There are a huge variety of different poker tournament payout structures out there. The difference in each is critical to know prior to entering because your style of play and the particular strategy that you will use should be adjusted according to your goal in each event. For instance, beginning players who are new to tournaments would probably be happy just to cash in the first few tournaments they entered. As such, their style of play would be more conservative in accumulating chips during the course of play. More experienced players who are going for the big money that is available upon landing at the final table would, in comparison, be using a more aggressive approach that is centered on more of an all or nothing philosophy.
With such variables in mind, it is important to look at the way payouts are structured prior to paying the buy-in fees of tournaments to get an idea of what is required to accomplish your goal. As an example, lets look at the World Series of Poker Main Event that is currently underway at the Rio in Las Vegas. A total of 6,598 players have each doled out $10,000 to enter poker’s most prestigious annual tournament. Of that total, payouts will go to the top 666 finishers, starting at $19,227. This means that slightly higher than 10% of the entrants will be making an appearance at the cashier’s cage to claim their winnings. Ten percent is typically a very low payout percentage that will put more money into the pockets of the winners, especially the champion, who will take home more than $8.5 million, as well as a coveted WSOP gold bracelet, and will forever be immortalized in the annals of poker history.
In comparison, most online poker tournaments have a payout structure more in the range of 18-20%. And of that percentage, there are also huge differences in the structured payouts among different poker sites. Some will be weighted more heavily to the top finishers and will pay 30% of the prize pool to the 1st place winner and dish out less to the finishers who happen to just make it in-the-money. Sometimes, the payout amount for the survivors who avoided the bubble will be such a low percentage of the payout that it will only cover the buy-in and perhaps a few dollars more, depending on the fee to enter.
So these are the things that players must look for in deciding which tournaments to enter. Would you rather use a strategy that calls for finishing deep in the tournament if successful? If so, you would undoubtedly favor a payout structure that is more top heavy to the high-place or final table finishers. Is your style more conservative where you play only premium hands and don’t take as many chances in attempting to outplay your opponents? In that case, tournaments with a payout structure designed to reward more players with less money would probably be more profitable in the long run. It all depends on the strategy that you intend to use and are more comfortable with.
Of course, prior to buying in, every player would undoubtedly tell you that their goal is to come in first place and win the most prize money. However, situations change during the course of the tournament and sometimes you are forced to alter your thinking nearing the bubble of the event so as to guarantee a spot of finishing in-the-money. But if you selected a tournament that pays out a low percentage of entrants in order to provide greater prize money to a fewer number of players, that spot in-the-money may be much harder to come by. Keep these things in mind prior to forking over the buy-in.
Online poker sites offer so many different structures that it is not hard to find one that suits your style or desire. It’s just a matter of finding the structure that is most appealing to you. I once read with great interest a poker player’s idea that he posted on an online public poker forum, saying that there should be uniformity in payout structures among poker sites and the poker rooms of casinos in order to make the payout percentages the same all over. As you can imagine, many fellow players lambasted this point of view as being utterly ridiculous and that the many different payout structures available are good for the game so that players can enter and play according to their preferred strategy.
In the WSOP Main Event, after the first couple thousand players are weeded out, an aggressive and combative style would be necessary in order to cash in the tournament, as only slightly more than 1 in 10 players will eventually make it there. The pros who play in that tournament year-after-year know this and adjust their play accordingly. In comparison, entering a $20 + $2 online tournament at a small poker site during off-peak hours may only garner 100 entrants and be structured to payout 20% of the players, so 2 in 10 players would actually turn a profit.
As is apparent, your tournament strategy should be modified depending on your goals and the configuration of the payout structure. Whether you intend to aim for the top dollars guaranteed to deep finishers or much prefer a structure that allows you to attain a higher win rate of cashing, the huge variety of tournament payout structures available should be considered in achieving your goal. It is recommended that newcomers to the game should seek tournament structures that pay out a higher percentage of players in order to maintain your bankroll and reduce variance. Once you are more familiar with the game and have learned the ins and outs of tournament poker strategy, then it may be wise to enter the more top heavy structured tournaments.