5 Steps to Picking the Perfect Poker Tournament

I wrote this post for a simple reason – I got sick of teaching my friends how to pick a good online poker tournament, so I wrote something I could copy and paste as an email response.

The goal of this page is to help you find the right kind of online poker tournament for you to enter, based on a few different factors. When we say “perfect” tournament, we mean the tourney that’s the most fun and potentially the most profitable that you can afford or have a shot at winning with your skill level.

How to Pick a Poker Tournament
Determining which tournament to play means first figuring out a few things about you and the kind of tournaments you want to play. I think there are basically three kinds of online poker players. Regardless of the specifics of your poker game, you’re probably one of these three broad categories:

The Amateur
This is anyone who plays primarily for fun. Being an amateur doesn’t mean you lose a lot or are a bad player – it means your purpose is more casual. The Amateur probably doesn’t have a tournament bankroll or worry about bankroll management. Amateurs look for tournaments that offer a low fixed buy-in, are exciting to play, and give them a shot at a decent cash prize.

The Cash Game Expert
Players who make a significant amount of money playing ring games of online poker fall under this category. This person might play an occasional tournament, but mostly as a break in the routine. A Cash Game Expert will play a tourney if it gives him a decent shot at a huge cash prize, or if he finds value in the low skill set of a particular tournament’s player field.

The Tournament Junkie
Some of these players are professionals, others are amateurs, but they all have one thing in common. They complete regularly in online poker tournaments. Tournaments make up the majority of their poker play. They keep a tournament bankroll separate from their regular cash game bankroll. In short, tourneys are their wheelhouse.

Five Steps to Picking the Perfect Poker Tournament
Follow these five steps and you’ll have at least one perfect option for your particular style of poker play.

Step One: Figure out what field size you’re interested in.
Do you want to play against dozens of other players, or thousands of them? The name of the game in a tournament is for good players to take money from less-skilled players. That means good players have a higher expectation when they’re playing against fish. That means (generally speaking) a skilled player enjoys a much higher ROI in large tournament fields.

Why would anyone play anything but a massive tournament, if smaller tournaments mean more skilled opponents? Smaller fields mean less variance. Playing against large fields means that you’re more likely to lose every tournament you enter than when you enter tourneys with smaller fields. You earn more consistent winnings if you can compete consistently against smaller (and more skilled) fields of competitors. It’s tournament poker’s most annoying Catch-22.

Step Two: Determine your ideal buy-in.
Amateur players that don’t worry too much about their bankroll should pick a tourney based on the amount they’re comfortable losing in proportion to their skill level. In other words, if you enter a small pool tourney featuring players who are mostly better than you, you should be prepared to lose the entire buy-in. At that point, the tournament’s 100% fun, exactly what amateurs are in it for. All players can follow this rule, since the key to it is that you’re choosing tourneys based on both your skill level and your financial comfort level. It means you won’t be distracted worrying about money, even when it’s down to you vs. the final table.

Step Three: Decide how difficult of a field you want to compete against.
We established in Step Two that it is generally tougher to win tournaments with larger buy-ins, because those tournaments include mostly highly-skilled players. However, this rule has a huge exception.

Tourneys that get a lot of publicity but also happen to have a large buy-in tend to feature people who are playing for the prestige. The best example is the World Series of Poker, where plenty of total amateurs that have no business competing in poker’s biggest event cough up ten grand so they can play in the same tournament as the big boys. Of course, not all examples are this extreme. You’ll often find people playing way out of their league at hefty buy-in online tournaments. It’s all about doing your research.

Step Four: Find your ideal blind structure.
A tourney’s “blind structure” is the number of chips you start with relative to the tourney’s blinds. This structure also lets you know how quickly those blinds increase over time. Amateur players in it mostly for fun and excitement should look for events where they start with a large number of chips and the blinds move up very slowly. This will get them the most bang for their buck. This shallow structure reduces the impact of player skill, at least for a few rounds.

Skilled players need to consider what the strongest part of their poker game is, then pick a structure that matches their abilities. I’d suggest that ring game players choose deep stack tourneys so that the tournament looks and acts like the games they know and love. If you’re used to playing in tournaments, you might like the thrill of the shallow stack setup, and you might be the type of player who makes their best moves in tight game situations.

Step Five: Shop for the best prize structure.
This one is really all about personal preference.

I suggest that you concern yourself mainly with the cut taken by the house. Small stakes online tournaments tend to pay the house 10%. If you’re playing in a tournament with a buy-in above $100, you’ll pay slightly less of a cut to the house. Be careful about entering the super-tiny pool low stakes tournaments online with a rake of 20% or more. When you’re playing with a shallow structure and a huge rake, you’re basically playing the toughest possible online tournament format.

Conclusion
In case you haven’t gotten the point by now – you need to tailor your online poker tourney choice to the specifics of your poker game. It starts with an honest assessment of your abilities and your likes and dislikes when it comes to online poker. If you combine that accurate look at your poker skill with a logical choice of poker tournament, you’ll be giving yourself the best chance of being a tournament winner.

How Comps Programs Are Different for Poker Players Compared to Blackjack Players

Casino regulars love nothing more than winning big and beating the house – but scoring comps comes in at a close second.

Short for “complimentary,” comps are the freebies doled out by every casino to help customers alleviate recent losses. Sure, you might have just blown through a few hundred bucks at the blackjack table, but when you’re handed a free buffet voucher, the loss stings just a little bit less.

Casinos use a carefully designed system to distribute comps, but even veteran players can have trouble understanding exactly how that system works. And that’s definitely by design.

Most players simply assume that their players club card allows their play to be tracked, allowing the casino to assign points over time. And while that’s a rough outline of how it all goes down, the actual calculations are far more complicated.

The situation gets even messier when you factor in different game types. Slot players earn comps at a different rate than table game fans, for example, and folks who prefer poker have an entirely different set of rules to work with. Knowing your way around this maze of math formulas is the best way to ensure that your play produces the maximum amount of comp points.

To that end, I’ve put this page together to explain exactly how comp programs differ for two of the most popular games on the floor – blackjack and poker.

How to Find Profitable Video Poker Opportunities

Everyone has their favorite casino games and everyone wants a chance to win some money while playing these games. Some people are more interested in playing as long as possible than having the best chance to win on any given trip.

Video poker offers some of the best chances to extend your bankroll at the same time as having a chance to land a big win. The secret is finding a machine that offers a high percentage return to the player and learning to play using the best possible strategy.

Every game requires a different strategy, but there is a correct way to play every hand of video poker. Even in a situation that loses in the long run, there is a way to play that loses the least amount of money.

Jacks or Better and Deuces Wild
In addition to learning the best strategy you have to be able to find machines that offer the best payouts. I know I mentioned this already, but if you can’t find a machine it doesn’t matter how good it pays or how well you know the strategy.

For example, there are a few video poker machines that pay back over 100% with perfect strategy but they are almost impossible to find. This post concentrates on a couple popular video poker variations that are fairly easy to find, Jacks or Better and Deuces Wild.

You can find many different pay tables with some offering better payback percentages than others. Here are the pay tables that you need to find to have the best chance to win while playing video poker. (There are a few better pay tables available for Deuces Wild, but this is by far the most common “good” pay table you will find.)

The best Jacks or Better pay table is often called a 9 / 6 which stands for the pay back for a full house and a flush. The return is over 99.5% with perfect strategy on a 9 / 6 machine. Here is the complete pay table.

800 Royal Flush
50 Straight Flush
25 Four of a Kind
9 Full House
6 Flush
4 Straight
3 Three of a Kind
2 Two Pair
Pair of Jacks or Better
The most common favorable Deuces Wild pay table is called a “not so ugly ducks” machine. You may see this referred to as NSUD. The pay back percentage with perfect strategy is over 99.7%. Here is the complete NSUD pay table.

800 Natural Royal Flush
200 Four Deuces
25 Wild Royal Flush
16 Five of a Kind
10 Straight Flush
4 Four of a Kind
4 Full House
3 Flush
2 Straight
Three of a Kind
The next step after finding the best machines is using the best strategy. I suggest picking up one of the strategy cards that are about the size of a credit card and using it while playing. This way you can always see the best play.

Comps and Player’s Clubs
When you play the machines listed above giving the house less than a half percent edge you can play longer and keep playing long enough to give yourself the best chance at winning a top payout by hitting a natural royal flush.

You also should always combine your video poker play with as many comps as possible. Most casinos have a player’s club that you can join that rewards you for your play. You may earn cash back, free hotel stays, free meals or many other types of benefits.

Even if your rewards don’t include any actual cash, they are still worth something. If you get a free meal that would have cost you $20, it’s the same as winning an extra $20 because it is money you didn’t have to spend.

Most casinos don’t pay back enough through their player’s clubs to let you consistently play with an advantage against them, but you may be able to play a break even game in the long run.

The majority of players don’t play correct strategy so the casinos take their money quicker. Sometimes player’s club benefits are determined based on everyone’s play so if you play perfect strategy you may be able to gain a small edge with your benefits.

Either way, if you always play using the best strategy and take advantage of the player’s club benefits you are doing everything you can to reduce the advantage the house has.

Video Poker Tournaments
Another area that can offer extended playing time on a set bankroll and / or a chance to play with a small edge over the house is playing in video poker tournaments.

A video poker tournament is a contest where the players play video poker for a set period of time. The players with the highest balance at the end of the pre-set time either moves to the next round of play or wins the prizes.

You may be able to find free video poker tournaments, but most of them have an entry fee.

You may be wondering how you could play with an advantage over the house in a video poker tournament. Here is an example.

Many tournaments have a minimum guaranteed prize pool and sometimes there aren’t enough entrants to cover the entire amount. This is called an overlay. If the guaranteed prizes total $1,000 and there is only $900 in entry fees, there is a $100 overlay. This creates a profitable situation for the entrants. On average, each entrant will win a percentage of the overlay based on how many entrants there are. In real life only the players who finish in the money enjoy the overlay, but if you put yourself in enough situations with an overlay you will come out ahead in the long run (Assuming you play at an average or above average level. This isn’t difficult if you use basic strategy.).

Conclusion
You can use video poker to extend your casino play and combine it with player’s club benefits to give yourself the best chance to win. Always play on the best machines, sign up for the player’s club and use the best strategy.