Guide to Online Poker Tournaments

The meteoric rise of poker over the last two decades can be heavily attributed to the tournament scene. Poker tournaments allow players the chance to win huge sums of money for much smaller investments. Additionally, the prestige and exposure that come with winning a tournament are addicting. Real money poker tournaments online take this a step further, giving players the chance to win hundreds of thousands of dollars without ever leaving the house.

Best Online Poker Tournament Sites

Many of you may be here looking to get into the online poker tournament for real money action immediately. Lucky for you, there are some incredible online poker rooms offering tournament action 24/7/365. The list below is an up-to-date collection of the best online poker tournament sites. These options have massive player pools, action available around the clock, varying buy-in levels, and a software and customer experience worth writing home about.

Rank
Poker Site
Bonus Get Started
1BoL Poker Logo BoL Poker Logo

BoL Poker
100% up to $1,000 Go to Site
2 Bovada Poker Logo

Bovada Poker
100% up to $500 Go to Site
3 SB Poker Logo

SB Poker
100% up to $1,000 Go to Site
4 Ignition Poker Logo

Ignition Poker
100% up to $1,000 Go to Site

How to Pick Out the Best Online Poker Tournament Sites

The process of picking out the best online poker site for you can be quite simple if you know what to look for. What we recommend is to start the process by identifying what you’re looking for in an ideal world. Here are some questions that can help paint that picture.

  • What variant of poker do you want to play? (Holdem, PLO, Stud, etc.)
  • What size buy-ins are you looking for? (Freerolls, low stakes, medium stakes, high stakes)
  • Are you looking for large player pools or more intimate tournaments?
  • How important is the usability of the software?
  • What time zone or area of the world do you live in?

Once you have a good grasp of what you’re looking for, you can begin shopping the different top online poker tournament sites we’ve recommended. Why are we so high on the sites listed here? Because we know they’re safe. And, no, they did not pay us to say that.

Our team of security and poker experts heavily vet each of these real money online poker rooms we recommend to ensure it is doing everything in its power to keep customers protected.

Main Types of Online Poker Tournaments

Online poker tournaments are broken down into two main types, multi-table tournaments (MTTs) and sit and gos (SNGs). While the poker played with each type is the same, the structure, timing, potential profits, and logistics are different.

Multi-Table Tournaments (MTTs)

A multi-table tournament (MTT) is a poker tournament that has a scheduled start time. While most scheduled tournaments end up having multiple tables worth of players, it’s actually not a requirement to be classified as an MTT. The differentiating factor is that the tournament has a scheduled start time.

For example, if you have an MTT that is scheduled to start at 5:00 PM and only eight players register and play, it would still be referred to in the industry as an MTT.

Sit and Gos (SNGs)

The other type of online poker tournament you can play in is a sit and go (SNG). As you may have already guessed, a sit and go is a tournament that does not have an officially scheduled start time. SNGs start whenever the required number of players have registered for the tournament.

For example an 18-player SNG will start as soon as 18 players have registered, whether that’s five minutes after registration opened or five hours.

SNGs are often only one table’s worth of players but can be multiple tables as well.

KEY TAKEAWAY: MTTs are tournaments with scheduled start times, and SNGs are tournaments that start when the required number of players have registered.

Variations of the Main Types of Online Poker Tournaments

While most online poker tournaments for real money can be classified as MTTs or SNGs, there are quite a few variations or “descriptors” that can be added to each of those tournament types. Each of the descriptors listed below describes the potential rule set, logistical setup, or format of the MTT or SNG.

Rebuys

A rebuy real money poker tournament online is a structure where players can pay to get more chips added to their stack if two criteria are met. It is during the rebuy period, and the player is below the designated chip limit.

For example, let’s say you are playing in a rebuy tournament with a 5,000 chip starting stack. The tournament ruleset says that you can rebuy at any time when you are at 5,000 chips or below during the first hour of play.

Card FaceAs long as you meet those criteria, you can pay the entry fee again and receive another 5,000 chips. Additionally, when the rebuy period is over, you will have the option to pay a fixed amount known as the add-on to get more chips added to your stack.

The advantage of rebuy tournaments is the prize pools get much larger as players tend to gamble during the rebuy period to amass a larger stack of chips. Because you can’t be knocked out of the tournament as long as you are willing to rebuy, players often feel it’s worth the risk to get a larger stack.

The potential drawback of rebuy tournaments is that they can be more expensive than the initial entry fee if you’re planning on rebuying and adding on. If you’re not, you may be at a disadvantage to the deeper-pocketed players willing to throw caution to the wind and gamble during the rebuy period.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Rebuy poker tournaments are known to have some of the largest prize pools because players can continue to buy in multiple times during the rebuy period.

Reentries

A reentry poker tournament is often referred to as a rebuy tournament but the two are actually quite different. In a rebuy tournament, you can usually purchase more chips even when you aren’t completely out of chips. With a reentry tournament, you can only reenter and buy more chips after you have been completely felted (have zero chips).

Another key difference between the two is how the payer is treated when rebuying or reentering. If you rebuy, you keep the same seat you are in and just get more chips. If you reenter, you are treated as a brand new player and given a brand new seat as if you just showed up and registered for the first time.

Sometimes, you will find reentry tournaments with add-ons, and sometimes not. It all depends on which of the best sites for playing online poker tournaments you choose to play at.

KEY TAKEAWAY: You keep the same seat when you rebuy in a poker tournament. When you reenter, you’re treated as a brand new player and given a new seat.

Turbo Poker Tournaments

In a hurry? Looking for a lot of quick action? Online poker tournaments that have shorter blind levels or bigger jumps between levels are known as turbos. There are no hard and fast rules on how much quicker a tournament needs to be in order to classify as a turbo.

Many players enjoy turbo poker tournaments because they push the action must faster. These tournaments will increase your variance, as you’ll have less time to let skill shine through. While turbo poker tournaments can favor recreational players more, there are many professional players who specify in the turbo structure.

BONUS TIP: If you’re looking for really fast poker, some online poker websites offer super turbos that are even faster than regular turbo tournaments.

Guaranteed

Players looking for the big money in poker are looking for guaranteed tournaments. A guaranteed poker tournament is an event where the online casino guarantees that at least a certain amount of money will be paid out regardless of how many people sign up.

For example, let’s say that an online poker room is running a $1,000 guaranteed poker tournament with a $10 buy-in. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll assume the poker room is not charging any rake on the tournament.

  • If 100 people sign up for the tournament, the prize pool without a guarantee would be 100 x $10 = $1,000. With the guarantee, that prize pool is still $1,000.
  • If 200 people sign up for the tournament, the prize pool without a guarantee would be 200 x $10 = $2,000. With the guarantee, that prize pool is still $2,000.

The real change comes when less than 100 people sign up for real money poker tournaments online.

  • If 50 people sign up for the tournament, the prize pool without the guarantee would be 50 x $10 = $500. With the guarantee, that prize pool becomes $1,000.

The poker room says that no matter what, at least $1,000 will be paid out for the tournament. If not enough people sign up for the tournament, the poker room adds the additional money to the prize pool. If more than enough people show up, the extra money still goes into the prize pool. The poker room never gets to keep any extra money because the guarantee is met.

Sit and gos can’t be guaranteed tournaments by nature. A sit and go won’t start until the exact number of needed players are registered. The exact prize pool is already known before registration even starts.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Guaranteed prize pool online poker tournaments are notorious for having the biggest payouts industry-wide. When the guarantees aren’t met, players are getting free money added to the prize pool. But when the guarantees work to bring in players, the prize pool often goes way over the guarantee making for huge paydays.

Freerolls

Yes, you can make money playing online poker tournaments without putting up any money. A freeroll is a poker tournament that has a $0 buy-in but is paying out cash or prizes to the winners. Access to the tournament may require an entry ticket (that you get for free), or the tournament may be open to anyone. Generally, freeroll poker tournaments are used to reward players for loyalty or completing a task.

BONUS TIP: Looking for online poker freerolls? Online poker sites often give away freeroll entry tickets to players when they first sign up for an account or make their first deposit. Additionally, you may get freeroll tournament tickets added to your online casino account for accomplishing certain tasks while you play.

Satellite Poker Tournaments

If you’ve got the itch to play in a higher stakes tournament or travel to a land-based event but don’t want to pony up the high price, you still have options. Satellite poker tournaments allow players to compete against other players at a lower buy-in level to win entry into a higher-priced online event or to travel to a land-based poker tournament.

For example, let’s say there is a $500 buy-in online poker tournament you want to play in, but you don’t want to put that much of your bankroll at risk. Instead, you may have the option of playing in a satellite tournament.

Let’s say real money online poker rooms decide to run a $50 satellite to the $500 tournament. For every 10 people that sign up for the satellite, one seat will be awarded. So, if 50 people sign up for the satellite, the total prize pool is 50 x $50 = $2,500. $2,500 divided by $500, shows us that five seats will be awarded. Whichever players finish 1st through 5th in the satellite tournament will win an entry into the $500 tournament.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Satellites are a great way to “take shots” and move up to the next level without risking too large of a percentage of your bankroll.

Bounties

In a bounty tournament at real money online poker sites, select players or all players have a special target on their heads. If you are the player who knocks out one of the bounty players, you’ll win extra cash. You get to keep this extra cash regardless of where you finish in the tournament.

For example, let’s say an online poker room is running a $50 tournament where $5 goes to the rake, $30 to the prize pool, and $15 to a bounty on every player. For every player that you knock out of the tournament, you’re going to collect $15. Many players in bounty tournaments can turn a profit before the tournament even reaches the money!

BONUS TIP: Keep an eye out for real money promotional tournaments where the bounty is added by the poker room for free on certain players. It’s a great way to get some added value.

Steps

A step tournament is a type of single-table SNG where there are prizes for more than the typical top three players. Step tournaments work like satellite tournaments to the next level in the step sequence. What’s unique, though, is players can buy into any level of the step sequence they want.

Additionally, if you get 4th or 5th in a step SNG, you usually win a tournament ticket to replay that same step or go back down one level. The winner of every step level except for the top level wins a ticket to go to the next higher step. When you win the top level of a step sequence, you either get a big cash prize or entry into a major MTT event.

BONUS TIP: If you’re a great single-table SNG player, you can make a lot of money playing steps that allow you to win the top prize multiple times. Typically, step SNGs attract less skilled players at all levels except for the top at the best sites for playing online poker tournaments.

Shootouts

No, this is not a tournament played on a riverboat with guns like in the movie Maverick. A shootout is a multi-table single-table SNG tournament. Confused? That’s okay. Here’s how it works. Several single table tournaments will run at the same time. Each table will play down to one winner. After each table has one winner, the winners of each table will join together and play another single table. This continues until all players still “alive” are at the same final single table.

For example, let’s say an online poker site wants to run a three-level shootout tournament with nine-handed tables. The site would open up 729 slots for players to register for. When the tournament starts, those 729 players would go to 81 individual single tables and play down to 81 individual table winners. From there, the 81 remaining players would go to nine different single tables and compete down to individual winners again.

At this point, there would be nine players left. Those nine players would come together for the final single table and play down to a winner. Payouts for multi-level SNGs usually start after you win your first table.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Shootouts are a unique crossbreed between MTTs and SNGs that give SNG players an opportunity to win big money in one tournament.

Deepstacks

A SNG or MTT can be a deepstack tournament at real money poker sites. Deepstacks refers to having “deep stacks.” In other words, tournaments that start players out with a very large number of chips are considered deepstack events. There are no hard and fast rules about what the number of chips needs to be in order to earn this classification. The idea, though, is that a deepstack tournament offers more play and more time to wait for better hands and let skill shine through.

BONUS TIP: Be careful that the term deepstack is not being used too liberally on a tournament you are playing in. If the poker room gives you a ton of chips, but the blind levels are fast or jump in big increments, the tournament is really that deep stacked. Generally, you see this more in live settings because the casinos need to worry about the cost of labor in tournaments that run longer.

8-Max, 6-Max, 4-Max, and Heads Up Tournaments

Tournament directors can alter the number of players seated at each table during a poker tournament. The idea behind doing this is to mix up the game and offer favor to a different set of skills. The changes in table size you’ll see are 8-max (8 total), 6-max, 4-max, and heads up (only two players). The most common variations of these are 6-max and heads up. 8-max and 4-max are less popular, but you will still see them from time to time, especially during major tournament series.

BONUS TIP: Make sure you understand the strategic changes that come from altering the number of players at the table. In general, the fewer players, the more aggressive you’ll need to play, and the lower you’ll have to drop your standards for a quality starting hand.

Online Poker Tournaments vs. Live Poker Tournaments

Most of you reading this probably fall into two camps. You’ve either never played a poker tournament at all before or you’ve played in person but never online. This section is addressing those players that fall into the latter category.

Online poker tournaments for real money are quite different than what you’re used to playing at your friend’s house or at the casino. Not only are there logistical differences, but there are also strategic implications you need to be aware of.

Strategic Differences

  • Online poker tournaments allow you to play more volume strategies. As you can play more than one game at a time, you can take more calculated risks.
  • Other players may be bolder when it comes to bluffing and making moves. The fear of embarrassment goes out the window when you can hide behind a computer or phone screen.
  • There are no live tells. However, there may still be timing tells you can pick up from some players. Be wary of faked timing tells, though.
  • Online tournament players may have access to tracking software, player statistics, and other helpful tools unavailable during live play.
Pros of Playing Poker Tournaments Online
  • You can play more than one table at a time. This can help players that get bored easily, as well as help players who can manage multiple tables at a time increase their profits.
  • There’s a much wider range of buy-in levels. You’re not going to be able to play a real money poker tournament for $1 or even smaller live. However, online, you can find buy-ins that range anywhere from a penny up to tens of thousands of dollars. It’s the ultimate flexibility for growing your bankroll.
  • You don’t have to leave the house. It’s hard to have a problem with the conveniences of being able to play real money poker from just about anywhere. Live poker requires leaving the house, traveling to the casino, parking, and waiting in line to register. Compared to playing tournaments online, it’s terribly inefficient.
  • There are bonuses. Real money online poker sites offer lucrative bonuses to win your business and loyalty. While you may get a few comps here and there when playing live, it’s nothing compared to what you get online.
Cons of Playing Poker Tournaments Online
  • You can’t see the other opponents. While some would argue this is a positive, you won’t be able to get live reads or tells off your opponents. On the same token, though, they won’t be able to get any off of you.
  • You need a good internet connection. When you play live, you can’t ever disconnect from the game. Online, though, if your internet goes out, you run the risk of having your hand folded. Thankfully, many of the best online poker tournament sites have disconnection protections in place, but they are limited.

What You Need to Know to Transition to Playing Online

Making the switch from live tournament poker to online tournament poker is exciting! It opens you up to a whole new world of convenience, opportunity, and strategy. We’re sure that all of you making the jump want to make the transition as seamless as possible. Here are a few key things you’ll want to know about the process.

  1. You’re not going to have to deal with cash anymore. All of your deposits and withdrawals are done through electronic methods. Take the time to find the right option that works best for you.
  2. Players may have access to tracking programs and statistics on you. Many real money online poker players have third-party software that allows them to track how often other players do certain actions. No, it’s not cheating, and they can’t see your cards. However, it can give players a marked advantage. Ideally, the takeaway is that you should look into using these programs to help yourself when you play. And if you’re not going to, at least know they exist, and when you may need to vary your play to mitigate. There are some online poker sites that block the use of third-party programs.
  3. The flexibility may get you distracted. When you play in person, the only things that can distract you are your phone, the other players, and the dealer. With online poker, though, you have access to the internet, your kids running around, your spouse needing things, and a whole host of other distractions. Yes, it’s a huge convenience to play from home, but make sure you have a plan to deal with a hectic environment.

Online Poker Tournaments vs. Real Money Cash Games

Even cash games players agree that poker tournaments are where all the glory is. If you’re looking to make the switch from playing live or online cash games to online poker tournaments at real money poker sites, welcome to the other side! Before you jump in, there are a few things you should be aware of.

Strategic Differences

  • Players are much worse during the deeper stack stages. Online poker tournament players specialize in crushing how to play different sized stacks. As blinds increase, stack sizes decrease, which has major implications. Most mid-level tournament pros are experts at this. However, many lack the ability to play well when the games are deeper stacked, due to a lack of experience.
  • The game changes as the tournament goes on. As mentioned in the last point, tournaments have stages. In cash games, each hand is effectively the same level and has the same implications as the previous. This is not the case in tournaments. The strategy needed at the beginning of the tournament is different than the strategy needed around the bubble. The bubble strategy is different than the final table strategy, and so on and so forth. You’ll need to learn a lot of the nuances to become a successful tournament crusher.
Pros of Online Tournaments vs. Cash
  • You have the chance to win way more money in one sitting. Online poker tournaments give you the ability to win life-changing sums of money in a single tournament. Cash games are more of a grind.
  • There is prestige and notoriety. Only serious poker players know who the best online cash game players in the world are. Recreational players know who the players are that are consistently crushing the online tournament scene.
  • Your losses are capped. When you buy into a poker tournament, you know exactly how much money you stand to lose if things don’t go well. In cash games, you are constantly reloading and jockeying money around. A single bad session could cost you several buy-ins.
Cons of Online Tournaments vs. Cash
  • Tournaments require a much longer time commitment. With cash, you can get up whenever you want. You have full control over how long you play. Online poker tournaments, though, require you to stay until the game is over. Sometimes, this can be as long as 10 to 12 hours for bigger events!
  • The variance may be higher. In cash games, you’re rarely going to win more than a few buy-ins in a single session. With tournament poker, you can win upwards of 100 times your buy-in through one single game! The problem? You’re not going to do that very often. Tournament poker can have much longer dry spells of no wins. If you’re good, these are easily offset by the wins, but you need to have the patience and the bankroll.

How to Choose the Right Tournaments to Play

Now that you’re amped up to play at one of the top online real money poker sites we’ve recommended, it’s time to talk specifics. When you log in, you’re going to see a ton of different tournament options to choose from. How do you decide which tournament is the right fit for you? Here are four factors to consider when making the choice.

How To - Red Casino Chip1

1. The Buy-In

Determine what level buy-in you are comfortable playing. Remember, the online poker rooms with the best tournaments have buy-ins ranging from as low as $0.01 up to $100,000. If it’s your first time playing poker online, start small. If you’re a regular moving to a new site, jump right into what feels comfortable.

2. The Tournament Structure and Details

Remember that not all poker tournaments are created equally, some offer different games and you might just want to play Texas holdem. Find the right fit for what you want to play. This search will include a look at the poker variation, blind structure, and payout structure.

3. The Size of the Tournament and the Time Commitment

Before you select a tournament to play from your favorite online poker site, determine how much time you have to commit to the game. If you only have a few hours, don’t play a tournament with several hundred or several thousand people. Find a game that most likely will be completed in the time frame you’re comfortable with.

How do you know how long an online poker tournament is going to last? You can’t know for sure, but there are ways to get a general idea. If the tournament is played regularly (daily, weekly, or monthly), look back at previous game lobbies. Look at the number of players that entered and how long the tournament lasted. While this won’t be exact, it will give you a general idea of what to expect.

4. The Prize Pool

Lastly, make sure the tournament is intriguing enough to keep you focused. If you’re just playing for fun and don’t care about the prize pool, disregard this step. But for players looking to turn a profit, look at the guarantee or expected prize pool.

Getting Started Playing Online Tournaments Now

There is no better time than the present to get back into online poker. As many states open up the floodgates of regulation, players of all skill levels are flocking back to the game.

To get started now, select one of the best online poker sites for tournaments recommended on this page. Create your free account, make a deposit, and pick out a tournament. You can have the cards in the air for real money within a matter of minutes.

Online Poker Tournament FAQ

  • Can I Play Online Poker Tournaments for Real Money?

    Yes! Many of the top online poker rooms offer tournaments for real money. The potential to make money is just as great, if not greater, than what exists in live casinos and live poker rooms.
  • How Much Money Can I Win Playing in Online Poker Tournaments?

    The sky is the limit when it comes to the potential money you can win from playing online poker tournaments. The answer to this question depends on the stakes you play, your skill level, and how much time you commit to the game. Many online poker players make a generous living as tournament players.
  • How Long Does a Poker Tournament Online Take to Play?

    It depends. MTTs can take anywhere from a few hours to even a few days with multi-day events. The blind structure, starting chip stacks, number of entrants, and poker variation will play a major role. If you're looking for a shorter time commitment tournament, an SNG might be a better fit. These tournaments generally last from around 45 minutes to two hours. Some multi-table SNGs may last longer, but for the most part, the time commitment is much less than an MTT.