Beginner’s Guide to Poker Tournaments

Poker player’s hand with a tablet and stacks of casino chips on a green felt casino table.

If you’re new to poker, you’d typically start off by playing some free online poker games or some games at home with friends, but online poker tournaments may still seem a bit daunting to you. The truth is, tournaments are just another form of poker: you just need to find the one that suits you best. 

While the world is opening up from lockdown, and casinos are starting to host live poker tournaments again, it’s up to you whether you play tournaments live or online, or even both. Live and online poker tournaments work exactly the same way, so you can apply most of what you learn here to both.

In this brief guide, we’re going to give you a quick breakdown of how tournaments work and what kinds of tournaments are available to you. Let’s dive right in. 

How do poker tournaments work?

Online poker tournaments are actually quite straightforward. There isn’t much that goes into joining one: you simply pay the entry fee and buy-in, and that earns you a stack of chips and a seat at one of the tables. Once you and your opponents are all seated, the tournament will begin. 

The simplest way to think about how online tournaments work is by looking at them as longer poker games with a fixed format, where everything is predetermined – the blinds, antes, buy-ins and starting stack sizes are all established and made available to players before they sign up. Once you’ve entered a tournament, you’ll want to log in to the online poker site at, or just before, the time that the tournament is supposed to start. Depending on the type of tournament you enter (we’ll cover a few of these in just a bit), your game may start at a specified time or, in the case of a “Sit and Go” tournament for example, as soon as your table’s full. 

So, you’ve got your seat and your chips, but what now? Well, this is when your poker tournament strategy and preparation is put to the test. Once everyone is seated the game will start, and plays out much like a cash game – players post their blinds and antes, are dealt their cards, and action starts around the table. Unlike cash games, though, online and live poker tournaments have different levels, each of a predetermined length or duration (it can be 1 minute, 5 minutes, or 1 hour and so on). Once the time for a level has expired, the blinds increase and the next level starts. This is an incredibly important factor to remember when playing in online poker tournaments, because if you aren’t getting any action or playing many hands, and your chip stack isn’t growing, you might end up getting “blinded out” by losing your stack to paying the blinds as they increase over time. 

The tournament will play out like this until eventually only one player is left at the tables holding all the chips, and they’re crowned the winner of the tournament. So, it’s simple to understand the basics of how tournaments work; but the question now becomes: “What kind of tournaments should I be playing?” 

What kinds of poker tournament are there?

Hands shuffling a deck of cards with other players at a casino table with poker chips and cash scattered across the table.

In truth, there are myriad types of poker tournaments, all with their own rules and format, and for different types of poker games too. There really is a tournament out there for everyone. For beginners, though, there are three main types of online tournament that you should look out for, which are also by far the most popular. 

Sit and Go tournaments

If you’re a new player, and haven’t played in a poker tournament before, your best bet would be to start with the most casual (and often the lowest stakes) of the bunch. “Sit and Go” games are like mini tournaments, usually with about five to 20 participants, playing at tables with varying stakes. The low stakes and smaller player count make these tournaments a great way to play poker online, even if you’re new to the online poker tournament scene.  

Players pay their entry fee, or buy-in (plus a small rake fee that the casino takes for hosting the game), which is pooled together to create the prizes. So, for a game with five players at a buy-in of $5, the total prize pool would be $25. Simple enough, right?

The payout structure is simple too, though it may vary between tournaments; but in general, these tournaments split the prize pool between the top two or three players. So for our five-player, $5 buy-in example, if the tournament pays the $25 prize out to the top two finishers, then the person who finishes in first place will get $17.50, and the player coming in second will get $7.50. 

The blinds will typically start small in Sit and Go tournaments, but will be increased at regular intervals. The intervals can be determined by either the number of hands that’ve been played at each table, or a specific amount of time per interval. 

Like the sound of this? If so, why not sign up for one of our Sit and Go tournaments?

Multi-table tournaments

Online poker player stacking red casino chips on a laptop that is showing an online casino.

Multi-table tournaments (also known as MTTs) are quite a step up from the Sit and Go tourneys we just discussed, but are very similar in how they play out. We understand that the word “multi-table” might sound a bit daunting, but don’t panic just yet: it’s not as complicated as it sounds. 

An online MTT can host practically any number of entrants (usually from a few hundred to a few thousand players), as long as there are spots at full tables for everyone who signs up. Due to the high number of players that can take part, the prize pool will be significantly higher than that of any Sit and Go tournaments. 

The number of places that’ll receive prize money is also much larger: typically the top 20 to 100 players are rewarded at the end of the tournament, depending on the number of participants. Multi-tables also take much longer to finish, with some tournaments running between three and six hours long, with short breaks every hour or so. 

The “multi-table” aspect of it, which hopefully didn’t scare you away, has nothing to do with you playing multiple tables at one time. Instead, what it means is that you can be moved from table to table, to keep all the tables balanced as players are knocked out and some tables empty. This means you’ll be constantly playing against new and different players throughout the tournament, which is really fun and also a great way to improve your game. 

If a multi-table tournament sounds like what you’re after, then check out our Daily Tournaments, and sign up for the table with the stakes that suit you best. 

Satellite tournaments

Satellite tournaments can come in the format of both Sit and Go and multi-table tournaments, but with a significant difference – you’re not playing for a cash prize. 

Instead, you’re playing for the opportunity to gain entrance to a far higher-stakes tournament, but at a hefty discount – assuming you can “felt” (knock out) everyone else at the table. Let’s go back to our five-player, $5 buy-in example, and assume that this was a satellite tournament. We’d be paying $5 to enter the “Sit and Go Satellite”, and a win would mean we get free entry to a $100 multi-table tournament, where we could potentially win much, much more in terms of prize money – even if we don’t place particularly well. 

Satellite tournaments can also give you the opportunity to enter more prestigious poker tournaments for a fraction of the buy-in, such as the World Series of Poker and the Poker World Tour (which are both live poker tournaments, and can have buy-ins exceeding $10k), where you can compete against professional and celebrity poker players from all around the world. 

If you’re interested in playing real poker online at higher-stakes tournaments, but don’t want to risk the huge buy-in, then a satellite tournament is your best shot at getting a seat with the whales. 

Play in online poker tournaments at Borgata Online

If you want to get a seat at any of our online poker tournaments, all you have to do is sign up at Borgata Online, and you’ll gain access to a wide variety of poker tournaments that all have seats waiting for you. If you need a break between tournaments, or you have a moment to spare before your game starts, you can also check out our other online casino games: we feature everything from online slots to live dealer table games including blackjack, baccarat, roulette (and, of course, poker).