Poker tournaments are among the most exciting games in the online casino environment. Competition is stiff, with some tournaments offering prizes as high as $10 million. But before you begin entering online poker tournaments, it's important to look at the history of these popular tournaments, the range of gameplay options, tournament formats you're likely to encounter on the top sites, and how to get started.
Planet Poker opened the first real-money online poker room in 1998, allowing users to join tables and bet on individual poker games. As popularity soared, the site's supporting technology struggled to cope and began losing punters to new competitors. A steady year-on-year increase in the number of online players meant new poker sites had to raise the stakes, and soon online tournaments were introduced.
In 2002, the World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) launched, with nine events and total prizes exceeding $700,000. Since then, all of the big-name brands in online poker have set up tournaments of their own. With top poker brands all launching lucrative tournaments, players now have more sites to choose from than ever before.
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All tournaments follow the same basic rules of poker, but there are many different variants. Depending on which the tournament is using, certain elements of the game will be slightly altered. Popular variations include:
- Texas Hold'em | Each player is dealt two cards, then the first round of betting commences. Five community cards are revealed in three stages, each accompanied by another round of betting. Players must use at least one of their two original cards and any additional cards to make the best hand they can.
- Omaha | Players are dealt four cards each, face down. After the first betting round, three community cards (the flop) are dealt and betting follows. Then two more community cards (the turn) are dealt followed by another betting round. Players make the best hand possible, incorporating at least two of their original four cards.
- 7-Card Stud | Players start with three cards each – two face down, one face up. They bet, then three face-up cards are dealt one at a time, each accompanied by betting. One more face-down card is dealt before the final bets. The player with the best hand wins.
- Hi-Lo | Sometimes combined with Omaha or 7-card stud, Hi-lo poker requires players to use seven cards to make two hands. Their five best cards make the big hand and the next best pair make the small one. A stake is wagered on both hands.
- 5-Card Draw | Players are dealt five cards. They place bets before discarding some, all or none of their cards. Replacement cards are dealt before the second round of betting and the best hand wins.
As well as different poker variants, there are a number of tournament formats that make for very varied online poker experiences:
- Multi-Table Tournaments (MTTs) | Each player arrives with an equal amount of chips. There are a number of different tables, and as players are eliminated for losing all their chips, tables are reshuffled to ensure each one is full, or "balanced". The winner is the last player with chips left.
- Sit and Go | These are short-form knock-out tournaments that function like MTTs. However, they tend not to have fixed start times, beginning only when all the seats are filled – usually around five or ten. Small tournaments can last less than an hour.
- Shootouts | Similar to MTTs, shootouts facilitate several tables. However, the tables are never balanced out as people are eliminated. The winners of the various tables form new tables and so on until one player remains.