheduled starting time. An event starts once all the seats have been filled, typically by nine to 10 players. This makes Sit & Go tourneys ideal for players who want to participate in a small tournament whenever it suits them. They’re highly recommended for beginner players because the single-table tournament means you don’t have to dominate a huge field to win, and they take about an hour to play from start to finish, so you don’t have to overtax your fledgling knowledge while still learning to play poker games online. 

During these challenging and fun educational events, you’ll be able to pick up poker tournament tips in a relaxed and friendly environment, and you’ll find it easy to learn the importance of position, stack sizes, and selected aggression. It’s also a great way to develop your playing style in 3-handed, 6-handed, and 10-handed environments. Buy-ins are also budget-friendly, ranging from $0.10 to $500, and are available in regular, turbo, and hyper-turbo structures.

Rebuy Tournaments

This tournament format allows players to re-buy chips a limited number of times within a specified time frame set by the hosting online poker site. This gives you multiple chances to make it to the final table. 

BetMGM’s popular Mega Tuesday $535 Six-Max No Limit Hold’em tournament has $12,000 up for grabs, with a 100,000 starting chip stack. As a re-entry tournament, after players bust, they may re-enter the tournament during the registration period (up to level 15).

Multi-Table Tournaments

Multi-table tournaments (also known as MTTs) have a schedule and typically attract a large number of players who participate across several tables. Players are eliminated based on their scores, and when only a few remain, they proceed to the final table. The tournament winner is the player with the largest number of chips at the end. Poker tournament rules often allow attractive prize pools to be shared by the top scorers, which makes this format a poker tournament favorite.

Satellite Tournaments

These tourneys are often a gateway to the largest macro poker competitions. They can be hosted by poker online rooms in the run-up to events like the World Series of Poker (WSOP). Winners of these tourneys are given entries to the grand event. Usually, satellite buy-ins are around 5–10% of buy-ins for the main event.

General Poker Tournament Rules

Four smartly dressed men and women at a poker table.

The rules of online poker tournaments are similar to the rules that apply to live games. The site you play on will provide you with the rules, terms and conditions that apply to their tournaments. Take the time to read them to play more confidently and understand how to play at a poker tournament. 

These are some of the most common tournament and casino poker rules.


Seating is assigned by random draw. Changes to seating are not allowed once play has started, except when assigned by the facilitator. 

Starting Rules

Starting chips are placed on the table for each paid entrant at the start of an event. Usually, paid players who are not present will be dealt in (if they remain uncontactable after 30 minutes, they may be removed at the facilitator’s discretion at the start of a new betting level). All the necessary chips for antes and blinds are placed into the pot.

Limits and Blinds

Limits and blinds are raised at regular intervals. Once the end of a betting level is indicated, the new limits apply to the next deal, which starts with the first riffle of the shuffle.

Order of Play

Starting with the number one seat and working clockwise, the dealer allocates cards to one player before moving to the next player. The participant who has the highest card by suit is given enough odd chips to exchange for one new chip. Then, the player with the next highest suit exchanges for the next chip. This continues until all the lower-value chips have been exchanged. A competitor must occupy or be within reach of a seat when the first card is dealt on the initial deal, or they will have a dead hand.

Player-to-Table Ratio

As players drop out of a game, remaining opponents are reassigned from broken tables to empty seats at other tables in a predetermined order. The player-to-table ratio is balanced by moving participants where necessary. If a field whittles down to just three tables, a redraw for seating takes place, although this isn’t compulsory in small tournaments that comprise fewer than five tables.

Players With Insufficient Chips

In the event that a player lacks sufficient chips for a blind or a forced bet, they may get action on whatever amount of money remains. If a participant posts a short blind and wins, they will not need to make up the blind.

Eliminated Players

Players must immediately leave their seats once eliminated from a tournament.

Illegally Revealed Hands

If a player shows any cards during a deal, except when just two players remain, the hand may be declared dead and the competitor penalized.

Abusive or Disruptive Behavior

Behavior that is abusive or severely disruptive may incur a penalty, resulting in being dealt out of the game for a specified time or evicted from the tournament. Remember to follow the house rules and unwritten poker etiquette rules to avoid being ejected from the event.

3 Quick Poker Tournament Rules

To get the most out of your poker tournaments, follow these three quick poker tournament tips:

1. Play Tight Early and Aggressive Later

The main goal of the early stages of a poker tournament should be to survive and build as big a stack as possible. This approach is more reliable than taking unnecessary risks early, as one misstep could put your chances of making it into the later stages of the game at risk. If you spot a fish (weak poker player) and know you can easily take their chips, then do so. But if you aren’t sure, it’s better to play it safe.

2. Put Pressure on Small Stack Players

If you manage to make it out of the early stages of the tournament with a large amount of chips, you can use this to your advantage by putting pressure on opponents with smaller stacks. Smaller-stacked players will be afraid to take any risks and will likely back down when you play aggressively against them.

3. Focus on the Tournament

No matter the poker tournament setup, one of the most important tips is avoiding unnecessary distractions. It’s easy when playing online in the comfort of your home to have your attention drawn away from a game by friends or phone notifications. As you get to grips with competitive poker, it’s vital that you remain fully focused on a game while it’s in progress. This will allow you to make the most of each game and help you on your learning path to becoming an accomplished poker player.

Play Poker Online at BetMGM

BetMGM has made it easy to play online poker and find a variety of tournaments wherever you happen to be. BetMGM tournament schedule includes over 70 tournaments daily and a Network Sunday $35,000 Tournament when you have the opportunity to play in one of the biggest Sunday Majors around. 

It’s easy to register at BetMGM. Enjoy an unbeatable poker experience no matter what your preference in poker formats may be.

Playing online poker tournaments is exciting and a great way to improve your poker skills. Read more about basic poker tournament rules to get started.