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Play in the best Texas Hold'em tournaments

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Poker Stars is the undisputed heavyweight champion of online poker tournaments. They offer superb tournament structures, an enormous player base and huge prize pools.   $600 Read Review
888poker has a steady stream of casino money coming in to the poker tables, which means good tournament value for skilled Hold'em players.   $888 Read Review

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Play in the best Texas Hold'em tournaments

This article will give you instructions on how to run a home style version of a World Poker Tour or World Series of Poker. I will explain the following: blind structure, limits, chips, rebuys, multi-tables, prize money/payout structure, and then lastly a quick refresher course in how no limit is played.

Blind Structure

You have a few options regarding the blind structure of the game: big blind and small blind, big blind and small blind plus ante, and one blind and ante. An ante means that you put in that amount before you get your cards. It is a forced bet like the blinds, but everyone has to do it instead of just one or two people. You may have noticed when watching poker on tv that there is already a lot of chips in the pot before they even start betting. That's from the ante. You won't find this in many casinos, only in tournaments. The affect this has is that it makes for more action. Action is a term for describing betting, raising and basically. An "action" or "live" game is one in which there is a lot of money being bet back and forth. An example of a game with a big/small blind plus an ante would be as follows. The big blind starts at $15 and the small blind starts at $10 and there is a $5 ante. Notice how with 10 people at a table, the pot is already $65 -$15 $10 (8x5). I recommend this structure for home games since like I mentioned it encourages action, and rightly so. People are here to have fun, bet raise and go battle it out and the best blind structure for a wild game is this one.


In holdem tournaments like the World Series of Poker and World Poker Tour the limits increase as the game progresses. You need to decide two things for your tournament: how much the limits will be and how often they will be increased. There are two ways that are usually used to decide the frequency at which the blinds will increase. Those two ways are by a set number of hands or by a set number of time. An example of a set number of hands would be after 30 hands. An example of the set number of time would be after an hour. Of these two I would recommend using the time factor instead of the number of hands since no one wants to keep track of which hand number it is. You can just set up a clock or cooking timer near the table. If you have all day to play the tourney then go for the hour option, if not then just cut it down to a half an hour. The next thing to decide is how much the limits will be.
Here is an example break down:

Big Blind

Small Blind


Level 1




Level 2




Level 3




Level 4




Level 5




Level 6




Level 7




Level 8




Level 9




Best Texas Hold'em Tournament Guide


Deciding how many chips each person gets to start with and what their denomination will be is next. One thing to consider is that no one likes getting busted out early so you may want to make the amount of chips you get to begin with pretty high in relation to the initial limit. That makes the first few levels less significant and kind of a warm up. People can make some mistakes and still recover. What denomination the chips are depends on how many you own. With the limit structure above, I would recommend giving people 1000 each to start with. Notice that this doesn't necessarily correspond with the amount they bought in for. Even if it is a $5 buying tournament at your house, you can still give them $1000 in chips. Another thing to consider is that it is fun to have lots of chips in the game. The more the better. In casino limit texas holdem often times a 4/8 structure is more action packed game then a 3/6 structure just because there are more chips on the table. So for example you might find that a $8/16 played with $2 chips is looser then a $6/12 played with $2 chips. Or another example would be a $40/80 game with $10 chips versus a $30/60 played with $10. People like chips. If you find yourself in a situation where you don't have access to good poker chips then you can always resort to the ghetto chips: pennies, dimes, nickels and quarters. It isn't as fun but it gets the job done. Just make sure no one has extra "chips" in their pockets.


A rebuy in a tournament is when you can purchase your buyin again. This usually happens only for a short period at the beginning of the tournament. For example in your home game you could have a rule that allowed people to have one rebuy or addon within the first three limit levels. What that means is that they could put another $5 into the prize pool and get another $1000 in chips. That's kind of nice since you allow people a second chance to play. Since it only happens in the first part of the tourney it isn't that significant and I'm sure your busted out buddies would prefer to play then sit and watch. Because of this I would allow one rebuy like I mentioned. Addons are basically the same thing but you don't have to be busted out to buy them.

Multi Tables

What happens if you have more then 10 people? What if you have 20 people or 25 or 15 or some other weird number? Normally no limit holdem tournaments are played with 9 people at a table and one dealer. In your home game you will most likely not have a dealer and you most likely won't have a perfect number of people. You'll need to institute a table formation and reformation policy. Sounds fun right? Basically what you are striving for is a fairness and continuity. What you don't want to have happen is to have 10 people at one table and 3 at another. You want the same number of people at each table. You also don't want to be unfair by selecting which of the players goes to which table. For that I recommend you use chance. If you have enough people to have two tables then I would create a hat full of numbers and each person randomly selects which table they start at. If you have 10 people or less to start with then just run one table. If you have anymore then that you'll need to run multiple tables. So 10 or less 1 table, 10-20 two tables, 20-30, three tables, etc. If you have 14 people to start with, put 7 on each table. If everything goes right both tables will lose players at the same rate then you can combine them. If that isn't the case, which is what's going to happen, you'll have one table with 7 players and one with 4 or something. At that point you can either yank someone over and put him at that table or break the tables and reform them into 6 and 5 players. If you are going to yank someone out of the first table to even out the second then I would draw a card to see who has to go. Changing tables can be a good thing if you get to move to an easier table but more likely it is a disadvantage because you'll be playing with all new people and some of the moves you made before won't carry over (ie. getting caught bluffing to make more later on real hands) as well as your hand reading skills of the opponents. Basically your database of info on the other players goes to zip again.

Prize Money

Deciding the payout structure depends on how many people are playing. Usually the more entrants, the lower payouts go down the ranks so even if you finish 20th you get something. If you have 10 people playing I would go for either paying only the top three or just the top person. That's how poker used to be, it was winner takes all. If you have 20 people playing I would pay down to the 5th person. For three payout spots I like 70 - 20 - 10 or 60 - 25 - 15. Notice the winner gets the lions share. You might as well make it worth peoples time. I think winning should mean something.
So if you had 10 guys with a buyin of $20 each, the payout would be:
1st - $120
2nd - $50
3rd - $30
Everyone makes money and the winner makes a hundred bucks.

Losing Players Getting Bored

If you are having a tourney with your friends then most likely you want to have something for them to do when they bust out. Sitting around watching a few people battle it out to the finish is boring. This isn't tv and no one cares really if buddy x or buddy y wins. Because of this I recommended you have a side game going on. Just let them buy in and whatever amount of money you like and then give them some chips. That can go on as long as you like. An example would be I get a $100 in chips for $5.


So now we've covered the details, let's put it all together. Your game will be no limit texas holdem with a buyin amount of whatever you like. Each person gets $1000 in chips. There is one rebuy allowed but it has to happen within the first three levels. The limits start at $10/$15 and you use two blinds and an ante that is half the size of the small blind. Each person has to put in the ante before they get cards (except the blinds who put in, yes you guessed it, their blinds). The limits increase each half an hour or hour. The payout is 60% for first place, 25% for second and 15% for third. The bottom line for tournaments is that they should be fun and exciting which means you should adjust they structure in any way that will make it more enjoyable. The above tips are just recommendations so if you feel like modifying them some, do it. It's your game.

Quick Refresher On How Holdem Is Played

Preflop - blinds and antes are put up. Starting with the small blind, everyone gets two cards dealt to them (one at a time). Now there is a betting round.
Flop - one card from the deck is dealt into the muck (the burn), and then three card are placed face up in the middle of the table. This is the flop. Now there is a betting round.
Turn Card - another card is placed face up on the table, this is called the "turn card" or "fourth street". Now there is a betting round.
River Card - the last card is placed face up on the table, this is called the "river" or "fifth street". Now there is a betting round.
Showdown - starting with the bettor, or if no one bet the first person by position, each person shows their cards and the winner gets the pot.

No Limit Betting Amounts

Since you are playing no limit holdem, the maximum a person can bet or raise is the amount of chips they have. The minimum they can bet or raise is the amount of the initial bet. This resets after each hand. An example of this would be if I bet $50 on the flop. To raise me you would have to raise in an increment of $50 minimum or however much more then that you like. Notice the initial bet was $50 so that is the minimum I can raise. The next betting round this goes back to zero so the first bet could be anything (even a dollar). Note that preflop there is already a "bet" and it is the big blind so that is the minimum you can raise.

All In

Going all-in means that you are putting all your chips into the pot. What happens when one person goes all-in for an amount less then what someone else bet? Let's say for example the big blind was $200 and I only had $100 left and I go all-in. What is called a "side pot" is created for me that I can win. The amount in the side pot is however much I bet times the number of players who called. That sounds more complicated then it is. Basically the idea is that I can only win as much from you as I bet myself. That's fair right? It wouldn't be right if I could go all-in with $100 left and win your $2000. Instead I can only win $100 from you and $100 from each other person in the game. Multiple side pots can be created if more then one person goes all-in. Let's go over an example to solidify this. There are five people left in the tourney. You get pocket Aces in the big blind. Everyone folds except the button who raises $800 going all-in. The small blind reraises making it $3000 total. You have exactly enough chips to call the $3000 and go all-in. Here comes the tricky part. The first guy who raised making it $800 (who we will call Jim) can only win $800 from each of you. So this is called the main pot and it is $2400 (3 players times $800 each). You, Jim and the other guy can all win this pot depending on who has the best hand. Now there is a side pot created that is between just you and the other non-Jim guy that has the remaining money in it. This side pot is $4400 ($2200 from you and the other guy). The bad news is that Jim had pocket 4s and caught one on the river to crack your Aces. He wins the $2400 main pot. The good news is that you won the side pot because the non-Jim guy only had AQ.

Ties In Holdem

There are ties in texas holdem. If we both have the same best five cards, then we "chop" the pot. If there is an uneven amount of chips, say 31, then the extra chip goes to the person first by position (clockwise). Common questions I get are about if there is a flush on the board or high cards who wins. Note the rule again, the best five cards win. So let's say the flop turn and river is like this: Qs Tc Jd Ks Ah Everyone in the pot gets to split it since the bet possible hand is on the board. Another example is this: Qh Jh Th 4h 2h Let's say you have Ac3h and the other guy has QsQd You would win the hand since your heart beats the deuce of hearts on the board. Last example, let's say you have AK and another person has AQ and the flop/turn/river is 4 9 T 6 8 You will win since you have the best five cards. You have AKT98 and he has AQT98 Your K beats his Q.

Order Of Betting In Holdem

The order of betting preflop is different then it is the rest of the hand in holdem. When everyone gets their cards, "preflop", the first person who has to call, raise or fold is the person immediately after the big blind. This position is called being "under the gun" since it is the worst position. People make their moves clockwise until the big blind is last to act. This changes for the flop, turn card and river card betting rounds. On these rounds the first person to act is the person immediately after the dealer button. This is usually the person who was the small blind before. The only exceptions to this are if someone raises. That changes the order somewhat since everyone has to call, reraise or fold before the next card is shown. Let me give an example of that. Let's say you are in the big blind and normally you would be the last person to make a move preflop. A person calls in the first two positions and the third person raises. Now the person directly before them will be last to act unless someone else raises. Like I mentioned this is because everyone has to equal that amount before the round is over. You probably are aware of this already but it is worth mentioning just in case.

Update - 3/2/04

A surfer named Bill Costin created the following rules for a home tourney he is holding. He was nice enough to let me post it here for others.

Texas Hold 'Em Poker Tournament Rules

The Game

  • Texas Hold 'Em is Seven Card Stud where each player gets two down cards; Hole cards with the remaining five up cards; Community cards being placed in the center of the table which all players use to complete their hand.
  • The best five card hand wins according to the attached listing of possible hands
    • Two Hole cards plus any three Community cards
    • One Hole card plus any four Community cards
    • Five Community cards (should more than one player use only the Community cards as their winning hand, the pot will be split between them regardless of Hole cards). Odd chips will be given to winning player closest to dealer's left


  • Each player pays $100.00 and will receive $1000.00 worth of chips
  • No additional chips may be bought or borrowed (when you're out you're out)
  • No cash is allowed on the table and may not be substituted for chips
  • The tournament will continue until one player has won all of the chips
  • $1000.00 worth of chips will be placed at each paid seat as follows
    • Black Chips $100.00
    • Green Chips $ 50.00
    • Blue Chips $ 25.00
    • Red Chips $ 10.00
    • White Chips $ 5.00


  • 1st place 50% of total buy-in
  • 2nd place 30% of total buy-in
  • 3rd place 20% of total buy-in
  • 4th -20th 0% of total buy-in


  • Each player will be seated according to a random drawing and this will remain their seat until they are eliminated or advance to another table.
  • Up to10 players will be seated at each table.
  • A single player may be moved to another table to keep the tables somewhat balanced. This will be done between level increases. The table with the most players will draw high cards with the high card moving to another table and placed in any available seat ahead of the big blind.
  • The ten finalists will be combined at one table and be seated by another random drawing.
  • The ten finalists will begin play with the next level of limits and blinds above the last level in play prior to combining the tables

Limits and Blinds

  • Texas Hold 'Em uses a structured betting system with limits and blinds
  • The tournament will begin with limits of $10.00 / $15.00 and increase each hour
    • Hour One Limits $10.00 / $15.00 Blinds $5.00 / $10.00
    • Hour Two Limits $20.00 / $30.00 Blinds $10.00 / $20.00
    • Hour Three Limits $30.00 / $60.00 Blinds $15.00 / $30.00
    • Hour Four Limits $40.00 / $80.00 Blinds $20.00 / $40.00
    • Hour Five Limits $50.00 / $150.00 Blinds $25.00 / $50.00
    • Hour Six Limits $100.00 / $200.00 Blinds $50.00 / $100.00
    • Hour Seven Limits $200.00 / $400.00 Blinds $100.00 / $200.00
  • After the signal designating the end of a betting level, the new limits apply on the next deal
  • There will be a short break between levels as needed
  • Each hand will have four rounds of betting. The first two rounds of bets and raises must equal the (lower) limit with the last two rounds equaling the (high) limit

The Bets

  • Each hand starts with two Blind bets being posted, ensuring every hand is worth something
  • The player to the dealer's left posts the small blind which if half of the lower limit
  • The player to the left of the small blind posts the big blind which is the full lower limit
  • The blinds shall remain in front of the players until the conclusion of the pre-flop betting. The dealer will rake the blinds and all other bets into the pot
  • All bets shall be stacked and pushed directly in front of player. The dealer will verify all bets and rake them to the center pot at the conclusion of each round of betting. Tossing chips into the pot is not allowed
  • Each player may bet up to four times (max ) per betting round. This includes one bet and three raises. Once a player has reached the four-bet max they may either call or fold only.
  • Players are required to verbally declare their bet (Call, Check, Raise w/ amount, or Fold)
  • The dealer will make all change for larger chips out of the pot. Players betting large chips shall declare their bet when placing out the chips and the dealer will make the change as needed
  • Players may not disclose or turn over their holecards during a live hand even if folded. This injures the rights of players who are still competing. If a player deliberately shows a card the entire hand will be declared dead and the player penalized (half the current pot)


  • If a player cannot cover a blind, he must use all remaining chips and post a short blind and declare All-in. Both blinds and each called bet (not including raises) from the pre-flop round will go into a (main) pot. All raises from the pre-flop round and all bets from additional rounds will be placed into a (side) pot. The All-In player will not be able to bet for the remainder of the hand and should he win the hand he will win only the amount from the (main) pot with the (side) pot going to the next best winning hand. If he does not win the hand he is eliminated from the tournament and the winning hand receives both pots
  • When a player does not have enough chips to cover a call he must fold or declare All-In and bet all remaining chips. Players who follow the All-In player will call the entire bet with a portion equaling the All-In player going into the (main) pot and the remaining chips going into a (side) pot. All additional betting for the remainder of the hand will go into the (side) pot. The All-In player is only entitled to the (main) pot should he win the hand with the (side) pot going to the next best hand.
  • If more than one player goes All-In during a hand additional (side) pots will be created using the same rules as above. A player may only win a pot equaling his All-In bet and the called bets from following players.

The Open

  • The deal begins with the player in seat #1 and will advance to the left with each hand played.
  • A Button which will advance to the left with the deal marks the dealer.
  • Each deal shall be shuffled and cut by the player to the dealers right
  • Each player is dealt two cards face down (hole cards)
  • The betting starts with the player to the left of the big blind and advances to the left. Each player must call, raise, or fold, the only player that may check is the big blind because he has already posted a full bet (unless a previous player raised)

o Call matching the big blind (lower limit)

o Raise calling the previous players bet plus the raise (lower limit)

o Fold permanently out of current hand (cards shall be returned to dealer (face down) and placed in discard stack)

  • The player who posted the small blind can call by betting the remaining half equaling the big blind plus any raises from previous players
  • The player who posted the big blind may check call or raise (lower limit)

The Flop

  • After the first round of betting is completed the dealer will burn the top card and place the next three Community cards face up in the center of the table
  • The second round of bets starts with the first active player to the dealer's left
  • Players now have the following betting options or they can fold:

o Check declining to bet at this time but retaining the option to call or raise bets made by other players

o Bet a player can bet the (lower limit)

o Raise calling the previous bet plus a raise (lower limit)

The Turn

  • The dealer will now burn the top card and turn over one more Community card
  • The betting will again start with the first active player to the dealer's left
  • Players have the same options as the previous round with bets & raises now at the (high limit)

The River

  • The dealer now burns and turns the final Community card
  • The betting will be the same as the previous round (high limit)
  • If a player makes a bet that all remaining players fail to call the hand is over with that player taking the pot and without having to show his cards

The Showdown

  • After the all bets are called each player still in the hand will have bet the same amount and the dealer will declare that the pot is right
  • All players must turn over their cards (visible to all players) and call their own hand
  • The best five card hand wins the pot unless someone has gone All-In as described above

Time Limits

  • Each player is expected to play their hand and make any bets or fold within 30 seconds


  • The following circumstances will result in a misdeal.
    • Dealer exposes any of the hole cards to any player
    • Dealer starts with the wrong position or deals out of sequence (empty chair)
    • Dealer gives any player less or more than the two hole cards
    • All misdeals shall be reshuffled and cut
    • Once two players (after the blinds) have acted upon their hands the entire hand shall be played to conclusion regardless of misdeal
    • If too many cards are exposed during the flop or a card was not burned, the cards shall be reshuffled and a new card burned with three new flop cards being dealt
    • If too many cards are turned or a card not burned during the turn or river the existing community cards shall remain with the remaining cards reshuffled and a new card burned and a new single card turned
    • If a card is found face up in the deck it shall be placed on the bottom of the deck and the next card shall be played
    • If a card is found missing from the deck prior to any betting it shall be replaced, shuffled and cut. If two players have taken action the hand shall be played to conclusion
    • A card dropped or exposed by a player shall continue to be played

House Rules

  • Host reserves the right to make decisions in the spirit of fairness should interpretation of the above rules indicate a different ruling, provided that the conflict does not apply to the host in which case a pre-selected player will make ruling.
  • Host should be made aware of problem when it occurs and all play must stop with all cards and chips remaining as-is until a resolution is reached.
  • Each player must play and call his own hand. No assistance may be given by other players or spectators
  • Should a player need to briefly leave the game, all play will stop. Another player may not play for the absent player nor post any blinds
  • All cards must remain in full view and are not allowed beyond the edge of the table
  • All players are entitled to a clear view of opponent's chips with higher denominations made easily visible. Hiding chips is not allowed
  • Looking through discards or remaining deck cards is not allowed at any time
  • The dealer of each hand will be responsible for verifying all bets, raking bets into pot and awarding the pot to the winning player(s)

I think these are great rules and I only had a couple suggestions listed here:

  • Hour per round may be too long. I would cut it back to a half and hour tops.
  • String bets - casinos have a rule that prevents people from faking that they are going to bet and then just check. If you move your chips out, that is considered a bet.
  • ALL-IN - If more than one player goes All-In during a hand additional (side) pots will be created using the same rules as above. A player may only win a pot equaling his All-In bet and the called bets from following players. You might want to clear that up with an example. For example if the person went all-in for $25, the most the main pot would be would be ($25 x number of players in). So if the blinds were $50/100 and he went all-in and 5 people called including him, the main pot would be $25 x 5. The rest would be in the side pot. An all-in player can win from each player as much as he himself wagered.
  • Showdown - after the bets are all correct, people have to show their hands in order. It starts with the person who bet and then in clockwise rotation. That's important because if you didn't win you don't have to show your hand.
  • Should a player need to briefly leave the game, all play will stop. Another player may not play for the absent player nor post any blinds If you leave in a tourney you don't get dealt in and it is a mandatory blind. People can take bathroom breaks in between levels. It isn't fair to hold up the game. Just think if three people in one level left for 5 minutes each.