One way in which the online world truly trumps the brick-and-mortar world is through tournaments. The concept of a Poker tournament is very simple. Everyone buys in to the tournament for a set amount and receives a fairly huge stack of chips. Play commences, with players busting out one by one, until only the victor remains.
Whatever interpersonal elements you lose by not having the other players seated across from you like in a real-world tournament are replaced with other perks in virtual-world tourneys. You don’t have to deal with prolonged seating delays, poorly organized tournament directors controlling the show, and the endless movement involved in setting up and tearing down tables as a tournament progresses.
Online tournaments give you a chance to play considerably more hands than what you get in ring games, an opportunity to be king of the mountain, and quick-and-easy chances to hone your tournament skills. When you play online, you have the opportunity to play literally any time, in table sizes as small as head’s up (against one other player) to huge affairs with several thousand players.
DECIDING WHAT TO PLAY
Now that you have a feel for all the different online Poker opportunities available to you, the big question is: What do you want to play?
Your decision is obviously a matter of personal taste, but we recommend taking the following approach:
Play several hands with free chips to get comfortable with the user interface of your Poker site and the general playing dynamic.
After you get a good feel for the game, switch over to hard currency in a low-limit ring game. Play a bit. Win a bit.
Move up in stakes in your ring game play until you reach about half the limit size you want to eventually play.
At this point you have a choice. You can continue to move up in your ring game stakes, or you can play in (or move entirely over to) tournaments. Again, start at a low entry fee tournament and work your way up.
After you register for a tournament, you will play in it unless you hit the “un-register” button. After the tournament starts, you don’t get a chance to un-register. If you’re unavailable to play, the site automatically makes your blind bets and folds your hand in turn (known as being blinded-off), and you eventually lose all your chips.
Hold’em tournaments tend to be no-limit affairs (although you can find fixed- limit games). Omaha tourneys, in all variations, use pot-limit betting. And Seven-Card Stud tourneys are fixed-limit.
Sitting down for single-table tournaments
On-demand single-table tournaments run rampant in the online world, and in the online world only. You register for the tournament, and after enough people register based on the table format, you play. On-demand, single-table tournaments are very common; the players at your table make up the entirety of the tournament.
Full single-table tournaments
If you look at the numbers of people playing full single-table tournaments online on a daily basis, you see why full table is the most popular form in the
single-table tournament world. The tournament starts when your table seats fill up (with either nine or ten players, depending on the site) and ends with only one player remaining.
Single-table tournament experience proves valuable, even if your interest lies in larger tournament types. If your luck and skill bring you to the end of a large tournament, you end up playing a single-table tournament (known as the final table).
The huge successes of online Poker players in the brick-and-mortar tournament world (such as Chris Moneymaker winning the main event at the World Series in 2003 and Greg Raymer in 2004) may be due to the online players’ single-table tournament experience. Experience can be the best teacher, and before the Internet, final-table experience was very difficult to obtain without becoming a leather-bottomed casino regular.
If you have any interest in the tournament world, single-table events are a good place to start. The tournaments are relatively short (typically an hour if you make it to the very finish), and you get plenty of Poker practice for your buck.
TURBO TOURNAMENTS: PLAYING AT BREAKNECK SPEED
At the request of players, some sites have sped up their game play by reducing the amount of time it gives players to act (say, reducing your action time on any given decision from 15 to 7 seconds) and by having the tournament blinds increase at a faster rate. You see these tables or tournaments listed under headings such as “Turbo.”
Although you do see a few multi-table tournaments run in turbo format, the vast majority are on-demand single tables.
The caliber of play is nearly identical to turbo’s slower siblings. We’ve never had any problem playing at these tables, although some people may find the speed difference disconcerting. If you play turbos and you start wigging out, consider dropping back down to regular speed play. The difference in speed isn’t worth the difference in mind-set.
Turbos are definitely not the place to start your online career, but you may want to try them out after you broaden your online experience.
In short-handed tournaments, you play at a single table of five or six players (depending on the site).
Oddly, we find that these tournaments play radically different from the full- size single-table version. The players you oppose here tend to specialize in this form, making the games extremely difficult to win.
You gain valuable experience by playing short handed at some point in your online Poker career, but you should think of short-handed tourneys as one of the very last stones you turn over.
Head’s-up tournaments are easily the most brutal and cutthroat form of Poker, which may be why you almost exclusively find them in the online world. You find yourself versus just one other player, and the winner takes all. Until you get used to playing head’s up, the dynamic can be a little intimidating and disconcerting due to the game speed and the fact that you put your entire focus on one other person. Unless you have the skill to dominate brick-and-mortar tournaments, gaining head’s-up experience means playing online.
The advantage of these tournaments is their speed — you usually finish in less than 30 minutes, and because you only face one other player, your winning percentage is higher.
Head’s-up is definitely worth trying, but not as your first online tournament. But as you gain experience and skill and get serious about online tournaments, you need to master head’s-up Poker. Good head’s-up play literally means the difference between finishing first and finishing second in a tournament — often double the difference in cash.
Mixing in multi-table tournaments
Multi-table tournaments take any and all comers, literally attracting thousands of players. As people get knocked out one by one, the site continually rebalances individual table populations to keep them full. For example, say you’re playing in a tournament with 100 players. After ten players bust out, the site chooses a table at random, breaks it up, and sends each of its players to fill the empty seats at other tables.
THE TABLE-BALANCING ACT OF MULTI- TABLE TOURNEYS
Multi-table tournaments have an interesting dynamic in that, due to table balancing, you essentially play at a full table for several hands (sometimes hours) on end, with at most one or two empty seats at any time. Toward the end of the tournament, you start playing at tables with a few seats open; and then half the seats empty (when barely two tables remain); and then a single full table that withers down to the eventual winner.
At times it can feel extremely disconcerting to get moved to a new table due to table balancing — roughly approximating what it feels like to travel by transporter beam. After you land at your new table, make sure to take stock of the differences in chip stacks to get a feel for whom the strong and the vulnerable players are.
Be sure you budget enough time to play. You can approximate by checking out how long other tournaments have lasted; just look through the lobby under the tournament tab for completed tournaments of roughly the same size and compare the start time to the end time. To win the tournament you have to play until the end.
Multi-table tournaments usually have breaks — something like five minutes of every hour. You stay in the game as long as you have chips, so even if you get disconnected or miss a few hands to talk to your mom on the phone, you still have your seat in the tourney. The site blinds you off and folds your hands in turn until you come back.