An Introduction to Poker Tournaments

An Introduction to Poker Tournaments – Freerolls vs. Real Money Online Tourneys

poker-tournamentsThis article is dedicated to the different formats of poker tournaments played online, not the types of poker you want to play. There are two different mediums that you can play in tournaments. They are: FREEROLLS (no cash investment) and MONEY (playing with “real money”). We will cover both types on this page.

Freeroll Tourneys

This is where many new players begin (which is a good idea) playing freeroll tournaments. New players might want to start here in order to check out the software and workings of the software, as well as practice with the types of players on that particular online poker site. As a new player (if you are one), you may not be aware that all online poker sites have different software. Software includes the look of the site, the tabs used to get to the tournament schedules, the raise, call, check and fold buttons (or mechanics) and including the “options” available on the site.

The good thing about freerolls is that you can play them all day, or all night, on different sites. Many of the sites have their freerolls in the middle of the night and many sites use Eastern Standard Time on their schedules of tournaments.
The most important positive aspect of freerolls is just that, THEY ARE FREE. You can win real money on some sites or you can win qualifiers for higher limit tournaments, or even qualify to play in tournaments to win WSOP seats. When you play freerolls you can win bonus dollars, which will increase your bankroll as you play ring games, and/or bonus points to play in their points tournaments or buy their poker gear.

Experience has taught me that playing freerolls is like playing craps. Great cards throughout the tournament does not guarantee a win in freerolls. The bad thing about freerolls is that many of the players who register to play freerolls will “go all in” at the drop of a hat. There is a saying “If you are not willing to die for the pot, you are not willing to win” or something like that.

You will have players who will go all in with a pair on the board (I call these players Kamakazee players), then you will have players that are “rocks”. Rocks wait, and wait until they get a premium hand. This is the reason that new players should play freerolls. All players need practice, but new players especially need the experience of all the different types of players.

For players with some experience, this is the place to experiment with different styles of play to find what fits you and your characteristics best. If you are a “rock” then play with a kamakazee attitude and vice versa. If you are afraid to raise or re-raise, practice the skill in freerolls until you feel confident, then take your confidence and skill to a “real money” low stake/limit tournament.

There is one more thing that you should know about freerolls and that is, although it says that (for example) 2,000 players have registered for the tournament, many, I mean, many do not show up to take their seats. Most sites will “eliminate or remove” players that have not shown up in the first 10-15 minutes of a tournament. This is a good thing, unless you are one of the ones that forgot where you signed up to play that particular freeroll and show up late (which I have done once or twice).

Real Money Tournaments

All of the sites have “real money” tournaments. This is what they are in business for. Although you are playing against other players, the sites charge a “fee” for the tournament. When you register for a tournament, you will see a fee, usually 10% of the “buy-in” amount, being charged (i.e., $5 + $.50). This is how the sites make their money from tournaments. The buy-in amount is immediately removed from your account, once you finalize the registration for the tournament. Tournament fees are usually refundable, but check to make sure, don’t just assume so.

You will still have your “kamakazee” players in real money tournaments that you have in the freeroll tournaments, but definitely not as many. The real money tournaments usually play slower (last longer) as people are playing with their own money, so they are not as footloose and fancy free with calling bets and raises or “re-raising” as they are in freerolls. Bluffs still occur in real money tournaments, don’t get me wrong, but as you play real money tournaments, you will notice a difference as to the number of players that bluff.

Now, the positive aspects of playing real money tournaments. The first and foremost is that when you play real money tournaments, you are usually (not always) playing for real money prizes. Money prizes and winners are usually determined by the number of entrants in the tournament, a percentage rate for each place (i.e., 5th place), (determined by the individual online poker site) of the amounts paid by the players minus the 10% fees paid. The number of winners is also determined by the number of entrants. Some sites will award 10% of the number of entrants, while others may set a straight number of winners.

Poker rooms sometimes offer real money tournaments in smaller increments which allows you to win seats to WPT and/or WSOP Tournaments as first prize and the balance of the entrant money (if there is any), to be split with certain number of winning places. The best thing to do is to check the tournament room/payout schedule for each tournament you want to play.
The negative aspect of playing real money is obvious. If you do not have the experience, skill, knowledge, patience or bankroll, playing real money tournaments should not be your cup of tea (or brand of beer). If you are playing online poker tournaments on a limited bankroll (small amount of money), you should stick to the freerolls or very low buy-in tournaments ($1.00 or so) until you substantially build your bankroll.

I know that all of the reputable and major online poker rooms have low buy-in tournaments and “Sit and Go” tournaments. Personally I know what its like to have to wait for a payday to reload my poker account. It can be extremely frustrating… thank the poker gods that there are freerolls on the online poker sites.

The choice of playing freerolls vs. real money tourneys is determined by your skill level and your bankroll. If you find that your bankroll is shrinking at an alarming rate, due to playing many real money tournaments and not winning, you may wish to fall back to playing freeroll tournaments in order to rebuild your bankroll. If you have unlimited funds (you are a millionaire or such), you may wish to continue playing the real money tournaments.

My advice is for you is to play whatever you are comfortable with and what you can afford to lose. Oh, and one other thing. Playing tournaments is sufficiently different from playing real money ring games so as to unleash your craving for discovery of the different strategies used. The strategies are very different, so don’t approach both poker games like they’re the same game.