Everything You Need to Know About Video Poker Tournaments

By in Gambling Guides on

Many popular casino games are available in tournament format. But few of these games feature the degree of skill that video poker tournaments do.

This is exciting for players who enjoy using their strategy knowledge to boost their chances of beating opponents.

If you’re interested in trying video poker tournaments because you enjoy the game and the skill-based element, keep reading as I discuss everything you should know about video poker tournaments.

You and I will cover buy-ins, prize pools, available games, tournament formats, and strategy.

Video Poker Tournament Basics: Buy-ins, Prize Pools, and Games

Video Poker Tournament Buy-ins

The buy-in is the money that you pay to enter a video poker tournament. Most of your buy-in goes towards seeding the prize pool, while the casino takes a small percentage for running the event.

Here’s an example of a video poker tournament buy-in:

  • The buy-in is $20 + $2
  • $20 goes into the prize pool.
  • $2 is taken by the casino as a fee.

Not every video poker tourney requires a cash buy-in. As I’ll cover later, some tournaments don’t require you to pay a buy-in at all.

But it’s important to understand how entry fees work when you see them at a casino.

Prize Pools

The prize pool is the money that tournament players are competing for. And there are two types of video poker tourney prize pools:

  • Guaranteed — Casino guarantees that a prize pool will be worth a specific amount (e.g. $10,000).
  • Variable — The prize pool depends upon how many players buy into the event.

The casino must cover any missing amount when a guaranteed prize pool doesn’t reach its stated amount. For example, if the guaranteed prize pool is worth $5,000 and there’s only $4500, the casino must cover the additional $500 (a.k.a. overlay).

A variable prize pool depends completely upon how many players enter. If 400 players pay a $10 + $1 buy in, then the prize pool will be worth $4,000.

Like any other casino tournament, the payout distribution is weighted towards the top. Here’s a sample $5,000 tourney prize pool:

  • 1st – $2,000
  • 2nd – $1,000
  • 3rd– $500
  • 4th – $300
  • 5th – $200
  • 15th – $100

As you can see, it pays to reach for the top when playing video poker tourneys.

Games Used in Video Poker Tournaments

The video poker world is filled with hundreds of different games and variations. This means that tournament organizers have a lot of variants to choose from when holding an event.

But most casinos go with the most popular games like Deuces Wild, Double Bonus, and Jacks or Better. The reason is because many players know these games and are more likely to enter a tournament featuring a variation they know.

If you want to find tourneys with more exotic video poker variants, check out online casinos.

Video Poker Tournament Formats

The two main types of video poker tournament formats include timed and hand-based tourneys.

A timed-based video poker tournament sees the event last for a specific number of minutes. The leaders are determined by who has the highest score once the time is up.

Here’s an example of how a time-based tournament works:

  • 20-minute time limit.
  • You’re given 1,000 credits.
  • 5 credits disappear every time you play a hand.
  • Unused credits don’t count towards your score.
  • Credits won are displayed in a different meter.

The key thing to understand here is that unused credits are essentially worthless. This is why it’s important to play hands quickly enough to use all your credits before the time is up.

A hand-based tournament sets a limit on the number of hands played. The leaders here are based on who has the highest score at the end of the hand limit.

Here’s an example of this:

  • 500-hand limit.
  • No time limit.
  • Tournament ends when everybody has played 500 hands.

Tournaments based on time are the most popular in the video poker world. But you will see some hand-based tournaments as well.

Also note that video poker tournaments can last multiple days. In these cases, you can continue buying into the tournaments to try and improve your score.

This adds a new strategy wrinkle, where you’ll need to weigh how many rebuys it’s worth making, based on the prize pool’s size.

Types of Video Poker Tournaments

The three main types of video poker tournaments include the following:

  • Buy-in tournaments
  • Freerolls
  • Invitation (VIP or promotional)

I covered buy-in tournaments earlier, and how you must pay a fee to enter. These are especially common at online casinos, which rely on buy-in tournaments to make money with video poker.

Freerolls are events that don’t require a cash buy-in. The two types of freerolls include those that allow anybody to enter (a.k.a. open), and those that require loyalty points to play.

Open freerolls are nice because you can use these to build your bankroll without spending anything. But the catch is that your chances of cashing are normally low, because there are far more players than available prizes.

Loyalty freerolls are nice because there are fewer players competing for the prize pool. The main catch is that you have to earn points, though, before you’re eligible to play in these tourneys.

Invitation video poker tournaments are usually open to players of a specific VIP status.

These are like loyalty freerolls in that you have a better chance of cashing. The only problem is that you’ll need to play enough video poker to reach a certain status level before being invited.

Where Can You Find Video Poker Tournaments?

You can play video poker tournaments in both land-based and online casinos.

Brick-and-mortar casinos often send invitations to customers through mail or email. Their video poker tournaments are designed to draw players back into the casino.

The nice thing is that some of these tourneys are free to enter for players who are in a specific loyalty status. Other times you and the house must pay a small buy-in to play.

Land-based video poker tournaments take place on a limited number of machines. When you register, you’ll be given a machine number and start time so that casinos can stagger the number of participants.

Casinos often feature leaderboards that let you see where you rank in comparison to other players.

Online casinos run video poker tournaments around the clock. You need to navigate to their game lobby to see what’s available.

Oftentimes, internet casinos feature different tabs that allow you to navigate between freerolls, VIP tournaments, and buy-in events.

You’ll need to be a registered member to play in an online casino’s tournaments. Creating an account is easy and normally only takes a few moments.

You must make a deposit and have funds available to compete in the buy-in events. This involves navigating to the banking section and choosing an available banking method.

Video Poker Tournament Strategy

Standard video poker strategy involves playing in a manner that maximizes your overall return. Going further, you need to concentrate on all types of hands/payouts in order to get the highest payback possible.

But many skilled video poker players use a different strategy that revolves around chasing royal flushes. The reason is because you often need a 4,000-coin royal to place near the top of large tournaments.

Here’s an example of how royal or bust strategy works:

  • Normal odds of getting a royal flush are around 1 in 40,000 hands.
  • Royal or bust strategy shortens this to 1 in 23,000 hands.
  • 1,000 players enter a tournament.
  • The average player plays 250 hands.
  • This adds up to 250,000 hands overall (250 x 1,000).
  • This makes for almost 11 royal flushes under the royal or bust strategy (250,000/23,000).
  • Top 25 spots are paid, with most of the money at the top.

The only way that you’re going to win big payouts in large tournaments is by netting a royal flush. And in the tourney format above, everybody who finishes from 26th to 1,000th place earns the same amount of money – $0.

This is why I highly recommend chasing royals in bigger tourneys.

Of course, you should also factor field size into the equation. Tournaments with 100 or fewer players won’t feature more than 1-2 royal flushes on average, which means you can cash with regular strategy.

How Do You Use the Royal or Bust Strategy?

Conventional video poker strategy charts won’t show you how to only play for royal flushes. Instead, the best way to practice this strategy is by purchasing video poker software that allows you to customize payouts.

Here are a few video poker trainers for sale:

  • Video Poker for Winners (VideoPoker.com) – $49.95
  • WinPoker (Amazon.com) – $34.95 and up
  • Optimum Video Poker (Amazon.com) – $54.95

Once you’ve bought software, the next step is to choose a game and set every payout to zero, except for the royal flush. This makes it so that the program only shows you optimal play in terms of going after a royal.

When you set a trainer up in this matter, the program will value suited royal flush cards (A, K, Q, J, 10) higher than anything else. This means that you could be dealt quads like Qs Qh Qd Qc 10c, yet you’re only supposed to keep Qc 10c in this situation.

Many players have a hard time giving up quads and other large hands. But the aim is to chase royal flushes, because these are the only significant hands in a big video poker tournament.

Speed Is Important, Too

Advantage video poker players need to keep a good balance between making the correct decisions and playing fast enough. The same holds true in video poker tournaments, because you must get in as many hands as possible in speed-based tourneys.

Reverting back to our tourney example above with 1,000 players, let’s look at how your royal chances improve with speed:

  • Odds of hitting a royal are 1 in 23,000 hands (w/ royal or bust).
  • If you play 250 hands, you’ll hit a royal with 1 in 92 entries.
  • If you play 350 hands, you’ll hit a royal with 1 in 67.7 entries.

Obviously, you don’t want to sacrifice strategy just to play more hands. This is why you need to gradually improve by using a video poker trainer.

The other thing worth mentioning here is that hitting a royal in 1 out of 67.7 tournaments isn’t a thrilling prospect. This is why you should play in rebuy events with large prize pool, so you can enter 10-20 times and maximize your royal chances.


Video poker tournaments offer a nice break from standard play by letting you compete against other players. And as I covered above, you can still use a great deal of strategy to improve your odds of winning.

Many players will appreciate how there are different formats and games available in the video poker tourney world. It’s also nice that you can play in freerolls and have a free opportunity to win cash prizes.

I personally like playing in video poker tournaments at online casinos because it’s so easy to find events on a regular basis. But you can also find some really large tourneys in brick-and-mortar casinos, too.

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