Traditional poker games are played with cash. The bets, calls, and ‘all-ins’ are with real dollars. Poker tournaments work differently to cash games. In this format, you buy-in for a specified amount, and receive a stack of tournament chips. The game continues until one player has all the chips – with prizes typically awarded to 10% to 15% of the field.
Tournament poker has evolved in many directions. You will find live and online poker tournaments covering different poker games, with different structures and speeds. Prize structures now include bounties and tickets to bigger tournament events.
This page has you covered to get started with tournaments at both live casinos and online poker sites in Canada. Below you will find information on how this format is different from cash games and other poker formats. Live and online tournaments available in Canada are compared after that – followed by the many types and formats that these games come in.
Head to the larger poker rooms in Canada and you will see a list of tables, together with stakes and game-types. These are cash games. Examples include $1-$2 no limit hold’em or $2-$5 Pot Limit Omaha. In these games, the chips you use have a 1-to-1 dollar value. If you win a $100 pot, then that amount of money is yours. The poker room takes a small cut from every pot – known as the rake – for running the game.
You will also see tournaments listed. They have specified start times. For example, a daily $100+$20 no limit hold’em tournament, starting at 12pm. In this format, $100 goes into a prize pool, with $20 the fee from the poker room for hosting the game. If 30 people join, the prize pool would be $3000. This is split between 15% of the field – with 1st place getting the biggest prize.
To keep the action going, and to stop a ‘tight’ player simply folding hands until the money, the blinds in poker tournaments go up. The speed of increases and depth of starting stacks will vary. Small buy-in games in live poker rooms are faster. Bigger tournaments, for example the WSOP Main Event in Las Vegas will run over multiple days.
Poker tournaments have a wide appeal for recreational players. The buy-in is fixed – with a genuine shot at a big win with good cards and good play. Smaller poker rooms spread them at the weekends, with larger venues having a daily schedule.
Here are the biggest poker rooms in Canada. These venues have round the clock cash games, and tournaments running every day. Along with their own events, many of them host tours – which attract players from Canada, the US and beyond:
There are opportunities to enjoy tournament poker in almost every province. Mid-sized poker rooms can be found at the Elbow River Casino in Calgary, OLG Brantford in Ontario, Casino Rama in Ontario, Elements Casino in Surry, BC – and in many more places.
You will find free to enter poker tournaments as part of live poker promotions. Entry for these can be tied to playing for a set number of hours during a month. Look out for live tournaments with guaranteed prize pools. These pay a set amount, even if the money taken from players does not cover it. Any excess is known as an ‘overlay’.
Live poker events happen in the bigger Canadian live poker rooms. They include the World Poker Tour and WSOP Circuit events. Bigger rooms including the Playground and Caesars Windsor have their own regular events, featuring big buy-in tournaments that attract professional players from across North America.
Head online and the variety of poker tournaments explodes. With no dealers required, and huge player pools, there are games kicking off around the clock.
Online tournaments have low buy-ins compared to the live games at Canadian poker rooms. You can enter for as little as $1 at some sites. Even the bigger events including ‘Sunday Major’ tournaments have buy-ins at $215 or so.
First time online poker players will find a lot of new poker rules and tournament structures. Here are the main variations to look out for:
Online tournaments have different speeds, with turbo games a popular option. You will find games with deep stacks and slower blind increases too. Skill has a bigger effect on your results in these games. Table sizes, antes (in addition to blinds) and types of betting (no-limit, fixed limit, or pot-limit) will also vary.
Finally, tournaments cover different poker formats. No limit hold’em is the most popular by far. Head to the bigger online poker rooms, and you can play PLO, O8 and PLO8, Stud, Mixed Game and Draw Poker tournaments.
The payout structure of poker tournaments means that the big money is on the final table. 1st place gets so much more than a minimum cash, that almost all your profits will come from the occasional ‘deep run’.
Recreational and inexperience poker players are attracted to these games – and experienced tournament players learn how to adjust their strategy to take advantage of this. Lower buy-in MTTs feature a lot of multi-way pots, players who are reluctant to fold, and opponents that are not thinking about any other factor than the strength of their own hand. This means that navigating the early stages can be a minefield. At the same time, it will be much harder to win chips later – as they are usually in the hands of better players. Hitting a hidden set or straight can be valuable in the early stages – if you do get a premium hand, play it fast to take advantage of opponents that call too readily.
As the blinds increase, depth of chip stacks becomes a major factor. The middle part of poker tournaments often sees a variety of stack depths, from just a few blinds to 100+ big blinds deep. You need to be aware that many hands will not feature multi-street betting. Small stacks can be desperate for a double-up, big stacks loose and wild and medium stacks may well wait for a good spot.
Experienced tournament players steal blinds and re raise to steal pots in the middle stages. If you won some chips early, this is the time to accumulate more – waiting for good hands will see others overtake you. The objective is to hit the final table, not fold into the money.
When there are just 1 or 2 players to go until the paying spots, the dynamic of poker tournament play changes drastically. If you watch players with medium size stacks, you will see their appetite for risk plummet. This is even more marked if there are players with tiny stacks that are in danger of blinding away.
Big stack players can take full advantage, stealing pot after pot from people reluctant to fight with the money so close. If you don’t mind risks, you can find favourable spots with any stack size at this point in the game. A second ‘bubble’ often occurs just before the final table.
Once everyone is in the money, those small stacks often go wild. Medium stacks that were patient will also expand their ranges. Player tendencies are key here.
At the final table, prize pool equity comes into play. The idea is that top-heavy prize structures means that the value of accumulating more chips is lower than the value of your current chip stack. While you need to win all the chips to get the top prize, experienced players like to be the aggressor.
There are circumstances when it makes sense to ‘ladder up’ the pay outs. This can happen when there is someone surviving on just a few chips who is likely to bust the next time through the blinds. With a disproportionate percentage of the prize pool for 1st, it makes sense to shoot for the win.
Compared to poker cash games, tournaments have bigger swings. Profits come from those rare wins or final table appearances, and it is possible to go on long losing streaks yet still be a profitable player. To cope with this ‘variance’ tournament players use a conservative bankroll management strategy. Online, this can be as cautious as splitting your bankroll into 100 buy-ins. Live players (especially in smaller games) can get away with as few as 20 to 30 buy-ins.
Professional tournament players use staking as a way to overcome the natural variance. Money from a backer helps smooth out the winning and losing streaks. Many poker tournament pros swap a percentage of their action with other players – again, this helps to smooth out the natural variance.
Every player is different, your ability to top up your poker bankroll is the most important factor for non-pro players. Fortunately, when you do go on a good run and take down a huge tournament, this is tax free for amateur players in Canada.
There is no need to play in any poker game without taking advantage of bonuses and casino comps. Live poker rooms in major casinos have loyalty reward schemes. You earn points, which can then be exchanged for casino play.
Promotions in live poker rooms are varied, here are some of the things to look out for:
Head online, and the rewards for your tournament play get bigger and better. If you put in a high volume of play, then it is worth comparing the loyalty rewards at online poker sites and mobile poker apps. These schemes have tiers, with freeroll tournaments, cash bonuses and merchandise available in exchange for the point you collect.
Here are the other bonuses for online tournament players:
As well as the regularly scheduled tournaments, bigger online poker sites have regular events. They last from 1 to 2 weeks and feature a themed series of MTTs. Some are branded as ‘World Championship’ events or ‘Festivals’. Many have big buy-ins, designed to attract the best online players from around the world. There are also ‘Micro’ events, with tiny buy-ins that allow players to break through to the next level.
Tournament events will run a lot of satellite qualifiers. These let players that would not normally spend many $100’s on buy-ins to get involved in the action. Qualifiers for live events, for example the WSOP or WPT, can also be found online.
You can enjoy tournament poker both live and online – with buy-ins to suit almost every pocket. This format is different to regular ‘cash game’ poker. Instead of playing for real money (or equivalent in casino chips), you get a stack of tournament chips. The game lasts until one player has them all, with 15% or so of the field getting paid prizes.
Having a fixed buy-in is a big plus. You can get many hours of entertainment for a small sum online. Once you get experienced at navigating the different stages of poker tournaments, you can expand into the many variations. They include progressive knockout games, rebuy tournaments and turbo events.
Whether you play live or online, make sure you maximize your comps and bonuses. While this form of poker has big swings of fortune, those extras offered by casinos and poker rooms will make a big difference to your bankroll.