Tournament types – Key differences

Tournament types

There are various tournament types. A tournament may be a freezeout, rebuy, reentry, bounty, or a satellite – to name just a few. Whatever tournament types you enter, you need to consider how you will maximize your ROI.

Common tournament types

Freezeout / Rebuy / Reentry

In a freezout tournament each player is allowed to buy in to the tournament only once. If they lose their chips they cannot get back into the tournament. The most well known poker tournament, the WSOP main event, is a freezout tournament.

In a rebuy or reentry tournament, an eliminated player has the chance to buy back into the tournament. Rebuy and reentry tournaments are not equivalent tournament types – in a rebuy tournament you do not have to pay the tournament fee again, whereas in a reentry tournament you do. Clearly, tournament organizers have an incentive to make tournaments reentry rather than rebuy. In any given tournament, you may be allowed unlimited rebuys/reentries, just one, or some other specified number. There will be a specified time limit after which no further rebuys/reentries are possible, and the tournament will effectively become a freezout.

  • You need to understand that rebuys, and reentries affect your ROI (return on investment). Many players who play small stakes tournaments do not seem to understand this. They want to gamble it up, hoping to build a big stack, if not they think they can always rebuy / reenter. This is already poor strategy, as doubling your stack (in a non winner take all tournament) does not double your tournament equity.
  • Having said that, don’t go the other way either. Some players are reluctant to invest any more money into the tournament, after their first buy in. If the tournament is a profitable tournament for you to enter in the first place, it is OK to invest more money. The fact you have lost your original stake is irrelevant, as this has already gone. There is no difference between buying into this tournament again, or entering a similar tournament in the future. Of course, you need to be honest with yourself as to if you are on have any unresolved tilt after your bust-out – if you are still tilted you should consider not reentering.
  • Your aim is to play the tournament correctly, understanding your incentives, and then if you need to rebuy or reenter you should do so (if you don’t have unresolved tilt issues). We recommend your read’s articles on ICM, volatility, and future skill edge incentives – as well as our articles about incentives based on stack size, and phases of the tournament.


In a bounty tournament, you have a chance to win a prize for finishing in the top N positions, as well as a bounty for every player you knock out. For example in a $300+$300+$60 bounty tournament, normally $300 from each player will go into the main prize pool, and each player would have a $300 bounty on their head (the other $60 is the tournament fee).

  • You stand to make real money immediately, for every player you knock out. Thus when calculating your EV for any decision that could get you a bounty, you must take this into account. Of course you need to balance this with your tournament incentives.

Satellite / Super Satellite

Satellites and super satellites are popular tournament types, as many players feel they have a chance of winning a massive prize for a small amount of money.

A satellite tournament is one which gives a certain number of players an entry into a bigger tournament. For example an WSOP main event seat costs $10,000. However 20 players could play a satellite, paying $500 each (plus any tournament fee) – 1 would win the seat. Or, 100 players could play the same satellite, and 5 players would win a seat. Sometimes, there is some amount of the prize pool left over which isn’t enough for a seat – this money is usually won by the player who finishes immediately outside the seats. For example if 22 players entered the $500 (plus tournament fee) satellite, for a $10,000 WSOP main event seat, the winner would get the seat, and the 2nd placed player would usually win $1,000 in cash. Look out for satellite tournaments, which guarantee a certain number of seats – if not enough players enter, the tournament has an overlay, which is great news for the players involved. Super satellites are tournaments which give you a chance to win a seat into the satellite – usually for a tiny fraction of the cost of the eventual seat, although you have to navigate three tournaments to cash in the final one.

  • Understand that when you play a satellite you are paying rake twice. For example, imagine you wish to play a $6000 + $600 tournament, and you enter a $600 + $60 satellite. If you win your seat you have effectively paid $660 in rake. If you enter a super satellite, the problem becomes even bigger.
  • In a satellite, your only consideration should be to get a seat. If it’s a winner takes all satellite, ICM considerations are not necessary, and you should look to maximize your chip EV decisions. If there are multiple seats available, your only consideration is to finish in one of those places – it does not matter whether you finish 1st or Nth (where N is the number of seats available), it also does not matter if you win your seat with one big blind left or are the chip leader, you get exactly the same prize. This means if you have a high probability of getting your seat at any given point, you do not want to take on volatility – this could means folding AA even if your opponent accidentally exposes his hand as 32o.
  • If you know total number of chips in play (in a freezout tournament, it will be the starting stack multiplied by the number of players), and the number of seats available, you can calculate the end average chip stack that will be held by the players who get a seat by dividing total chips by total players. You can also use this information to estimate the end level of the tournament.