Mattis is a Norwegian trick-taking game for three to eight players. A game of Mattis consists of two distinct parts. First, players build their hands by capturing cards during the first trick-taking segment. Then, players try to rid their hand of cards in the second half. The last player to have cards in their hand is called the mattis, Norwegian for fool.
Mattis is part of a family of Scandinavian games with this two-part structure. Like the Swedish game Skitgubbe and the Finnish game Koira, it likely derives from the game Myllymatti, which originated in what is now western Finland in the early nineteenth century. As these games spread west into Norway, they evolved into what is now called Mattis.
Object of Mattis
The object of Mattis is to capture high-ranking cards through the first round of trick-taking. Then, the players take part in a second round of trick-taking, using the cards they won in the first round. The ultimate goal of the game is to avoid being the last player holding cards in the second round.
In order to play Mattis, you’ll need a standard 52-card deck of playing cards. Of course, you’ll probably want to treat your guests to your Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards.
Shuffle and deal three cards to each player. Place the remaining cards in the center of the table, where everyone can easily reach it, forming the stock.
Building the hands
The player to the dealer’s left leads any card they wish to the first trick. Each player in turn then plays whatever card they wish. There is no requirement to follow suit. Whichever player contributes the highest card (according to the standard ranking, with aces high, and irrespective of suit) to the trick wins it. They collect the cards played to the trick, placing them face-down in a won-cards pile in front of them. Each player then draws back up to three cards, and the player that won the trick leads to the next one.
In the event that two or more cards tie for highest, all of the cards in the trick remain on the table. Each player involved in the tie then plays another card to break the tie. If there is another tie, the tied players play again, and so on until the tie is resolved. The ultimate winner takes all of the cards on the table (both the original trick and all the tiebreak cards) into their won-trick pile.
When there are cards left in the stock, a player can choose to play blind by turning up the top card of the stock. When they do this, they are committed to play whatever card comes up; they cannot change their mind and play a card from their hand.
Ending the first half
When the last card of the stock is drawn, the player who draws it shows it to the other players. Then, they put it directly into their won-cards pile. The suit of this card will become the trump suit in the game’s second phase. With the stock now depleted, play continues on, but players simply do not draw new cards.
The first phase ends when a player runs completely out of cards. Each player puts any remaining cards in their hand into their won-cards piles. Any player that did not capture any cards during the first phase are called blåmattis (blue fool), but they remain in the game for the second phase.
Playing the hands out
Each player’s won-tricks pile forms their hand for the second half of the game. Players who are blåmattis will, of course, start the hand with no cards. Game play begins with the player who took the last card of the stock (the trump maker) in the first phase. This player leads any card they wish to the first trick. Each player in turn then plays a card that beats all previous cards played to the trick. A card is considered higher than another card if it is of a higher rank and of the same suit, or if it is a trump.
Rather than playing a single card, a player may also play a sequence. A sequence is two or more consecutive cards of the same suit. This helps a player get cards out of their hand more quickly. The length of a sequence doesn’t matter, only the rank of the cards comprising it. A sequence can start a trick, or it can be played to beat a lower single card or sequence. Higher single cards can beat lower sequences.
If a player is unable to play (either because they are blåmattis or because they have no cards that can beat the last card played), they pick up the lowest card on the table, and the trick continues with the next player to the left. When the lowest card on the table is part of a sequence, someone who cannot play to a trick must pick up that entire sequence.
A trick is considered complete whenever there are the same number of plays (either single cards or sequences) in it as there were players at the start of the trick. For example, if a trick started with four players, there would need to be four plays in it before the trick was considered finished. When a trick is finished, the cards in it are discarded, and the last person to play (and thus who played highest) leads to the next trick.
Ending the game
As players run out of cards, they drop out of the game. The last player with cards loses and becomes the mattis. Traditionally, during the next game, the mattis of the previous game is required to wear the mattishaetta (fool hat), a particularly ugly hat procured for the purpose.
After choosing a poker tournament structure, setting up the blinds schedule is the most meaningful decision a would-be tournament director has to make. The blinds schedule is one of many factors that will determine how long the tournament lasts. It can also affect the luck/skill balance required to be crowned the tournament’s champion.
If you’ve never played a poker tournament before, you might be wondering what a blinds schedule even is. When a poker tournament begins, the tournament director starts a clock. At a regularly scheduled interval, the value of the blinds go up. That’s all there is to it. The purpose of this is to make it necessary to actually win pots fairly regularly to stay in the game. Otherwise, a tournament could go on for an eternity with players trading chips back and forth, winning enough to cover the blinds, but never enough to bust each other out. Escalating the blinds as the night goes on forces a confrontation eventually, when a player simply cannot afford to bide their time any longer.
In this post, we’ll discuss a few simple methods for making a basic blinds schedule. For something that’s so critical to a tournament’s success, it doesn’t have to be complicated!
More of an art than a science
The first key point to remember when creating a blinds schedule is that every group of players is different. What works well for one group may not work for another. If you host an aggressive group of players, the tournament will go much faster than it would for a more laid-back group that plays very tightly. How long players take to act on their hands will also influence the speed of the tournament. Once you have your first blinds schedule created, you can use your experience from your first tournament to make adjustments for your second time hosting.
Another thing to keep in mind is that, though poker is a game of skill, it is still based on a randomness generator in the form of a deck of cards. No amount of adjustment will ever be able to totally account for the plain variance that the cards will produce. If the cards feel like causing a bunch of big-money pots that become bad-beat stories, you’re going to have a quick tournament. If everyone is card dead, the tournament is going to drag. That is something nobody has control over, so don’t sweat it.
The first and the last blind
The first step to designing a blinds schedule is to calculate the first blind level and the projected last blind level. This ending level is when the tournament should theoretically end. Remember, though, you cannot guarantee when a tournament is going to end. This is just for planning purposes.
For the sake of simplicity, it’s easiest to set the blinds by taking into account only the big blind. The small blind is usually set at half the amount of the big blind.
The first blind level is easy to set. In most tournaments, the big blind will be 1–2% of the starting stack. The higher you set this level, the shorter the tournament will be. For example, in a T1000 tournament (a tournament where a player starts with 1,000 tournament chips), the first blind level will usually be T5-T10 (1%) or T10-T20 (2%).
Next, you need to determine the projected last blind level. A good rule of thumb is that it should be 5% of the chips in play. To determine this, multiply the number of players by the starting chip stack and take 5% of the total. So for a T1000 tournament with fifteen players, there will be T15,000 in circulation, meaning the the final big blind level should be around T750 or so.
Tournaments with rebuys and add-ons
If you plan to offer rebuys and add-ons, these need to be accounted for in your blinds schedule. To do this, you will have to estimate how many rebuys or add-ons you will sell and add these into your total amount of chips in circulation.
Using the previous example of a fifteen-player T1000 tournament, if you offer rebuys and estimate that three players will rebuy (a total of T3,000 in rebuys), then T18,000 will be in play, and the last big blind level should be around T900.
Note that this is a place where past experience will guide you. If you offer rebuys at all, you will not know for sure how many people will want to take you up on the offer. You could have some big pots early on that bust out many players, and they’re raring to get back in the thick of it and they all rebuy. Or the players that bust out may opt to cut their losses and go home. All you can do is make an educated guess based on previous tournaments.
Timing and intermediate levels
Now that you have your start and end points, you just need to find the parts in-between. This is what will ultimately determine the length of your tournament, and also the skill level needed to win it.
The first thing to account for is your time budget for the tournament. By talking to your players, you should have a good idea for how long they would want to be stuck with you playing poker. Most home tournaments last for four to six hours, so this is a realistic goal to shoot for.
Next, you’ll need to decide how often the blinds should increase. This can be anywhere between fifteen minutes and an hour. The more frequently the blinds increase, the more frenzied the pace of the tournament. However, a slow schedule can make the tournament feel like it’s going much slower than it actually is. The 20 to 30 minute range seems to be a happy medium for most players.
Now, take your time budget and divide it by the blind interval. This is how many blind levels you need. Now you can set each blind level. Each blind level should be no more than double the preceding one. Keep the progression as even as possible. A sudden spike in the blinds places undue weight on the hands after them, thereby increasing the role of luck in the tournament.
After you have created your blinds schedule, you’ll need to make some adjustments to it. Check to make sure that each blinds level is compatible with the chips that will be available. For example, you don’t want to have a blinds level of 600-1200 if the smallest chip available is a T500.
You should also avoid making blind levels that will require chips that are very small relative to the size of the blinds. A blind of, say, 2250 would be a bad idea, for example, since it would require using two T25 chips to post blinds. Having to deal with T25 chips when thousands of chips are being won or lost each hand is just a nuisance. Making them unnecessary allows you to color them up and remove them from circulation.
You should also add three to five more blinds levels after the “final” level. This gives you some wiggle room just in case the tournament runs longer than forecast.
You can also use your blinds schedule to designate when breaks will occur. How many breaks, how long they should last, and when they should be, will depend on the particulars of your tournament. For an evening tournament, for example, you may want to schedule a thirty-minute dinner break midway through. On the other hand, a tournament that starts later may expect players to eat before the tournament starts, and only have fifteen-minute breaks for players to stretch their legs. Shorter tournaments might not need breaks at all.
Whatever you decide, be sure to clearly mark the breaks on the blind schedule, between blind levels. Be sure everyone is clear on how long each break is. The tournament should resume promptly after the break ends. It’s not fair to the players if some tables start on time and others wait for straggling players. Be clear what will happen if a player does not return on time (e.g. they will still be required to post blinds in their absence without getting the chance to play their hand).
Ending the tournament
Your tournament should end organically about the same time that you had planned on when you created your blinds schedule. However, keep in mind that any number of things can occur that cause your tournament to end early or late.
If it looks like a tournament is going to run late, you can adjust the blinds schedule while the tournament is in progress. Raising the blinds should help bring the tournament to an end quicker. However, this opens you up to accusations that you only edited the schedule to benefit so-and-so who was chip leader when you made the change. It’s best to avoid doing this if at all possible.
Another thing you can do to hasten the end of a tournament is to add antes at a certain level. At this point, each player will be required to post an ante on each hand, in addition to the big blind and small blind being posted as normal. This is only really useful if there are still several players on each table. In heads-up play, it is functionally the same as increasing the blinds.
If all else fails, you can set a time that the tournament will end, no matter if people are still playing or not. This is particularly useful if there’s some external restriction on how long the tournament can go, like the venue’s closing time, the host’s bedtime, etc. The best way to do this is to choose the time before the tournament and include it in the schedule. If that’s not possible, be sure to give ample warning before the appointed time arrives so players can adjust their play strategies accordingly. When the time ends, the player with the most chips takes first place, the player holding the second-most chips takes second, and so on.
Object of Pay Me
The object of Pay Me is to be the first player to form their entire hand into melds.
To play Pay Me, you’ll need a few decks of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards with jokers included. The number of decks you’ll need depends on the number of players you have. One deck is just fine for two players; to play with three or four you’ll have to shuffle two decks with the same back design and color together. For five to eight players, add a third deck. You’ll also want something to keep score with, like pencil and paper.
The number of cards dealt changes on each hand. Deal each player three cards for the first hand of the game. Deal four cards on the second hand. Continue on in this fashion, with the hand size increasing by one on each hand. For the eleventh and final hand, each player will receive thirteen cards.
After the cards have been dealt, place the deck stub in the center of the table. This stack of cards becomes the stock. Turn the top card of the stock face up. This card, the upcard, will be the first card of the discard pile.
Play of the hand
Play starts with the player to the dealer’s left. Game play follows the usual Rummy pattern. A player starts their turn by drawing one card, either the top card of the discard pile (which is face up and known to the player) or the top card of the stock (which is unknown). The player then discards a card, ending their turn.
Pay Me, like all other rummy games, revolves around forming one’s hand into special combinations called melds. There are two types of melds: sets and runs (also known as sequences). A set is three or four cards of the same rank and different suits. Suits cannot be duplicated in a meld; a player can, however, have two separate melds of the same rank. A run consists of three or more consecutively-ranked cards of the same suit. When a player forms a meld, they keep it in their hand, rather than laying it on the table as in some other rummy games.
One unique feature of Pay Me is its use of wild cards. Jokers and 2s are always wild. In addition, the rank that corresponds to the number of cards dealt is wild, too. For example, on the first hand, when three cards are dealt, 3s are wild. On the next hand 4s are wild, and so on. On the ninth hand (consisting of eleven cards) jacks are wild, followed by queens on the tenth hand, and kings on the eleventh and final hand.
Wild cards can substitute for a card of any rank, or can be used as a card of its natural rank (except for jokers, of course). However, there are some restrictions on the use of wild cards in melds. No more than half of a meld can be wild cards. Additionally, in runs, two consecutive cards cannot be wild cards.
When a player has formed their entire hand into melds, they may go out by declaring “Pay me!” If they have a discard they would like to make, they can do so, but are not required to discard if the card can be melded. Each player then gets one final turn, during which they cannot draw from the discard; they must draw from the stock only. When the turn reaches the player who called “Pay me”, the hand ends.
Each player lays their hand face-up on the table, separated into melds. If a player has cards in their deadwood (unmatched cards) that can be used to extend melds held by the player that went out, they may lay off those cards on those melds. A player cannot lay off on melds belonging to any players other than the one that went out. A player also may not substitute cards they hold for wild cards in other players’ hands.
After laying off any cards they can, each player adds up the value of their deadwood as follows:
- Wild cards—15 points each
- Kings through 8s—10 points each
- 7s through aces—5 points each
Each player’s deadwood total is then added to their score.
Game play continues until eleven hands have been played. The player with the lowest score at that point wins the game.
After you’ve chosen the poker tournament structure you want to run, the next step is to select the buy-in. You’ll also want to decide how many chips, and in what denominations, to issue to starting players. Both of these will dictate how many chips you need to have on hand for the tournament. Handling the buy-in process itself can also be a source of stress for new tournament directors.
Fortunately, addressing these concerns is fairly straightforward. A little thought and planning here greatly increases the chances of your tournament being a success.
How much is the buy-in?
The most important question to your players is probably how much the initial buy-in will cost them. Some players are happy to potentially lose a lot of money to participate in the excitement of a big tournament. Others would be just fine buying in for $0 and playing for bragging rights. Set the buy-in too high, and some players won’t be able to afford to join in. Set it too low, and some players might feel that the several hours the tournament will take won’t be worth their time.
The simplest thing to do is to ask the people you want to invite how much they’d like to spend. If you can find a sweet spot that attracts the most players to your tournament, you’re golden. Otherwise, you may need to split your guest list into two, and run a separate tournament later for the folks that aren’t interested in the first one.
Starting stack sizes
One of the things that dictates the length of your tournament is the proportion between the starting stack size and the blinds level. The larger the blinds are in proportion to the starting stack, the faster players will bust out of the tournament.
Tournament starting stack sizes are often expressed with a “T” followed by the amount of chips given at the beginning. This “T” (for “tournament”) represents a fictitious currency that the chips are denominated in, which has no relation to the real-life currency the buy-ins and payouts take place in. Thus, a T100 tournament issues 100 units worth of chips to its starting players, and a T1,000 tournament issues ten times as much. Both of these tournaments could have a $5 buy-in, or $25, or whatever the tournament director decides.
Again, starting stack sizes’ relation to the blind levels dictate the length of the tournament. A T100 tournament should theoretically play exactly the same as a T1,000 tournament with blinds set at ten times those of the T100 tournament. Of course, some players may be susceptible to a psychological difference—a T1,000 tournament might feel like a “bigger deal”, and a T5,000 or T10,000 tourney might feel even bigger than that! Larger starting stack sizes can also give you more flexibility in customizing your blind sizes. The one drawback to a bigger starting stack is that you may need more chips to cover all of your players.
Starting stack chip breakdowns
Naturally, the most important thing to keep in mind when determining your starting chip stack is that the denominations issued are compatible with the blinds schedule. If the first round of blinds is T20-T40, and the smallest chip you issue is a T25, your tournament is not off to a great start.
A good starting point in coming up with a starting stack is to follow the ratio 1:2:3:4, where for every chip you have of the highest denomination, there is two of the next-highest denomination, and so on. Using more than three or four chip colors is generally not very effective; it is more expensive, and you’ll need to do more chip color-ups throughout the tournament.
Just like the tournament size, there’s a psychological aspect to choosing a chip breakdown. You could theoretically run a T1,000 tournament by simply giving everyone 40 T25 chips. But 40 chips may not feel like very much to some players, leading them to play much more tightly than they otherwise would, lengthening the tournament. Instead, you can use some T5 chips to give each player a hoard of chips to start with. If you start each player with 28 × T25 and 60 × T5, for instance, they now start with 88 chips. Despite both adding up to T1000, the second stack starts them with more than double what they would have with just T25 chips.
With the starting stack sizes decided, it’s simple to determine how many chips you need. Just multiply the number of chips of each denomination in each stack by how many players you expect to have. It’s probably a good idea to have enough extra chips for a few extra players. That way, you’ll be covered if something unforeseen happens and you need them.
If you plan to allow rebuys, be sure to account for those in your inventory as well. It’s generally fine to simply issue a few large-denomination chips (like ten T100 chips or two T500 chips for a T1000 rebuy). When a player has to rebuy, all of their low-denomination chips have ended up with the other players. A rebuying player can simply break their large chips down by making change from those players or the pot. This keeps a rebuy from flooding the table with low-value chips.
Now that you know how many chips to buy, it’s time to actually get your hands on some. It’s a good idea to choose chips of a unique style from an online vendor. If you go with one of the sets of chips readily available at your local big-box store, like the ubiquitous dice chips, you run the risk of one of your players owning the same chip set. Unscrupulous players may notice this and sneak in chips from home to give themselves an advantage. If you plan to host regular poker tournaments, it may be worthwhile to invest in a customized chip set. You can have the chips printed with a unique logo or text inlay. This can be expensive—expect to pay $1 or more per chip. However, it neutralizes any threat of foreign chips, and lends a much more professional image to your game.
What chip colors should you choose? The standard ones, of course! Any players that have participated in a casino poker game will instantly understand your chip values. That way, those players can be the ones to explain the chips to the newbies. That saves you from having to run from table to table to remind everyone, no, the purple chips are actually T20 in this tournament… Besides, if any of your new players later go on to play in casino poker games, they’ll appreciate not having to learn new chip colors.
Chip colors are not as standardized above the 500 level. You may need to improvise a bit if you need chips valued that high. Chips valued 1,000 are often orange and 5,000 chips are often grey. You may also be able to get away with repurposing yellow and white chips for higher values if necessary; there’s not much call for a T½ or T1 chip in a T10,000 tournament.
Blue chips have no standard value, but are often readily available. They are often seen as $1, $2, or $10 chips in casinos. You can use them for any of these values, or for higher denominations.
Nothing will ruin a poker tournament more than, when it’s time to pay the winners out, having nothing to pay them with because it’s been stolen. It’s also important to remember that chips represent a monetary value, just like cash does. So be sure to treat them like cash. A busy tournament director is going to be running from table to table, settling rules disputes, settling seating arrangements, managing color-ups, ensuring the blinds schedule is being followed, and more. You simply aren’t going to be able to devote your attention to keeping an eye on the prize pool and extra chips. Both cash and chips need to be secured at all times.
Before players arrive, set up some kind of way to secure your cash and chips. A simple option is to use a basic cash box. For your chips, you may need something like a locking briefcase or a larger lockbox. If you use a birdcage-style chip carrier, it can be secured by placing a large-hasp padlock onto the handle, so the cover can’t be removed. If possible, the best option is to place cash and chips into a safe or locking drawer in a large piece of furniture like a dresser or desk. After all, while someone could theoretically slip your cash box out of the room for later enjoyment, it’s a lot more obvious if someone tries to steal a chest of drawers.
Collecting the buy-ins
There are a couple of preparations to make before the day of the tournament arrives in order to ensure the buy-in process goes smoothly. You will greatly speed things up the day of the tournament if you’ve already portioned your chips into pre-made starting stacks. Putting each starting stack into a rack looks quite professional. You can hand the whole rack to the player as they pay for the buy-in. However, depending on the size of the tournament, it may get expensive to have enough chip racks on hand. Fortunately, there’s a number of alternatives; you can use plastic zipper bags, Tupperware-style bowls, or small boxes. Another interesting option is to put the chips in foam can koozies. Not only does this keep the chips contained, it gives the player something to keep their drink cold with.
Before the tournament, be sure to go to the bank and get change. Some players may arrive at the tournament having just hit the ATM and needing change back from their buy-in. You will also probably be dividing the prize pool between a number of players, so be prepared for the possibility of having to pay out odd amounts. Of course, whatever change you don’t use can be brought back to the bank afterward, so don’t skimp out.
Everything’s set up and the players are starting to arrive. What now? Have each player come up one by one to a cashier station set up in a convenient location. As they give you their buy-in cash, return any change necessary. Before you give them their chips, splash them out and have the player agree that the correct amount is there. This will eliminate any accusations of shortages later. (Having a chip count board as part of your cashier station makes this process smoother.) Send the player to their designated seat and you’re good to go!
Myllymatti is a Finnish trick-taking game for three players. A hand of Myllymatti consists of two phases. In the first half of the game, players build their hands for the second half by capturing cards through trick-taking. The players then take the hands they built to the second phase and try to get rid of their cards as fast as they can.
Myllymatti is the oldest of a family of games played across the Scandinavian countries. It originated in the early 1800s in what is now western Finland, with photographic evidence of the game dating back to 1907. From Finland, it spread west, evolving into a different game in each country it entered. In Sweden, it became the very similar Skitgubbe. In Norway, it evolved into the game of Mattis. Back in its native Finland, it spawned yet another variation, for up to eight players, named Koira (a name that is sometimes used interchangeably with Myllymatti), which plays quite similar to Mattis.
Object of Myllymatti
The object of Myllymatti is to capture powerful cards through trick-taking. Then, the player uses these cards in a second round of trick-taking, with the ultimate goal to avoid being the last player with cards.
To play Myllymatti, you’ll need a standard deck of 52 playing cards. We, of course, recommend using Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards at all times.
Building the hands
The player to the dealer’s left leads to the first trick. The next player to the left then responds with any card they wish (there is no requirement to follow suit). Each trick is played with only two out of the three players; the third player (in the case of the first trick, the dealer) does not contribute to the trick.
Whoever plays the higher card, according to the usual order of card rankings, wins the trick. Suits do not matter. Whichever player wins the trick takes the two cards and places them into a face-down won-cards pile in front of them. Both players that participated in the trick draw a card from the trick, restoring their hand to three cards. The winner of the trick then leads to the next one, playing against the player to their left.
When the two cards played to a trick tie, it is called a bounce. The cards comprising such a trick are left on the table. The same player then leads to the next trick. This continues until a player actually wins the trick. That player takes all the cards on the table.
As long as there is more than one card left in the stock, a player may choose to turn its top card up and use this as their play. Turning a card from the stock commits to playing it; it cannot be taken into the hand and another card played instead.
Ending the first half
When a player would be required to draw the last card from the stock, rather than adding it to their hand as usual, they show it to the other players. The suit of this card will become the trump suit for the second half of the game. The player that drew the card then places it directly in their won-cards pile without adding it to their hand.
The players continue playing tricks until a player has no cards to play on their turn. Any cards that were played to a trick in progress are added to the won-cards piles of the players that played them. Remaining cards in the players’ hands are then exposed and placed in the won-cards piles of the players they belong to.
Playing the hands out
The cards in each player’s won-cards pile form their hand for the second phase of the game. Whichever player drew the last card from the stock (the card that fixed the trump suit) leads to first trick. Players are now required to beat the last card played, if possible. A card can only be beaten by a higher card of the same suit, or a trump (trumps can only be beaten by higher trumps). If a player is unable or unwilling to do so, they take the last card played into their hand, and play passes to the left.
A trick is considered complete when it contains the same number of cards as there were players in the game at the start of the trick. When a trick is complete, the cards are discarded, and the last player to play a card (and thus the one who played the highest card) leads to the next trick. A trick can also come to an end by all of its cards being picked up; in this case, the player to the left of the last person to take in a card leads to the next trick.
Some poker players find the pace of a typical cash game to be too slow-paced for their liking. Hand after hand is played, money changes hands back and forth. A group of players equally matched in skill may end a night of play more or less where they started out.
Players that want a more exciting night of poker may prefer to stage a poker tournament instead of a typical cash game. In a poker tournament, either you win big—usually only the top three or four players win anything—or you go home with nothing.
However, not all poker tournaments are the same. There are a couple different ways to structure a poker tournament, meaning it’s important to choose the type that fits your game best. As a tournament director, it’s also important to run a tournament you feel comfortable hosting. In this post, we explore the most common poker tournament structures, as well as some optional additions that players may enjoy.
Which game to play?
The first decision to be made when setting up a poker tournament is, of course, what kind of poker you’ll be playing. The simple answer to this question is to spread whatever your players want to play. The vast majority of poker tournaments, however, are Texas hold’em games, with Omaha making up most of the rest. Mixed games are also popular, where a different game is played each hand, cycling through a list.
Tournament poker is almost universally no-limit (see “Betting in poker“). Limit poker is simply too drawn-out for a tournament setting. No-limit poker allows a player to go all in, risking all of their tournament chips on one pot. That allows them to build up a big chip stack in a hurry, at the risk of busting out of the tournament entirely. A limit tournament would go on and on as the weaker players’ chip stacks are slowly whittled down.
A freeze-out tournament is the type most people think of when they hear the words “poker tournament”, because it’s the type most frequently used in professional settings like casino poker rooms and the WSOP. It’s also the simplest type of tournament.
How it works is that each player is issued a set of chips when they buy in to the tournament. These are all of the chips they’ll ever have. Once a player runs out of chips, that’s it—they’re out of the tournament for good. If the tournament is big enough to have multiple tables of players, as players drop out, tables are combined from time to time. This ensures that each game has a sufficient number of players.
Simple, but not always the best for home games
Freeze-out tournaments are simple to run, making them a good fit for an inexperienced tournament director, but they can be problematic in social situations. What do the eliminated players do? It’s a bit gauche to ask them to leave, but they can’t participate in the tournament anymore. They can watch the rest of the tournament from the sidelines, but not everyone finds this fun, and some players may get nervous with spectators watching them.
One way to handle this is to hold several short tournaments (perhaps one to two hours each) in quick succession. This means that eliminated players won’t have long to wait before they’re back in the game. It also allows players to “get revenge” on the players that busted them out in an earlier tournament.
Another option is to set up a cash game, or another non-poker game, alongside the tournament. Those who busted out can play in this game while they wait for the tournament to end. If you choose to do this, though, be sure to use chips and cards of a different design than those being used for the tournament. Otherwise, players may be tempted to smuggle tournament chips to the cash game and redeem them for real money.
A shootout tournament is a tournament structure for large numbers of players. In a shootout tournament, each table is played down to a single remaining player. After a winner has been determined for each table, they all play against each other in a final table.
While this structure is useful for managing a large tournament because the tournament director does not have to worry about rebalancing the tables, it does have some drawbacks for the players. All of the problems of a freeze-out tournament are there, of course. A table winner may also find themselves with a large chunk of time to kill while they’re waiting for the other tables to be resolved.
Rebuys and add-ons
One way to make a tournament more fun for the players is to allow rebuys. When a player runs out of chips, they can pay into the tournament pool to receive another stack of chips. They then continue playing with their replenished funds. Rebuys benefit all of the players in the tournament. The less-skilled players get to keep playing even when they’ve busted out. Meanwhile, the better players get to enjoy a larger prize pool every time a player rebuys.
Some tournaments offer add-ons, which is similar to a rebuy, except that the player has not busted out. In some tournaments, an add-on can be purchased with the initial buy-in. This gives the player a bigger starting stack. Players can also purchase an add-on between hands, when they feel low on chips.
Allowing rebuys and add-ons does require a bit more thought and attention from the tournament director. The director has to determine what the amounts of the rebuys and/or add-ons will be. A cutoff on rebuys and also needs to be established, so as to ensure that the tournament doesn’t go on forever. The director will, of course, also have to collect the money from the players and add it to the prize pool. This could potentially divert their attention from other aspects of managing the tournament.
Therefore, it may be a good idea for an inexperienced tournament director to leave out rebuys and add-ons. Later, when they become more experienced and comfortable with their role, they can be added in.
Turnover Bridge is, despite its name, a variant of Whist for two players. Unusually among trick-taking games, each player only has two cards that they can keep secret from the other player. The rest of their cards can be seen by their opponent, helping both players form ideal strategies. Almost half of the cards in the deck are dealt face down at the beginning of the game, however. That means that as the game goes on and those face-down cards are turned over, what constitutes an “ideal strategy” might change quite a bit!
Object of Turnover Bridge
The object of Turnover Bridge is to capture fourteen or more tricks.
To play Turnover Bridge, grab a deck of bridge-size Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards. Shuffle and deal twelve cards, face down, in a line in front of each player. Then, deal twelve cards face up, one on top of each face-down card. Deal two more cards to each player, face down, exhausting the pack. The players may look at these last two cards, but not the face-down cards on the table covered by the face-up cards.
In Turnover Bridge, not all of the player’s hand is accessible to them at any given time. Initially, the only cards they may play are the twelve face-up cards from their hand, plus the two cards they hold hidden from their opponent. When a face-up card is played, the face-down card beneath it, if any, is then turned face up and becomes available for play.
The non-dealer leads any card they can access to the first trick. The dealer then responds by playing an accessible card, following suit if able. If a player can’t follow suit, they may play any card they wish. Whichever player contributed the highest spade (spades serving as a permanent trump suit) wins the trick. If nobody played a spade, the higher card of the suit led takes the trick. (Note that this means that when a player cannot follow suit, they cannot take the trick except by playing a spade.) Cards rank in their usual order, with aces high.
When a player wins a trick, they collect the cards and set them aside in a won-tricks pile. Each trick should be kept separate, such as by placing them at right angles to each other. The player who won the trick then leads to the next one.
Game play continues until one player captures fourteen tricks (a majority of the 26 tricks in the game). That player is the winner, and play normally ceases at that point. If all 26 tricks are played out, and it is found that the tricks have been split 13–13, then the game is a tie.
Omi (also known as Oombi) is a trick-taking game for four players in partnerships played in the island nation of Sri Lanka. Like in Court Piece, the trump suit is decided in the middle of the deal—you have to choose a trump before having your entire hand! Other than that, though, Omi is a simple game that plays much like many other trick-taking games. To win, a partnership just has to take more tricks than their opponents.
Object of Omi
The object of Omi is to score the most points by collecting tricks.
Omi is played with 32 cards from a standard 52-card deck of playing cards. Take a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards and set aside all of the 6s through 2s. Your deck will then be left with aces through 7s in each of the four suits.
Determine who’s partners with who in whatever way you like. You can just decide however you want, get some random method like a high-card draw to decide for you. However you decide, partners should sit across from each other. This should be done so that the turns will alternate as you go around the table.
Traditionally, the discarded low cards (6s–2s) are used as scoring tokens. Separate them into two batches by color (red and black). Designate one player on each partnership to hold all of the out-of-play cards of one color. As a partnership scores points, the member of the opposing partnership that holds cards gives one score card for each point to the player on that partnership that did not start with any score cards. Thus, one partnership will be starting with black cards and receiving red cards from their opponents as they score points, and their opponents will start with the red cards and get black cards from their opponents.
Shuffle and deal four cards to each player. The player to the dealer’s left, the declarer, then decides on the trump suit, using only these four cards. They cannot consult their partner for advice! Once the trump suit has been named, deal each player four more cards. Players will each have an eight-card hand.
The declarer goes first. They lead any card they wish to the first trick. Each player in turn then plays a card from their hand to the trick until all four have played. Players have to follow suit if they are able. Otherwise, they can play any card, including a trump. Whoever played the highest trump wins the trick; if there are no trumps played, the highest card of the suit led wins. The winning player collects the four cards making up the trick and puts them in a won-tricks pile they share with their partner, being sure to keep tricks won later separate by placing them at right angles to the previous trick. Whichever player wins the trick leads to the next one.
Game play continues like this until all eight tricks have been played. At that point, each partnership counts the number of tricks they collected, and score as follows:
- All eight tricks: Three points.
- Five to seven tricks: Two points for the dealer’s team, or one for the declarer’s team.
- Tied at four tricks: No points are scored for the hand, but the winner of the next hand scores one extra point.
Poke is a unique two-player game that combines the mechanics of a trick-taking game with that of poker. In the first part of the hand, players draw cards to make the strongest poker hand they can. In the second, they play those hands out in the style of a classic trick-taking game.
Poke was created by the American game collector, inventor, and author Sid Sackson, perhaps best known for his classic board game Acquire. The rules of Poke were first published in Esquire magazine in 1946, and it was later included in Sackson’s 1969 book A Gamut of Games.
Object of Poke
The object of Poke is to score points by forming good poker hands and collecting tricks.
To play Poke, you’ll need a typical 52-card deck of playing cards. It should come as no surprise that we recommend Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards. You’ll also need a Contract Bridge-style scoresheet. If you don’t have a pre-printed Bridge scorepad handy, you can easily make a scoresheet by hand. Divide the page into two columns (one for each player, traditionally labeled “WE” and “THEY”) and then divide the columns into upper and lower halves by a horizontal line. Unlike regular poker, there is no betting, so you won’t need chips or money or anything like that. (Unless you just have to bet on it.)
Shuffle and deal five cards to each player. The rest of the deck becomes the stock.
The non-dealer acts first. They examine their hand, hoping to have a hand that is strong both as poker hand and at trick-taking. With this in mind, they decide whether they wish to discard any cards. If they do, they may discard up to three cards, and are dealt replacements from the stock. However, drawing doubles the player; any tricks the dealer captures will count double at the end of the hand. If the player is still not satisfied with their hand, they may discard a second time, and doing so redoubles them, making their opponent’s tricks count quadruple. Should a player choose to simply stand pat, they incur no penalty and are not doubled or redoubled.
After the non-dealer finalizes their hand, the dealer has the chance to draw cards. Unlike the non-dealer, the dealer’s first draw is free; they are not penalized for choosing not to stand pat. The dealer also has the option to double and redouble themselves by drawing a second and third time.
Play of the hand
The non-dealer leads any card they wish to the first trick. The dealer responds by playing any card from their hand. Whoever played the higher card wins the trick. Unlike in most trick-taking games, suits are wholly irrelevant to trick play; there is not even a requirement to follow suit. In the event of a tie, the player who led to the trick wins it. After a trick has been played, leave it on the table, keeping it clear who played which card. When a player wins a trick, they lead to the next one.
If a player has a pair in their hand, they may lead both cards at once. This effectively leads to two tricks at the same time. Their opponent can only beat this type of lead by playing a higher pair; if they cannot, they may play any two cards and lose both tricks. Likewise, a player holding three or four of a kind may lead the whole set at once, and their opponent can only beat them if they have a higher-ranking set with the appropriate number of cards.
After all five tricks have been played, each player counts up the number of tricks they have won. If a player’s opponent was not doubled or redoubled, each trick the player captured scores one point. If the opponent was doubled, each trick is worth two points; with a redoubled opponent, each trick is worth four points. These points are recorded below the horizontal line on the scoresheet.
Once the trick scores have been tallied, the players determine who had the better hand according to the usual rank of poker hands. Whichever player had the stronger hand scores an honor score as follows:
- Royal flush: 1,000 points
- Straight flush: 750 points
- Four of a kind: 600 points
- Full house: 500 points
- Flush: 400 points
- Straight: 300 points
- Three of a kind: 200 points
- Two pair: 100 points
- One pair: 50 points
This honor score is recorded above the line. If a player takes in all five tricks on a hand, they score a 250-point bonus, also recorded above the line.
After the hand is scored, the non-dealer collects the cards, shuffles, and deals the next hand.
Game and rubber
Game play continues until one player reaches 20 or more points below the line, ending the first game. This player scores a 100-point bonus above the line for winning the first game. (If both players tie at 20 or more points below the line, it is ignored until further game play breaks the tie.) The scores below the line are then zeroed out, and another game is played.
When a player wins two games, a rubber is completed. The player ending the rubber scores the usual game bonus, plus a 500-point rubber bonus above the line if their opponent won a game, or a 750-point bonus if they didn’t. The scores above the line are then totaled, and whichever player has the higher score is the winner.
Tong-Its is a rummy game for three players. A Philippine offshoot of Tonk, Tong-Its is a lively game that introduces a bluffing aspect to rummy. Since players are not penalized for keeping their melds secret, a player may declare the end of the hand believing they have the lowest unmatched card total. But if one of their opponents thinks they’re wrong, they can challenge them, and potentially snatch the victory away from them!
Object of Tong-Its
The object of Tong-Its is to reduce the number of unmatched cards in your hand by forming combinations of cards called melds.
To play Tong-Its, you’ll need a standard 52-card deck of cards. You can choose any kind you like, but we really think you’d enjoy using Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards. Scoring in Tong-Its is usually done with the hard score method, so you’ll need a bunch of something like poker chips, beans, or other markers to keep score.
All player ante two chips to a pot in the center of the table. Shuffle and deal twelve cards to each player, starting with yourself. After all players have received twelve cards, deal a thirteenth card to yourself. The remaining fifteen cards are placed in a pile in the center of the table, forming the stock.
The dealer goes first. Their first order of business is to identify any melds they may hold. If they so desire, they may open their hand by placing some or all of their melds (see below) face-up on the table. They then end their turn by discarding a card, starting a discard pile, and the turn passes to the left.
Starting on the second player’s first turn, and for the rest of the game, a player starts their turn by drawing a card. They may draw the top card of the discard pile only if they can complete a new meld from their hand with it, and this meld must then be placed face-up on the table. Otherwise, they must draw from the stock. After a player has drawn, they may lay down any melds they may have in their hand. Then, they may lay off cards on any existing melds they or their opponents have laid down. Finally, the player ends their turn with a discard.
There are two types of melds in Tong-Its, both of which should be familiar to a connoisseur of rummy games. These are three or four cards of the same rank, and the sequence, which is three or more consecutive cards of the same suit. Of note is that aces are low in Tong-Its, so A-K-Q is not a valid sequence; any sequence involving an ace must also contain the 2 and the 3 of that suit. A card must be counted toward only one meld; it cannot be shared between multiple melds.
Notably, unlike other rummy games, a meld still counts for the player if it is kept concealed in the hand. In fact, there is a special bonus for holding a concealed four-of-a-kind in the hand. Keeping melds concealed can be a good idea, as it prevents your opponents from laying cards off to them. However, if you do not open your hand by exposing at least one meld, you risk taking penalties should the hand end before you do so! Remember that whenever a meld is formed with a card from the discard pile, that meld must always be exposed.
There is one special situation involving the four-of-a-kind. A player may place a concealed four-of-a-kind face down on the table. A player who does so is considered to have opened their hand, yet they are still eligible to receive the concealed four-of-a-kind bonus at the end of the hand.
Ending the hand
There are three ways the hand can end: by a tongit, by a draw, and by the stock running out.
When a player runs out their entire hand, they can call tongit and end the hand immediately. A player calling tongit may play out all of their cards by melding them, or they may end their turn as usual by discarding their final card.
A player who thinks they have the lowest deadwood (unmatched card) total can end the hand by calling “draw”. A player can only call “draw” if all of the following are true:
- They have opened their hand.
- They did not lay off to their existing melds on the previous turn.
- No other player laid off to their existing melds since their last turn.
When a player calls “draw”, their opponents may choose, in turn, to either fold or challenge the draw. Only a player who has opened may challenge. If both opponents fold, the hand ends, with the player calling “draw” winning the hand outright.
However, if one or both opponents challenge, the player calling “draw” and all challengers must expose their hands. Each player calculates their deadwood score: aces count one, face cards count ten, and all other cards their pip value. Whoever has the lowest deadwood score wins. If there is a tie, the challenger wins, and if there is a tie for lowest between multiple challengers, the one to the left of the player calling “draw” wins.
When a player challenges a draw, the value of the hand to the winner increases from one unit to three. If you’re not confident that you have a lower deadwood score than the player who is ending the hand, it may be better to simply fold rather than risk having to pay out three chips!
Exhausting the stock
When the stock runs out, the hand ends when whoever draws the last card ends their turn. All players who have opened compare their deadwood totals. Whoever has the lowest wins. If there is a tie, the player who drew the last card from the stock wins. If there was a tie between the other two players, the player to the left of the one who drew the last card wins.
When a winner has been decided, each loser must pay to the winner:
- For winning:
- Three chips if they won by calling tongit
- Three chips if they won by a challenged call of “draw” (whether or not they were the caller or the challenger)
- One chip for any other kind of win
- Three chips for each concealed four-of-a-kind in the winner’s hand
- One chip if the loser did not open their hand
- One chip for each ace the winner held, either in their hand or in melds (note that aces laid off on the winners hand, or aces that the winner laid off on their opponents’ melds, do not count)