Home Poker Tournaments 101

How to host a basic no-limit Texas Hold'em poker tournament game

A great way to enjoy a good game of poker with friends is to have a poker tournament at home. You can play with as few as six or as many players as you’d like, and you can play any kind of poker you’d like. You can play limit, pot-limit, no-limit, or mix it up. The varieties and fun are endless.

But to get started, the easiest and most common set-up is to have 8 to 10 players at one table and play no-limit Texas Hold’em. This easy how-to will get you going in no time to playing the most popular form of tournament poker there is.

Next: Before you begin: Supplies

Before players arrive, there are a few things you’ll need:

  • A poker table or an ordinary table that seats up to ten
  • Two decks of cards
  • Poker chips
  • A dealer button
  • A poker timer or some other timer

Optional: If you are playing with beginners, it is wise to post this list of what beats what and print out this quick how to play texas hold’em guide.

Next: Decide on money matters

The next thing to decide it how much the buy-in or entry fee for the tournament is and what the prizes are. You can play for any amount you’d like, but in a beginner game, I suggest every player buy-in for $10 or $20. That way, the winner will get a nice chunk of change, but those who don’t win won’t be out more than dinner or a movie. You can also allow re-buys back in for the first hour of play -- that way if anyone busts out of the game early, they can buy back in and not feel left out. It also builds the prize pool!

Whatever you decide, in a 10-person game, usually the top three players place “in the money” and win some of the cash. You can do a “winner takes all” game as well, but I find that in a friendly game, it’s more fun for everyone if you pay the top three. A common break down might be to give 60% of the total prize pool to the first place winner, 30% to the second place winner, and the last 10% to the third place winner. You can adjust these percentages/amounts, but for instance in a $10 buy-in game with no rebuys, 1st place would win $60, 2nd place $30, and 3rd place $10, or their money back.

Whatever you decide, announce it before the game begins so everyone knows what they are playing for.

Next: Chip Denominations and Betting Structure

The basic idea of a poker tournament is that every player starts with the same amount of chips and you play until one person has them all. To make sure the game doesn’t go on forever, tournaments are played with levels -- after a certain amount of time, the price of poker goes up, meaning the blinds go up. You can also start adding in antes after a while.

There are two factors that control how long a tournament goes on: How many chips each player starts with and how long the levels are.

If you want to play a quick tournament (1-2 hours), start each player with 2,000 chips and play with 20-minute levels. Here is the structure for a quick tournament.

For a longer tournament (2-4 hours), start each player with 10,000 chips and play with 30-minute levels. 

The advantage of a short tournament is that you can often play two in one poker night, and is best for a group of beginners. A longer tournament is better for experienced players, and allows a game of more strategy.

Once you’ve decided, you need to assign values to whatever chips you are using.

You don’t have to use this suggestion, just make sure its clear and that there are enough chips of each value to go around -- you’ll need the most of whatever you denote as the lowest-value chips.

Common chip values:
Green: 25
White: 100
Red: 500
Black: 1000
Blue: 5000

A good chip distribution for a 2,000-chip tournament might be: 4 greens, 9 whites, 2 reds.
A good chip distribution for a 10,000-chip tournament could be: 8 greens, 8 whites, 6 reds, 2 blacks, 1 blue

Next: Start the game!

Once everyone is seated and the chips are distributed, the last thing to decide is who will get the dealer button. You can do this in two ways -- the host can deal out a card per player and the player with the highest card gets the dealer button, or you can spread out a deck and let each player pick a card. In each case, the higest card wins -- if two player gets the same cards, the suits will decide. Spades is the highest suit, followed by hearts, diamonds, and finally clubs.Now just begin dealing the cards and let the fun begin!