5 Steps to Picking the Perfect Poker Tournament

I wrote this post for a simple reason – I got sick of teaching my friends how to pick a good online poker tournament, so I wrote something I could copy and paste as an email response.

The goal of this page is to help you find the right kind of online poker tournament for you to enter, based on a few different factors. When we say “perfect” tournament, we mean the tourney that’s the most fun and potentially the most profitable that you can afford or have a shot at winning with your skill level.

How to Pick a Poker Tournament
Determining which tournament to play means first figuring out a few things about you and the kind of tournaments you want to play. I think there are basically three kinds of online poker players. Regardless of the specifics of your poker game, you’re probably one of these three broad categories:

The Amateur
This is anyone who plays primarily for fun. Being an amateur doesn’t mean you lose a lot or are a bad player – it means your purpose is more casual. The Amateur probably doesn’t have a tournament bankroll or worry about bankroll management. Amateurs look for tournaments that offer a low fixed buy-in, are exciting to play, and give them a shot at a decent cash prize.

The Cash Game Expert
Players who make a significant amount of money playing ring games of online poker fall under this category. This person might play an occasional tournament, but mostly as a break in the routine. A Cash Game Expert will play a tourney if it gives him a decent shot at a huge cash prize, or if he finds value in the low skill set of a particular tournament’s player field.

The Tournament Junkie
Some of these players are professionals, others are amateurs, but they all have one thing in common. They complete regularly in online poker tournaments. Tournaments make up the majority of their poker play. They keep a tournament bankroll separate from their regular cash game bankroll. In short, tourneys are their wheelhouse.

Five Steps to Picking the Perfect Poker Tournament
Follow these five steps and you’ll have at least one perfect option for your particular style of poker play.

Step One: Figure out what field size you’re interested in.
Do you want to play against dozens of other players, or thousands of them? The name of the game in a tournament is for good players to take money from less-skilled players. That means good players have a higher expectation when they’re playing against fish. That means (generally speaking) a skilled player enjoys a much higher ROI in large tournament fields.

Why would anyone play anything but a massive tournament, if smaller tournaments mean more skilled opponents? Smaller fields mean less variance. Playing against large fields means that you’re more likely to lose every tournament you enter than when you enter tourneys with smaller fields. You earn more consistent winnings if you can compete consistently against smaller (and more skilled) fields of competitors. It’s tournament poker’s most annoying Catch-22.

Step Two: Determine your ideal buy-in.
Amateur players that don’t worry too much about their bankroll should pick a tourney based on the amount they’re comfortable losing in proportion to their skill level. In other words, if you enter a small pool tourney featuring players who are mostly better than you, you should be prepared to lose the entire buy-in. At that point, the tournament’s 100% fun, exactly what amateurs are in it for. All players can follow this rule, since the key to it is that you’re choosing tourneys based on both your skill level and your financial comfort level. It means you won’t be distracted worrying about money, even when it’s down to you vs. the final table.

Step Three: Decide how difficult of a field you want to compete against.
We established in Step Two that it is generally tougher to win tournaments with larger buy-ins, because those tournaments include mostly highly-skilled players. However, this rule has a huge exception.

Tourneys that get a lot of publicity but also happen to have a large buy-in tend to feature people who are playing for the prestige. The best example is the World Series of Poker, where plenty of total amateurs that have no business competing in poker’s biggest event cough up ten grand so they can play in the same tournament as the big boys. Of course, not all examples are this extreme. You’ll often find people playing way out of their league at hefty buy-in online tournaments. It’s all about doing your research.

Step Four: Find your ideal blind structure.
A tourney’s “blind structure” is the number of chips you start with relative to the tourney’s blinds. This structure also lets you know how quickly those blinds increase over time. Amateur players in it mostly for fun and excitement should look for events where they start with a large number of chips and the blinds move up very slowly. This will get them the most bang for their buck. This shallow structure reduces the impact of player skill, at least for a few rounds.

Skilled players need to consider what the strongest part of their poker game is, then pick a structure that matches their abilities. I’d suggest that ring game players choose deep stack tourneys so that the tournament looks and acts like the games they know and love. If you’re used to playing in tournaments, you might like the thrill of the shallow stack setup, and you might be the type of player who makes their best moves in tight game situations.

Step Five: Shop for the best prize structure.
This one is really all about personal preference.

I suggest that you concern yourself mainly with the cut taken by the house. Small stakes online tournaments tend to pay the house 10%. If you’re playing in a tournament with a buy-in above $100, you’ll pay slightly less of a cut to the house. Be careful about entering the super-tiny pool low stakes tournaments online with a rake of 20% or more. When you’re playing with a shallow structure and a huge rake, you’re basically playing the toughest possible online tournament format.

Conclusion
In case you haven’t gotten the point by now – you need to tailor your online poker tourney choice to the specifics of your poker game. It starts with an honest assessment of your abilities and your likes and dislikes when it comes to online poker. If you combine that accurate look at your poker skill with a logical choice of poker tournament, you’ll be giving yourself the best chance of being a tournament winner.

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BitCoin Poker – Is It Really a Thing?

It’s strange for an old-school guy like me to think that a virtual currency is being used to play poker.

I’m used to using what I’d consider traditional payment methods to fund my own action – cash, credit cards, and eWallets. A few months ago, I couldn’t have told you what BitCoin is if you’d sat down and patiently explained it to me for an hour first.

BitCoin poker is, really, a thing. A few poker rooms and other gambling sites are now accepting BitCoin as a payment method.

So what is it? And how is it being used to fund online poker accounts?

What Is BitCoin?
Bitcoin is a virtual currency invented in the year 2008 by a person going by the pseudonym “Satoshi Nakamoto.” The first mention of the currency was in a document sent to a cryptography mailing list made up of just a few people. Not much is known about the person (or people) behind the pseudonym, and they left the project altogether in 2010.

It’s interesting that the project was first mentioned among a small group of cryptographers – BitCoin was invented to exist without the need for a financial middle man. Taking banks and fragile world governments out of the equation produces a more stable and equitable currency, and it means that BTC (the currency’s acronym) are immune from seizure or asset freezing. Or so the theory goes.

So what is a BitCoin? You can’t hold one in your hand, in the traditional sense. It exists in the same way that an email exists – stored in a digital cloud. One important thing to note, for those of us used to fiat money, there is no FDIC or other insurance for your BTC.

Why Use BitCoin?
Here are some popular reasons suggested by blogs and message board posts:

BTC is crypto-currency, which means using it is completely private and anonymous.
Yes, transactions are recorded in a public log, for accountability purposes, but names of people involved in transactions are kept secret, hidden behind a generic wallet ID. There’s a dark side to this – goods can be bought or sold online and authorities can’t easily trace the people involved. That means lots of people are participating in illicit activity (see the story of The Silk Road for a perfect example) using this currency.

BTC allows you total control of your money.
Its value can’t be manipulated by any outside entity. Essentially, using BTC turns you into your own bank. The currency’s lack of physical production costs and non-existent need for storage makes it even easier to handle at the end-user level.

Big companies are bringing it into the mainstream.
BTC wasn’t well known until 2011, when the mainstream press got word of its early and rabid adoption by the Technorati. Now, thousands of businesses all over the world accept it as a mainstream payment method, including some surprisingly big names. You can buy your next Dell laptop with BTC, or shop for a cheaper alternative at Overstock.com. Cities saturated with tech geeks now have ATMs where you can exchange cash for BTC, and the other way around.

How Does BitCoin Poker Work?
The reason BitCoin struck me as so strange initially was simple – I am used to traditional (known as “fiat”) currency. So is everyone reading this – it’s what we’re used to, so any alternative feels a little strange.

The first thing a poker player who wants to use BTC needs to do is exchange their native currency for their new virtual currency.

The popular method of purchasing BitCoin is to deal with an exchange or brokerage. Exchanges are places where buyers and sellers are matched based on their bid criteria, while brokerages hoard large collections of BTC that they sell on-demand at a variable rate.

Exchanges and brokerages are pretty much identical for the end-user. It literally takes a minute or two to complete the transaction.

The BTC are then transferred to you through your unique Bitcoin wallet ID. Think of it as a hyper-focused email address for virtual currency. What’s neat about that is you can send money to anyone in the world using BTC, the same way you can send an email across the globe in a second.

Your wallet ID (BTC address) will be a randomized string of letters and numbers, anywhere from 27–34 characters long. That wallet ID is also the place buyers will send cash – which makes the whole email address analogy easier to understand. BitCoins can be sent or received from anywhere, or even sold among friends or in person.

Now that you’ve got your currency in your virtual wallet, it’s time to transfer it to the poker room of your choice. After confirming that the room you want to play at accepts BitCoin, simply send the appropriate amount to their wallet ID. It takes anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours for the BTC to appear in the receiving account.

As an added bonus for poker players, transferring with BTC is totally free, thanks to the virtual nature of the currency. It costs nothing to send and receive virtual money, so you shouldn’t expect any additional transfer fees from your poker room’s cashier department.