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Tournament Variants

A poker tournament is typically played in the following manner: players start with a standard amount of chips, the blinds gradually escalate, and players are gradually eliminated. The prize pool of these tournaments is heavily weighted to the top finishers, but about 10% of the entrants place in the money. These tournaments are generally played as freezeouts, meaning that once a player loses all of his chips, he is not allowed back into the tournament.

While many people enjoy this tournament structure, there are other types of tournaments as well. Most tournaments start with the basic premise of everyone receiving an equal amount of chips and having play continue until one person possesses all of the tournament chips. However, some tournaments have a spin on the typical freezeout structure. These tournaments may escalate the blinds more quickly, introduce re-buys, have a winner-take-all structure, etc. Each of these types of variants alters the basic strategy of the tournament. Here is a list of common tournament variants, as well as some ideas about how to adapt your strategy to them.

Re-buy and Add-on Tournaments
This is a very common type of tournament. A re-buy allows a player to buy back into the tournament. If a player busts out or his stack dwindles to a low point, a re-buy would allow a player to purchase the initial amount of chips again.

For example, suppose a tournament is $50+$5. All players start with 1,000 chips. You bust out on the second hand of the tournament and want to continue to play. For a re-buy event, you can generally purchase another 1,000 chips for $50 to continue playing.

A re-buy tournament generally will allow re-buys for a set period of time before it becomes a standard freezeout tournament. When this period ends, players have the option to add-on. For a set price (usually equal to the buy-in of the tournament), players can add a certain amount of chips to their stack. The amount of chips generally depends on the tournament, but it is often equal to the amount of chips to which players started the tournament.

For these types of tournaments, you can generally afford to play a little looser at the beginning. Since you are able to re-buy, there is less reason to be risk-averse when playing. There is not a need to potentially sacrifice expected value just to stay in the tournament.

If you do bust out, the decision to re-buy is largely dependent on your circumstances. How tough are the players in the tournament? Do you think you will make more money in the tournament, or is there a more profitable ring game you can play?

When it is time to add-on, it is almost always advisable to purchase the add-on. All of the money in a tournament is at the top, so building one's stack (whether through play or adding on chips) is very important.

Players should generally default to purchasing the add-on. However, there may be reasons a player shouldn't add-on. The main one is if a player isn't skilled at the event. If the event is -EV for the person, buying more chips may likely be -EV as well. This type of player probably shouldn't be playing this type of event anyway.

Turbo Tournaments
A turbo or speed tournament is one where the blinds rise very quickly. Often, the blinds will escalate every 5 minutes. In fact, it is not unheard of to have the blinds increase every two minutes!

These types of tournament have a higher luck factor than typical tournaments. There is very little postflop play because people tend to be forced to go all-in preflop or fold. For this type of tournament, aggression is important. The blinds will quickly eat away your stack if you play passively. Steal the blinds a lot and hope luck is on your side.

Satellite Tournaments
Instead of offering a cash prize, a satellite tournament rewards an entry into a higher buy-in tournament to its winners. Most notable are the World Series of Poker satellites.

There are several different types of satellite tournaments. Generally, most require a more aggressive strategy at the beginning of the tournament and then a more selectively aggressive strategy towards the end. This is because there tends to be only a few prizes awarded relative to the number of people who buy-in. However, since first place is awarded the same prize as the person who receives the lowest winning spot, there is no reason to be overly aggressive in accumulating vast amounts of chips.

A more complete strategy guide to satellite tournaments can be found in our WSOP Satellite Strategy article.

Steps Tournaments
The steps tournament is the brainchild of Party Poker. A steps tournament acts as a series of single-table satellite tournaments of increasingly larger buy-ins, culminating in large cash prizes at the final step.

A steps tournament generally consists of five steps. Winners of the first step win an entry into the second step and then compete for an entry into the third step and so on. Generally, players can buy into the tournament at any step (the buy-in at the higher steps is much larger than at the lower steps). However, only at the final step are the major prizes awarded.

For these steps tournaments, the first thing to take notice of is the prize structure. Often, the poker rooms are sneaky and extract far too much in the way of entry fees from these steps tournaments. This is because they will often frame the prize structure to keep people forever playing in the same steps tournaments, forcing them to continuously pay more entry fees to the poker room. This news article illustrates how the prize structures of the "step higher" and "step lower" tournaments at Party Poker result in an incredibly large entry fees.

To avoid paying too much rake, you want to play in a steps tournament that tends to result in either: 1) seats to higher steps tournament or 2) a player's elimination. When a lot of prizes give an entry to a lower step or the same step, this means that you will likely end up paying large amounts of rake to work your way up the steps.

Otherwise, strategy for a steps tournament is similar to strategy for single-table tournaments and satellite tournaments. When about 30% of players receive a step to the next level, you will want to play a selectively aggressive game. Aim to steal the blinds and keep your stack above average. You do not need to amass the most chips to win. However, you want to keep your stack relatively large, so people do not attack you and try to knock you out. By frequently stealing the blinds, you will possess a larger than average stack, resulting in fewer confrontations.

When you arrive at the final step, you will want to play your standard single-table tournament strategy. With the exception of WSOP steps tournaments, most steps tournaments have a typical prize structure at the final step. First place receives a large share, but players in second, third, and fourth receive a decent prize as well.

Like a steps tournament, a shootout is a series of single-table tournaments. However, players never win seats to the same step or lower steps. A player advances to the next round of the shootout or goes home.

Furthermore, a shootout is a single event. In a steps tournament, a player can play each individual step whenever he or she pleases. For example, if someone wins step one and receives a buy-in to step two, that player can play the step two tournament that same day, the next day, or even two weeks later.

Shootout events have different structures. Some award only one seat to the next round per table, while others award multiple seats. Nevertheless, almost all shootouts have a flattened prize structure at the final table. This means that shootouts are usually not played as winner-take-all tournaments. The prize pool tends to be distributed widely among the final table finishers.

For example, suppose 100 players enter a shootout event. There are ten players at each of ten tables. One way to structure this tournament is to have only one player per table advance to the next round. At the final table, there will be a winner from each table, and they will compete in a single-table tournament. Generally, all players at this final table will receive a prize; however, first and second place will receive much larger prizes than the other players.

However, a shootout event could also have three players per table advance to the next round. In the round of 30, three players from each table may still advance to the final table (making only nine players at the final table). A shootout can be structured in a number of ways.

The structure of a shootout should determine your strategy. If only one player per table advances to the next round, you must play very aggressively. You will have to gamble a lot and hope to win all of the chips at the table.

However, if several players advance to the next round, a more selective aggressive approach is in order. You want to keep a fairly decent-sized stack, so your opponents do not go after you. Avoiding confrontation is important because you want to advance to the next round with as little gambling as possible. Again, stealing the blinds frequently is a good strategy to keep your stack above average.

Winner-take-all Tournaments
A lot of home games are played as winner-take-all single-table tournaments. If you have read the rest of this article, you can probably guess what my advice is for these tournaments: Be aggressive! You need to win all of the chips, so you should not sacrifice any expected value to remain in the tournament. Exploit every edge, bully, and go after those chips. Placing second out of ten is worth just as much as placing tenth in this sort of tournament. Go for the gold and attack the pot.

Next Article: Knockout Tournament Strategy

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