One of the more interesting ways to enjoy Video Poker is to take part in a tournament. These are held at many land-based casinos and even some Internet gaming sites. The attraction of huge top prizes and relatively inexpensive entry fees often draws a big crowd, so preregistration is usually a must.
The typical tournament is held in an area separated from the main casino floor, either a private room or a section cordoned off by barriers or velvet ropes. Participants sign up for a scheduled session and buy in by paying a fixed entry fee, which reserves a seat at a specific time. Seating is assigned randomly, often by drawing lots. Large tournaments may be held in several rounds over a number of days, including qualifiers.
The Video Poker units that are used in competition are identical to the machines found on the casino floor, but adjusted for tournament play. The cards displaying on the screen will have been set so that every machine shows the exact same starting position, such as a Royal Flush in spades. Also, each machine is loaded with a fixed number credits and fitted with a built-in timer. For example, there might be 5,000 credits that have to be played in 15 minutes. Some tournaments, however, do not use the timer and are instead based on everyone playing the same number of hands, usually 200 or more.
Every hand played reduces the allotment of credits until it reaches zero. Whenever a winning hand is caught, the corresponding payout accumulates in a separate “Winner Paid” display. All participants begin playing at the same time, and play continues until all of the original credits are used up or else time runs out, whichever comes first. Unplayed credits are not counted in the winning total, so players must set a pace that uses all of them.
The winner of the session is the player who accumulates the most winnings. In the case of qualifiers, usually the top two or three scorers move on to the next round. There may or may not be cash prizes for qualifying. In tournaments with a guaranteed prize, the overall first place winner receives a fixed amount and the other top finishers split a percentage of the entry fees collected on a prorated basis.
In timer-run tournaments, speed of play is important. Most players can handle about 45 hands a minute, but playing as fast as one hand per second is possible. There is no penalty for using up all of the credits before time runs out, and any credits unused are wasted; they could have helped add to the player’s total. For this reason, and also get the biggest payouts possible, tournament players always bet the maximum on ever hand.
There is a high probability that one or more tournament players will catch a Royal Flush, so that’s the only way to win the grand prize. As a result, most participants will play their hands a bit more aggressively than they do when playing alone. By one estimate, players playing super-aggressively for Royals connect on them roughly once in 23,000 hands as opposed to the casino average, which is about once every 36,000 hands.
In fact, one Video Poker expert insists that the only way to be successful in tournaments, short of sheer luck, is to go for the Royal on every single hand, even if it means breaking up a pat full house or four of a kind. He says that when there are only six cash winners out of several hundred entries, there’s no difference between finishing with 600 credits in tenth place or 60 credits dead last, so shoot for the Royal every time.