How to Set Up a Home Poker Tournament
The tournaments you see most commonly on TV, like the WSOP or the World
Poker Tour, are termed “Freeze Out” tournaments, meaning you’re
eliminated once you lose all of your chips. This is by far the most popular
tournament structure for home games and in casinos.
In a poker tournament, every player throws X dollars into a tournament
pot, and gets Y number of chips. It doesn’t matter whether its $10
or $10,000 in starting chips for each player, so long as everyone starts
off equal. These chips are your tournament stake, not to be confused with
your buy-in, the actual amount of money you threw into the tournament
pot. The buy-in amount can be, and typically is, completely unrelated
to each player’s tournament stake. It doesn’t have to be,
but it just seems to work out that way because everyone likes to play
with stacks and stacks of chips (say a $5000 tournament stake per person),
yet the typical home game buy-in is probably $20.
Set your buy-ins to suit your crowd, and keep in mind that tournament
poker games are more like Monopoly than craps, which is part of the reason
they have become so popular in home games. Feel free to set the buy-ins
low enough so everybody can participate without feeling too much pain
when losing. You can have fun playing Monopoly even if there’s no
money game involved, because it’s all about survival and competition.
Craps is different. If you’re not playing for money, it gets boring
pretty quickly. Tournament poker is more of a game than pure gambling.
On TV, you rarely see re-buys allowed, but these are common in home games
and casinos. Re-buys allow players to buy additional chips during the
course of the tournament according to a pre-determined re-buy structure.
Re-buys are added for three primary reasons. First off, they alleviate
the disheartening feeling associated with a player getting knocked out
of a four or five hour tournament right off the bat. Secondly, they loosen
up play because players know they can always get back in if they go all
in early on and lose. Lastly, they sweeten the final payouts.
The progression of the blinds
The structure and progression of the blinds is the most important element
of a poker tournament. Unfortunately, it’s also the most difficult
part to put together for inexperienced tournament players. Symptoms of
bad blind structure are tournaments that run on a lot longer than anyone
really wants, or conversely tournaments with blinds so steep that virtually
all skill is removed from determining the winner. A perfect tournament
structure moves the action along, yet gives everyone a chance to be patient
and still get in on the action.
Blinds are typically increased based on a time table, but can also be
increased each time a player is eliminated. The time table provides the
most control over the length of the game.
Here is a great chart to help you structure the blind progression for
single table home tournaments. The bright green line is the recommended
blind level where re-buys are no longer allowed. The yellow blind levels
are where the tournament will typically end.