Playing Texas holdem tournaments requires an adjusted skill set in comparison
to being a successful cash game player. Both types of games require strong
overall holdem skills along with proper pot odds use and finding positive
But tournament players need to look at the game and some situations
differently than cash game players. We’ve designed the following quiz questions
to show some of the areas tournament play is different. This quiz is designed to
not only show you the best way to handle the situations, but the answers are
presented in a way to help you learn the reasoning behind the best decisions.
This way you can learn the best way to play and how to think through
situations that aren’t presented here. The more you learn about how solid
decisions are made the faster you can start making the best decisions in every
situation at the Texas holdem tables.
Quiz Question 1
The poker room where you usually play is offering a guaranteed prize pool no
limit Texas holdem tournament next weekend. The last time they ran one they
didn’t have enough entrants to cover the guarantee. When this happens it creates
a positive expected value situation. Use the following information to determine
the expected value. The guaranteed prize pool is $100,000 and 825 players enter
with a buy in of $100 plus $10 fee. What is the positive expected value? When
you finish your calculations round your answer to the nearest dollar.
No positive expected value
Quiz Question 2
You know that when you play no limit Texas holdem cash games you need to get
as much money as possible into the pot when you’re the favorite to win without
risking so much to destroy your bankroll in the short term, but you read you
have to adjust your play in tournaments because you can’t replenish your stack.
How do you play the following situation? You’re playing in a hand after the
first break with a slightly smaller than average chip stack against a player
who’s been at your table from the beginning. She’s been playing quite
aggressively and has around twice the average chip stack. You have pocket queens
and your opponent has made a pre flop raise that effectively makes you pot
committed if you play. The way she’s been playing the odds are good that you
have the best hand right now, but there’s no way to know for sure. You determine
that about 80% of the time you have the better hand.
Raise all in
Make the minimum raise
Quiz Question 3
The situation is the same as in the last question, but now you have pocket aces.
How should you play the hand?
Raise all in
Make the minimum raise
Quiz Question 4
In a limit Texas holdem tournament you’re involved in a hand with the ace of
clubs and queen of clubs. The board has the three of clubs, eight of clubs, nine
or spades, and the jack of hearts after the turn. Your single opponent has made
a bet of $100 and the pot has $1,200 in it including the bet and you’re sure the
only way you can win is by hitting your flush. You might win if you pair one of
your cards but it’s doubtful. What’s the correct play?
Quiz Question 5
You’re playing in a 10 person satellite sit and go no limit Texas holdem
tournament where the winner gets an entry into a big multi table tournament and
the other nine players get nothing. On the first hand you’re in the big blind
and have pocket kings and one player moved all in and another called. What do
Quiz Question 6
You’re a cash game player and want to start playing some tournaments. Over
the next year you plan to play in 24 tournaments with a total buy in of $24,000.
How much should you set aside as a bankroll for your tournament play?
Quiz Question 7
As a continuation of the last quiz question, you busted out of your first
three tournaments before reaching the money and in the fourth tournament you
have an average chip stack and are getting close to the money. The buy in was
$1,000, and if you get into the money you win at least $2,000. If you can get to
the final table you’ll win at least $10,000. Six more players have to bust out
before you reach the money, and with your chip stack you can easily fold until
this happens, but it may put a serious dent in your stack. You face a raise from
a player with a much deeper stack than you and you have pocket queens. What do
Make a standard size raise
Move all in
Quiz Question 8
You’re in the same situation as in question 7, but now you have pocket
aces. What do you do?
Make a standard size raise
Move all in
Quiz Question 9
You’re at the final table of a no limit Texas holdem tournament with
two other players. You have 50% of the chips, one opponent has 30%, and the
other has the remaining 20%. They want to chop. First place receives $10,000,
second place gets $4,000, and third place receives $3,000. What should you do?
Don’t chop because you’re the chip leader
Don’t chop because you never chop
Only chop for more than $8,500
Quiz Question 10
You’re in the same situation as question 9 except you’re the player with
20% of the chips. What should you do?
Accept only $4,000 or more
Accept less than $3,400
Quiz Answer 1
The way to determine the expected value is to figure out how much each player
will win on average and subtract the cost to enter. 825 players are going to win
a total of $100,000. This means that the average win is $121.21, which we round
down to $121.
The cost to enter is $110, with $100 going to the prize pool and $10 going to
the entry fee. This is where some players get tripped up. It doesn’t matter how
much of your cost is going to the prize pool and fees. All that matters is how
much it costs to enter.
This means that the average positive expected value is $11. The average win
is $121 and the entry is $110, so $121 minus $110 leaves $11.
The problem is that we know most players will leave with nothing and the ones
that finish in the money win more than the average. So how does determining the
positive expected value help us? You still have to finish in the money to come
out ahead in any particular tournament.
If you’re an average no limit holdem tournament player if you played in this
tournament 100 times your average win would be $121, with an average profit of
$11. So after 100 tournaments your total winnings are $12,100 and your total
entry fees are $11,000 and your total profit is $1,100. But remember, this
assumes you’re exactly average. If you’re worse than average our results will be
worse, and if you’re better than average your results will be better.
In business and may other areas of life people have tracked results and
studied percentages and found that in almost everything like this there’s
something called the 80 / 20 rule. It’s written and interpreted in a few
different ways, but it basically says that 80% of the profit is won by 20% of
the players. This holds close to true in Texas holdem tournaments as well.
We’re not talking about individual tournaments, because most of them pay out
to around 10% of the field. What we mean is over the long term results of
millions of tournaments.
Here’s What All of This Means to You
You need to accomplish three things in order to be a successful Texas holdem
tournament player. The first thing is to work, study, and learn enough to be at
least an average player. As an average player if you can find enough tournaments
offering an overlay like the one in this quiz question you can be profitable.
The next step is to become above average. As you improve you can start
showing a profit playing in tournaments that don’t have an overlay. The more you
improve your game the more you win in the long run.
The final step is to figure out how to be in the 20% that wins 80% of the
long term profit. This is where the real money is made by professional
tournament players and it’s not an easy journey.
Quiz Answer 2
This situation needs to be considered from two different aspects. On one hand
doubling up at this point in the tournament can put you in a good position as
far as the size of your stack. But on the other hand, are you willing to risk
your tournament life on what you’re guessing is an 80% chance of winning when
you’re not in a situation where you’re so short stacked that you’re in immediate
Before we continue discussing the two aspects listed above, let’s consider
the best way to play the hand if you decide to enter the pot. If you call and
your opponent moves all in after the flop what are you going to do? This puts
you in a bad situation so it should be avoided.
This leaves the option to make a minimum raise or move all in. The key in
this situation is the fact that you’re basically pot committed if you play. This
means your best play is to push all in if you decide to play.
When you move all in the pressure is back on your opponent and you can win if
they fold or by winning at the show down if they call. The only hands that
dominate you are pocket aces and pocket kings. You’re roughly 50 / 50 against
ace king and a favorite over every other hand, even the ones with an ace and
weak off card.
The real question you need to answer is if you’re willing to play all out
with any edge or want to wait for a better time to try to increase your stack.
Because of this, the correct quiz answer depends on your tournament philosophy.
You can either fold and wait for a better spot or move all in. Here’s the
argument for both options.
An 80% edge is strong and is one you try to take advantage of every time in a
cash game. But in a tournament if you get all in with an 80% chance to win many
times the odds turn against you.
All in one time at 80% you have an 80% chance of surviving
All in two times at 80% you have a 64% chance of surviving
All in three times at 80% you have a 51% chance of surviving
All in four times at 80% you have a 41% chance of surviving
All in five times at 80% you have a 33% chance of surviving
As you can see, even with a huge advantage, if you get all in too many times
you’ll be in danger of busting out. Doing it three times basically makes it a 50
/ 50 shot at survival, and five times you’re only going to still be in the
tournament a third of the time.
It’s much better to be in a position where you can play with these advantages
without being forced to go all in. Against a smaller stack this is an easier
situation because if the hand goes against your favored odds you’re still in the
If you fold in this situation you still have plenty of chips and you can look
for a better situation where you either have a better hand or can be the
aggressor instead of playing against the aggressor. Or you can find a position
where your opponent has a smaller stack than you to take a risk.
Quiz Answer 3
The same arguments made in the last quiz answer can be made here, but if
you’re a Texas holdem player you need to play the best starting hand in the game
aggressively every time you have it. If you can’t play pocket aces you should
probably find a different profession.
The fact is that you’ll occasionally lose with pocket aces and if you get all
in enough times against any hand you can get knocked out, but you have to try to
double up when you have the chance so hopefully next time you won’t have to play
for all of your chips.
After you decide to play the hand the decision comes down to calling, raising
a standard amount, or moving all in.
You want to play the hand heads up against the aggressor if possible so
calling is a poor choice.
Players who haven’t acted yet can come in behind you,
so you need to raise.
Once you decide to raise you need to decide between a standard raise or
moving all in. In the situation where any raise makes you pot committed it’s
almost always better to move all in. Sometimes when you move all in your
opponent will fold, but a fold wins you their raise with no chance of being
drawn out on. And when they call you got all of your money in with a strong
Quiz Answer 4
As a limit Texas holdem player it doesn’t matter if you play cash games or
tournaments. All of your decisions need to be made based on the proper odds and
in this case the proper pot odds. The way you win in the long run as a limit
holdem player in any situation is to make more mathematically correct plays than
In this situation all you need to do is determine the odds of you hitting
your flush or the river and compare them to the return the pot is offering. The
pot is offering 12 to 1 pay out odds based on the pot size of $1,200 against the
cost of your call of $100.
You can determine your odds of hitting the flush by looking it up in a chart
or comparing your outs to the remaining cards. You have a 4.11 to 1 chance of
hitting your flush, making this a clear call.
This is determined by having nine outs out of 46 unseen cards. Written a
different way, you have nine cards that help you and 37 that don’t. 37 divided
by nine is 4.11.
Yet another way to look at this situation is if you put $100 in the pot 46
times your total investment is $4,600. The nine times you win you get back
$11,700, so in the long run you come out well ahead. This is a positive
expectation situation that you must take advantage of at every opportunity.
You don’t raise in this situation because you’re behind in the hand.
When you’re behind in the hand, you check and call when the odds are favorable.
You only bet and raise when you’re leading the hand and trying to build the pot. In
addition, in a tournament you have a limited number of chips available, so you
need to protect them when you can, so a raise would work against this.
Quiz Answer 5
In a situation where you have to either win the entire tournament or bust out
you need to figure out how to win all of the chips on the table by the end of
the tournament. One way to do this is to push the edge when you have it so you
can build a large stack and bully the small stacks.
In this situation there’s a small chance one of your opponents has pocket
aces, but it’s more likely that you have the best hand. Sometimes the action is
wild early in these types of satellite tournaments because players either want
to double up early to improve their chances or bust out quickly instead of
wasting hours to only bust out in second or third place.
You’ll see players with small and medium pairs taking huge chances early, even
aces with a suited off card playing aggressively.
When you have a strong hand you need to take advantage of these situations.
While the few times one of your opponents happen to have pocket aces, it’ll
suck, but at least you didn’t waste much time in the tournament.
Quiz Answer 6
Many players instantly think that the answer has something to do with how
good you are at playing tournament Texas holdem. While it’s important to be a
good player, the truth of tournament play is even the best players can miss the
money for several straight tournaments.
The purpose of your bankroll is to use it like an investment portfolio. It
allows you to enter situations where you hope to be profitable. If you lose your
bankroll you can no longer invest it, so it must be protected as much as
You also have a psychological side of the size of your bankroll in comparison
to the stakes of the game you play. The best bankroll is one that’s large enough
that you never have to worry about it while you’re playing. If you start
worrying about your bankroll while trying to make smart playing decisions at the
table you’re in danger of making too many mistakes.
When you consider all of this with the fact that you’re a cash game player
and not very experienced at tournament play, the best bankroll is $24,000.
With this amount you know you can play in all of the tournaments and not worry about
your next buy in.
The truth is, if you’re a winning Texas holdem player you should be able to
get by with a smaller bankroll up front. If you play in 12 tournaments and don’t
finish in the money in any of them you need to take a step back and honestly
evaluate your abilities.
This means that if you want to start with $12,000 set aside it’s probably
acceptable, but we don’t recommend starting with less.
The best thing about most tournaments is if you make the final table you win
enough to cover the entry into man y more tournaments. When you’re able to win a
medium or larger tournament it can create a situation where you have plenty of
profit to take out plus a healthy bankroll for a long time.
Quiz Answer 7
The fact that you busted out of your first three tournaments doesn’t have
anything to do with your decision in this situation. You’ve both been playing
solid poker and making good decisions, or you haven’t.
The short answer is your best play is probably to fold.
Big stacks have a tendency to bully the table when the bubble is close, but pocket queens aren’t
strong enough to gamble with when you’re guaranteed to finish in the money.
If you get all in here pocket aces and kings are strong favorites, ace king
is a toss up, and any hand with an ace or king can draw out on you. It’s simply
not worth the risk.
Once you make the money you need to quickly look for a hand that gives you a
chance to double up before you get too short stacked. Other players have the
same idea when they reach the money, so keep this in mind.
Quiz Answer 8
This is where things become harder to figure out. This is also the only place
where you should ever consider folding pocket aces before the flop.
If you remember the answer to one of the earlier quiz questions, we talked
about the need to build a chip stack in order to have a good chance to win the
tournament. This is a situation where you stand a good chance to double up or at
least win your opponent’s raise.
The best play in this situation is to raise all in.
Most of the time your
opponents will all fold and you’ll win the blinds and the raise from the deep
stack. When the deep stack calls you’ll double up most of the time, giving you a
stack that’s twice the average, putting you in good position to reach the final
This is a situation that can be looked at from a positive expectation
calculation like most holdem situations. It’s not a clear calculation in this
example because you don’t have all of the information, but here’s how you need
to look at it.
If you sneak into the money you win $2,000, and if you reach the final table
you win at least $10,000. This is five times minimum what you win for sneaking
in. If doubling up in this situation increases your chance to reach the final
table five times or more over your chances of busting out you’ve found a
positive expectation situation.
This is almost always going to be the case in this situation because of how
small your chances of losing with pocket aces is in comparison to doubling your
stack size from average to twice the average. When you include the many times
your opponent folds, giving you their raise with no chance of losing, and the
bet mathematical play is going to be raising all in.
But with all of that being said, if you decide making the money is more
important to you in this situation than taking the chance to double up, it’s
fine. Never follow the advice of anyone without thinking it through and making
sure it’s the best way to play for you.
This type of decision can also be tied back to the question about how
much you should have set aside for your tournament bankroll. If you know you
have enough to buy into the next 20 tournaments it’s not as important to sneak
into the cash in this one. You can play to win the entire tournament instead of
playing too cautiously on the bubble.
Of course the same argument can be made for the answer to the last quiz
question with pocket queens, but you aren’t always a favorite like with pocket
aces. This is a big enough difference to change the all in move to a fold with
Quiz Answer 9
Chopping creates a situation that many poker players aren’t comfortable with
and / or don’t know how to figure out in what seems like a fair manner. This is
one reason many players refuse to chop.
But some players refuse to chop for other reasons. If you’re a better player
than the other players, it costs you money in the long run to chop. As a better
player you’ll win more often than a lesser player and most chops are done based
on the size of your stack and the total prize money.
In this quiz question, the total prize money is $17,000 and you have 50% of
the chips, so most chops will start at $8,500 for you. Only you can decide if
this is a good deal or not, but don’t let the other players pressure you into
doing something that you aren’t comfortable with.
The problem with the situation you’re in is if either player is able to
double up through you the game has a new chip leader. This can happen on any
hand, so things can change quickly. So if you don’t chop you take a chance of
losing money. In some situations you could even consider accepting $8,000, but
our suggestion is try to negotiate more.
Accept $8,500 unless you’re a clearly dominant player.
Quiz Answer 10
This may seem like the opposite advice than you just read in question nine, but
as the smaller stack you should only chop if you get more than the average based
on your stack.
So the answer is either don’t chop or accept only $4,000 or more.
You’re guaranteed $3,000 and you win more if one of your two opponents busts
out before you do. And if you double up a single time your situation greatly
improves. The big stack is in the most danger and you’re in the least danger in
When this is the case you need to stand firm and accept nothing less than the
second place money. Be warned though, this won’t be popular with the other two
players. The good news is that Texas holdem isn’t a popularity contest.
When they ask you what you think the other amounts should be, simply tell them
that the only thing that matters to you is your $4,000. Tell them they can do
whatever they want with the rest.
You’ll also occasionally run into someone who has some wild formula to
determine what they think is a fair chop. In most cases the only player the
formula is fair to is them.
You should have a plan for a possible chop before it comes up. If you’re
willing to consider a chop try to have an idea of what you’re willing to accept
so you’re not caught by surprise.
Texas holdem tournaments remain popular because most of the coverage on
television focuses on no limit play. But most tables in poker rooms are filled
with cash game players. Use the quiz questions on this page to help you see if
you’re ready to make the switch from cash games to tournaments.
Make sure you read through the answers until you recognize the reasoning
behind the best plays. It’s just as important to understand the thought process
behind making the best plays as it is to make the best plays. By learning how to
make decisions you don’t have to rely on others to make them for you.
The best Texas holdem tournament players learn how to find the best options
in almost any situation. Use this quiz to help you do the same.
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