The poker world has changed greatly over the past couple of years. Many poker rooms closed never to re-open again. By our estimate, about 24% of the rooms with 10 or more tables In the United States as of December 2019, are no longer open. Some rooms re-opened but removed tables. Many others with previously active tournament rosters either eliminated tournaments altogether or greatly reduced their number of weekly events. The result is that finding any poker tournament can be a challenge in 2022, but finding the best poker tournaments is next to impossible.
Finding the Best Poker Tournaments in 2022
Defining the best poker tournament is, of course, complex. It’s not merely about cheap buy-ins. Sure, tournaments with $20-$40 buy-ins exist. Sadly, most of those are either severely short-stacked, almost immediate shove fests that are over before you know it, or require multiple addons to be competitive (becoming a $100+ tournament pretty quickly).
In our area (New England), value poker tournaments were omnipresent before 2020. Almost any day of the week we could find a reasonably priced, relatively decent structured tournament. Today, many of those tournaments have gone away due to room closures, a movement to cash-only rooms, and rooms raising buy-in amounts. When you have a budget that must account for inevitable tournament “droughts,” you need to be somewhat selective in what you play
As we’ve traveled across the country in the past year, we have found decent value poker tournaments in some places and struggled to do so in others. As a result, we have scanned all of the weekly tournaments in the country and now understand what is typically out there. Where are the best poker tournaments? How plentiful are they?
First, what makes a good poker tournament?
Personal Goals for Poker Tournaments
Your first job in considering a poker tournament is to determine what you hope to get out of it. Among the questions you can ask yourself are:
- Are you just looking for a couple of hours of low-cost fun?
- Do you want to play a lot of hands early in a tournament when stacks are deep?
- Are 10-12 hours of “real” poker, where stack depths allow wide options even late into a tournament, your ideal?
- Is long-term profitability a priority in your tournament selection?
- Are you looking for that one big score?
Once you understand your primary motivations you can start to assess the factors that determine how a tournament aligns with your priorities.
Criteria for Evaluating a Poker Tournament
There are two important aspects when considering the value of a tournament. What is the structure, and what is the experience?
Important tournament structural elements include:
- Buy-in amount
- The existence of any initial dealer add-on or future add-ons
- Number of blinds in the starting stack
- Length of blind levels
- Blind level structure sheet
- Type of tournament (bounty, re-entry, survivor, poker variant, etc.)
- The rake on your entry (typically 15%-35% for single day tournaments)
- Typical number of entrants/runners
Once you have played the tournament, the experiential factors to consider include:
- The quality of the other players (e.g., skill, style, social aspects)
- How did the dealers/floors/wait staff impact your experience
- If an add-on tournament, track how many add-ons are typically made (e.g., is this $50 tournament more like $100-$150 one)
- Actual or projected profitability
- Time to make the money/finish the tournament
The information above will allow you to determine whether a tournament matches your needs for playing length and style and can give you an idea about how much “value” this tournament provides to you.
Three Primary Types of One-Day Tournaments
Here we are not talking about tournament variety, but tournament length and the factors that are associated with length.
Short and Sweet: These are the two to three hour events with a lot of gamble in them. They typically offer 10-12 minute blinds, and relatively short stacks (likely 50-100 BBs to start). The rebuy/re-entry period is relatively short (maybe the first hour), and there are limits to add-ons. These tournaments should cost anywhere form $20 to $60 for a buy-in.
An Afternoon or Evening of Entertainment: These are your traditional five to six hour events that often start around 12pm-1pm so they finish up around dinner. Or they start around 6pm-7pm so they get people out around midnight. These tournaments have a little more play and require more skill. If you make the final table you may see 120-150 hands. Stack sizes start deeper, maybe even 200-400 blinds, but blind levels tend to escalate quickly. These tournaments require aggression by the second to third hour. You will also need some luck to cash. Expect to shell out anywhere from $50 to $150 for your buy-in.
All Day Long: These are 10am to 1pm starts that run for 10-12 hours. Expect higher buy-ins, a lot of play (deep stacks and longer blind levels that escalate more gradually). You may see 300 hands if you run deep in an all day tournament. Skill becomes a much bigger factor compared with shorter events. Occasionally, you’ll be able to grab an all day tournament for around $100, but expect to pay more like $150-$300 for the superior play.
You can use the above as a rough barometer when considering your poker tournament options. If you pay $75 for a tournament that last six hours, you’re getting a decent value. If you’re paying $200, play well and be profitable, then all is fine. Otherwise, look for a better poker tournament.
Best Poker Tournaments Across the United States Today
There are a few regions where it’s currently tough to find short and sweet cheap poker tournaments. Across most of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, buy-ins are running $100 to $450. Even some cheaper tournaments such as Folitomo’s $50/$50/$50 in Manchester, NH aren’t that cheap in practice. While the initial buy-in is $50+$10 for dealer add-on, most players invest $110 to $160 in rebuys/addons for an event that lasts about six hours.
The Los Angeles area is another relatively expensive area for poker tournaments. Elsewhere in California and in the Northwest, there are many tournaments in the $25 to $60 range, with a smattering of tournaments over $150 as well.
Las Vegas is a sweet spot for good value tournaments in the medium range with reasonable buy-ins. Places like The Orleans, offer several $100 to $150 tournaments per week with very good structures yielding good-sized fields and excellent payouts.
Florida is certainly one of the meccas of poker in the U.S., and offers a range of tournaments. Buy-ins range from under $50 to over $300. However, our experience, particularly in South Florida, is that the rake can be huge, well into the 30-plus percent range. So the ability to profitably play these tournaments is greatly reduced. Further, the standard 15 to 20 minute blinds of many Florida tournaments with aggressive structures puts a lot of gamble into the play. The Tampa area tends to provide better value than South Florida with lower rakes and better structures.
In Texas, another poker hot spot, you will find a wide range of games. Tournaments buy-ins start at a mere $10 and can range up toward $300. Starting stacks, accordingly range from just a few big blinds up to hundreds. By law, Texas does not take a rake on poker, but tournament “fees” and “memberships” amount to the same thing. Make sure you do the math before considering the value of a poker tournament in Texas.
A final callout to poker tournaments in Michigan. We have yet to visit the state, but there are a good range of price points in the Detroit area and across the lower peninsula along with some interesting structures. Michigan appears to be underrated for poker in general, and seems to have a decent tournament scene.In our survey of poker tournaments in the US, we were pleasantly surprised at the generally wide coverage of price points offered and the variety of structures out there. However, great value poker tournaments are fairly rare.Click To Tweet
How to Determine the Best Poker Tournaments for You
When considering your poker tournament options, your first stop should always be PokerAtlas. PokerAtlas displays information about buy-ins, how much goes into the pool and how much is “deducted,” starting stacks, and initial blind levels. You will also find the length of blind levels and whether there are rebuys, re-entries, and add-ons. Sometimes PokerAtlas will link to the structure sheet so you can see exactly how fast the blind levels increase.
If you like lots of early play, check to see if, the stacks are say 20K and start at 100/100, that there are at least eight levels before you reach 1K/2K. If you like good mid- and late-tournament play, you’ll want to check out what happens after that. In some poker tournaments, blinds will go directly from 1K/2K to 2K/4K, which cuts your effective stack in half! In other tournaments you’ll get 1,200/2,400 and 1,500/3,000 levels before you get to 2K/4K, which provides less whiplash. You can also check out the card room’s website for structure sheets. If you can’t get the structure sheet online, stop by the card room and they should be able to provide one. Knowing the starting stack, blind length, and exact levels is the best way to understand how long a tournament will last and what kind of play there will be at various stages.
If you’re looking for exact information about how many players a tournament generally gets and how long it lasts, BravoPokerLive and PokerAtlas offer “live clocks” for some rooms. You can check on a tournament you are considering after tournament registration closes and see how many players entered, how the payout structure looks, and how many players remain at this stage. Later check back in so you can determine how long it took to finish. If we have reviewed a card room, you can also check on our room review for a description of tournament action. Just type in the room name in our search bar to find a room. In lieu of that, you can visit card rooms and ask the floor staff about typical tournament size and length. They are generally quite helpful.
Rules of Thumb
One short-cut to finding the best poker tournaments, is that if you buy-in for $150 or less, start with 300 or more blinds, and have 30 minute levels (with any kind of gradual jumps), you’ve found yourself a gem. Recently, we discovered such a tournament at the Dover Poker Room & Casino in New Hampshire. For $100, you get 30K in chips (another $5K if you register before the start), and 30-minute blind levels. Even with the dreaded 1k/2K to 2K/4K jump, Dover offers a great amount of play for $100.
Another guideline to consider – if your buy-in provides about $20-$25 per hour of play for a deep run (to get in the money/reach the final table) you’re doing OK. Anything better than that is an increasingly good value. Worse than that, you’re paying a premium for your poker. Additionally, make sure you understand how much the house is withholding and how large the top prizes tend to be.
A final method of finding the best poker tournaments is to track your wins and losses and honestly assess how much you are paying for each hour of play when you consider your winnings versus buy-ins. If you are profitable over the long-run, play as much as you want! You are one of the skilled/lucky ones for whom poker is a free means of entertainment (assuming related spending is kept in check). As with $1/$2 cash games, typical daily small buy-in poker tournaments with their relatively high rakes can be a tough way to turn a profit. However, if you find that $150 weekly tournament is only costing you $5 hour for an average of five hours of play, you might be fine with that.
In our survey of poker tournaments in the US, we were pleasantly surprised at the generally wide coverage of price points offered and the variety of structures out there. However, finding great value poker tournaments – buy-ins that provide you better than expected playing time for the cost – are fairly rare. You will have to do your research to find the best poker tournaments. In many areas of the country will have to be willing to sacrifice some factors to achieve your personal goals for tournaments.
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