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  • How to Host a Poker Tournament
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  • Chip Distribution



    After you’ve chosen your buy-in, there is the matter of how many poker chips each player should get. This is a very popular topic, since the very length of your poker tournament is contingent on how many poker chips each player gets. We have a formula that we use to solve this dilemma. Even if you choose not to use the formula, it still provides a valid basis from which you can customize the chip distribution to suit your home poker tournament.

    We call our formula the “1/100th Formula”. Whatever game you choose to play in your tournament, every poker variant has a small bet. In Hold ‘Em, the small bet is the amount of the big blind or the amount of the fixed or minimum bet on the pre-flop and flop. In Seven Card Stud, the small bet is the amount of the fixed or minimum bet on the first two of five betting rounds. In most other poker variants, it’s the minimum bet that a player can make in the first and earlier betting rounds.

    In order to determine how many chips each player gets, set the amount of the small bet to be one one-hundredth of the buy-in. In the following examples, we’ll assume that you have three colors of chips: white, red, and blue. Further, we’ll assume that white will represent the lowest denomination of chip, that red will represent the equivalent of two white chips, and that blue will represent the equivalent of two red chips or four white chips.

    If the buy-in of your tournament is $50, then you would set the amount of the small bet to be 50 cents (50 cents is one one-hundredth of $50). You would then set white chips to be 50 cents, red chips to be one dollar, and blue chips to be two dollars. One example of giving each player their $50 in chips would be:

    20 white chips: $10
    20 red chips: $20
    10 blue chips: $20



    That’s 50 chips for each player, worth $50. If you felt there wasn’t enough red chips being distributed to each player, you could give out less white chips. For each two white chips that you take out of each player’s distribution, you can add one red chip. It’s as easy as that.

    The one area in which it isn’t so simple is in Texas Hold ‘Em. Since there is a small blind in Hold ‘Em, you need a chip color that represents the amount of the small blind, which is generally half of the small bet. For such a situation, you either need a fourth color denomination to represent the small blind or else you’ll only have chips for the small blind, the small bet, and the big bet (the one made on the turn and river). For example, in our tournament with a $50 buy-in, you’ll need a chip worth 25 cents to represent the small blind. We’ll say the white chip is worth 25 cents, the red chip is worth 50 cents, and the blue chip is worth $1. You may choose to distribute chips as follows:

    8 white chips: $2
    36 red chips: $18
    30 blue chips: $30



    That’s 74 chips for each player, worth $50. If you happen to have a fourth color of chip (for example, black chips), the task of distributing chips for the small blind is made a lot easier. Let’s assume the same $50 tournament, your white chips are worth 25 cents, your red chips are worth 50 cents, your blue chips are worth $1, and your black chips are worth $2. You may choose to distribute chips as follows:

    8 white chips: $2
    20 red chips: $10
    18 blue chips: $18
    10 black chips: $20



    That’s 56 chips for each player, worth $50. The point is that you use the small bet as your base and set it to be one one-hundredth of the tournament buy-in. From there, it’s easy to determine how to distribute each player’s total number of chips . A general observation from the examples above is that each player start the tournament with approximately 50-70 chips each. That makes for an optimal amount for each player.

    Often, the host of a Hold ‘Em tournament decides to assign more ‘sexy’ values to each of the chips. Consider the example of the $30 buy-in. If the small bet is set to be 30 cents (or 1/100th of $30), then the small blind is 15 cents, the big blind is 30 cents, and bets on the turn and river are 60 cents. These aren’t very exciting denominations of chips. “I’ll see your 60 cents and I’ll raise you another 60 cents…”. Ho-hum. To make it more exciting, the host will sometimes give greater (and rounder) values to the poker chips. For instance, the buy-in is $30 but this gets you $1,000 of ‘tournament currency’. You can do this by determining that each white chip is worth $5, each red chip is worth $10, and each blue chip is worth $20. If each player gets 20 white chips, 30 red chips, and 30 blue chips, that’s $1,000 in chips for each player, a small blind of $5, and a big blind of $10. This sounds a whole lot more exciting than 15 cents, 30 cents, and 60 cents.

    Since each player is going to start the tournament with the same amount and same denominations of chips, you can call the denominations whatever you want. You could say it’s $10,000 in tournament currency if you’d like. The point is that it allows you to assign rounder denominations to the chips that players will more easily remember. Instead of having to remember that the small blind is 15 cents, they remember that it’s $5…even though the buy-in in both instances is still $30.


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