Regional Differences in Poker Tournaments

Finding the Best Poker Tournaments: A New Resource

Finding the best poker tournaments either in your home area or as you travel has always been complicated. Identifying the day and time, buy-in amount and some basic info about local tournaments may simply be a matter of checking out PokerAtlas. However, whether there will be 120 players or 7 when you show up to the cardroom is left unknown unless you have played the tournament before.

It is also often difficult to determine whether the structure of a given tournament is “good.” What most players mean by “good” is: how long can I play legitimate poker before the shovefest starts? If you have online access to a structure sheet, that will help. However, even experienced players can be challenged to weigh the relative merits of the 3 key structural pieces: the size of the starting stack, the length of the blind levels, and trickiest of all, how “fast” blind levels increase?

For example, Is it better to play a 35,000 starting stack with 20-minute blinds or 20,000 with 30-minute blinds? The answer is unknowable until you look at the structure sheet and find out how the levels progress. We’ve played in tournaments where there are 1,200/2,400 and 1,500/3,000 levels, and others that jump right from 1,000/2,000 to 2,000/4,000. The value of mid-to-late tournament levels varies widely depending on these jumps.

If you are visiting Las Vegas for a long weekend and it’s a Saturday afternoon, your poker tournament options are plentiful. However, finding the best poker tournament to play is next to impossible without a lot of research AND significant experience with the various venues.

That is, it was until the Poker Pilgrims did the work for you…

Map to Finding the Best Poker Tournament
Map for Identifying the Best Poker Tournaments

Tables to Help in Finding the Best Poker Tournaments

First, you start on our map of poker tournaments in the United States. Once there, click on the colored region where you would like to play. This will bring up a new page with a lengthy table of tournaments. For example, let’s say you are planning a poker trip to Florida. Go to the map, click on Florida, and you’ll be taken here . Scroll down through the text and you’ll see this:

Scroll down even more and you’ll see the top of the tables. (Note that this is best done on a laptop or tablet. If on a phone, turn the page sideways):

Using the filters, you can narrow down the rooms to those you might want to play. For example, you can select a day of the week and a few rooms you are considering and quickly see the buy-ins, the starting stack, the blind length, and the tournament structure. Where an element is missing, we were unable to find the relevant information. If you don’t know which rooms are in the part of Florida you will be visiting, you can first go to our map of U.S. poker rooms to identify local casinos and cardrooms.

Using our map and tables, you can plan your initial poker itinerary and budget in just a few minutes. Note that tournament schedules, as we discovered much to our chagrin, change all the time, so you’ll need to go to the websites of the rooms and confirm that these tournaments have not changed since we gathered this information. Also note that our tables report only regular tournaments. So that WSOP circuit event will not be found here (yet).

Finding the Best Poker Tournament: The Basics

As we have discussed before, identifying a good poker tournament is somewhat of a subjective personal decision. What kind of buy-in are you comfortable paying? Do you like small, intimate tournaments that might have 2-4 tables or do you want to play in a field of 200 people? Do you like tournaments that are over in less than 5 hours, or do you want to grind a tournament for 10-12 hours? Knowing your preferences is a good place to start.

But let’s say you like to play for reasonably large potential payouts in No Limit Hold’Em tournaments, you’re in Florida, can travel around the state, and can play on a Friday or Saturday. Using the filters, first go to Day and select Friday and Saturday. Then, you probably want at least 50 players on average and a buy-in of at least $100. Use the checkboxes and sliders to make those selections.

Those selections would yield these results:

These 13 tournaments all fit your specifications. If you want to go no further, any of these tournaments will ensure that if you show up you’ll be playing for a total prize pool that at a minimum will be $3,500. For the larger tournaments with larger buy-ins, you’ll be well over $10K. The top prize will likely be a few thousand dollars.

Advanced Criteria in Evaluating Tournaments

Diving deeper into understanding tournament quality involves looking into questions of structure and value. On a broad level, start with the starting stack size and blind levels length. If you like longer tournaments that allow a lot of cagier play, a tournament that has 30,000 chips with 30-minute blinds is likely to be better than one with 10,000 chips and 15-minute blinds.

However, understanding the structure sheet is critical to understanding how fast a tournament will play, and how long before the all-in parade starts. Take for example the following comparative structure sheets. We’ll say both of these start with 20,000 chips and both have 20-minute blinds. Knowing nothing else they would seem fairly equivalent.

Finding the best poker tournaments structures
Two very different tournaments

Examination of the structure sheets, however, reveals a very different story. First, note that tournament B starts off with a higher big blind amount (200 vs. 100) and also immediately starts with a big blind ante (nearly all rooms today employ big blind antes versus old school individual antes, but there are exceptions).

This may seem obvious, but then the subtle differences start. Tournament A has a 200/300 level that Tournament B does not. So A has now added 2 levels that Tournament B does not have. In tournament A you have a full 40 more minutes before you reach the 1,000/2,000 level. Then the real fun starts. Tournament B doubles directly from 1,000/2,000 to 2,000/4,000. Your effective stack is cut in half when the clock turns from level 7 to level 8. Tournament A, meanwhile, has two full levels between 1,000/2,000 and 2,000/4,000. The impact on your stack and your play is much more gradual in Tournament A vs. B.

The S point calculation offers a shortcut to interpreting these variations in tournament structure, relieving you the labor of examining the structure sheet yourself. One of the key metrics in the S-point calculation is identifying the point when a full rotation of blinds adds up to your original starting stack. In this example, that’s when a full rotation costs you 20,000 chips. For Tournament B that happens at level 10 (4000+8000+8000), in other words about 200 minutes in. For Tournament A that happens at Level 15, so 300 minutes in. You get a full 50% more in playing time to reach that stage as compared to Tournament B.

If you are interested in the specific calculation of S-points, or want to calculate them yourself, you can use this very helpful site. There are various other metrics you could use as well, but this one produces a nice summary with values for typical weekly tournaments from about 8 to 80. It uses an algebraic equation that includes the “100% minutes” – that break-even point with the starting stack – and the costs for levels 6, 10, 14, and 18 allowing for evaluation of when levels really elevate fast. Another excellent reference for the evaluation of tournament structure is Arnold Snyder’s classic poker book The Poker Tournament Formula.

Identifying what is a “good” S-point calculation is contextual depending on the amount of the buy-in. If you are spending $50 to enter a tournament, you are likely playing 12 to 15 minute blinds and a pretty accelerated structure. In that case, expect S-points in the 10 to 18 range. However, if you lay down $400, you should expect 30 to 40 minute blinds and structures well north of 40. If you are putting down $300-$400 and the tournament structure is below 30 , you are getting bad value for your money.

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Additional Factors in Finding the Best Poker Tournaments

There are so many different types of tournaments. Most are rebuy/re-entry. But occasionally there will be a freeze-out – when you bust, you bust! When add-ons get involved, it becomes really complex as to when the add on is a good value and when it is not. There are some very interesting add-on structures out there. But there are others that feel like an excuse for bad players to buy their way to a deep run. In calculating S-points, other than the dealer add-on which we do consider as most everyone opts for that, we don’t consider optional add-ons in our tables.

In determining value, you also really should know the tournament rake. Long-range, if you play in tournaments with 30%+ rake, well you better be both the best player in the room and the luckiest, because making a profit over the long run is nearly impossible. Small buy-ins tend to have a higher percentage rake. Rake declines as you put more money down because the house gets more from a 15% rake on $300 versus 30% on $100. If you care about profit, try as much as possible to play in tournaments with a 20% or lower rake. Sadly, these tournaments are getting increasingly hard to find.


In finding the best poker tournaments available, you likely are trying to do one of two things (or both). First, you are trying to find a tournament that is enjoyable to play. If you hate tournaments where everyone is shoving less than 2 hours in, you’ll need to find tournaments with decent structures. If you hate to play 10-12 hours, well avoid structures that are too slow and good? Second, you are likely interested in making money. To achieve this goal, you’ll need to look at rake, buy-in, and the size of tournament fields.

The Poker Pilgrims have spent the last few months gathering the data for you. We plan to keep refreshing these tables periodically. Our hope is that tournament players can use as a resource to help chose their best tournament options. Sometimes you don’t have much choice in your tournament, or you have a favorite room where you want to play. But, you can make these choices knowledgeably by using this data.

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