Poker Game Variations

It is assumed that you already know how to play poker, at least in terms of ranking the hand values and general table rules, and we have posted articles on how the play progresses at the table in an online setting. One thing we haven’t written about in detail are the types of poker games that you will encounter online. This section will explain the different variants typically available to you, to better help you determine which games are right for you.


Poker Game Types


If you have been playing online poker, you will find that (sadly) 99% of all games are going to be of the No Limit Holdem type. Some sites offer Omaha games (usually Pot Limit Omaha) and once in a while you may find a cash game or tournament of Limit Holdem, Omaha High-Low, or Stud. Each of these game types has its own pluses and minuses to offer, but since today’s world is focussed on the No Limit Holdem game, we will assume that all the variants below are based on this format.


No Limit Holdem is derived from Texas Holdem, which is to say Texas is known as the first area to move away from the standard poker games that were being played from the 1950s through the 1990s, those being Limit Holdem (where you can only double the previous bet) and Draw Poker (where you play with 5 cards in your hand and there are no community cards). It has turned out to be the most popular, and by far the most exciting form of poker game, because at any time you can go “all in” putting your chips at risk.


There is a very popular saying that really sums up No Limit Holdem:


            “No Limit Holdem takes a minute to learn, and a lifetime to master”


We’ll only be going with the minute version here as this is not meant to be a comprehensive how-to-play-poker tutorial, although if you read some of the earlier Poker Information articles we’ve posted, you will find all the basics you need on how to play online poker.


No Limit Holdem


In No Limit Holdem, each player is dealt two hole cards, which are his or her own and not visible to other players.


After each round of betting, community cards are placed face up in the center of the table, meaning all players can use these cards to make their best hand.


  • After one round of betting, 3 community cards are turned up (the Flop).


  • After a second round of betting, 1 additional community card is faced (the Turn).


  • After another round of betting, 1 final community card is turned up (the River).


Players who are still in the hand after a final round of betting then turn up their cards and declare their best 5-card poker hand possible. You can use ANY of the 7 cards available (up to 2 in your hand, or up to 5 on the table). For example, if there is a flush on the table (all 5 of one suit) you do not have to have a flush card in your hand to ‘make’ a hand. Consequently, all players in the hand have a flush in this situation.


Poker Game Variants


So, assuming that almost all the games you encounter online will be of the No Limit Holdem type, there are still plenty of variants that can have an impact on the game. We will look at the different options available to you so that you are armed with enough information to get a good understanding of how the play is affected by each variant.


Blind Structure Variations


One of the more common, but often overlooked poker game variations has to do with the blinds. In this day and age, even with the speed of ‘regular’ online poker games being 5 or more times faster than actual live poker games like the ones you see on TV, it’s not enough for some people. Understandably, some players don’t want to play in a tournament that lasts 6 or 7 hours, even if that means you have gone really deep into a tournament and will be in the thick of the big prize money. And the people that run the online poker rooms know a lot of people are just looking for their poker ‘fix’ and just want to play for an hour or two. What’s the solution? Easy. Just raise the blind levels more often!


Regular/Standard Blinds


Every poker room has was they would call a regular or standard blind structure. When you enter the lobby of a tournament, you will be able to see what the structure is for that game.


With Regular blinds, the blind levels start low, relative to your starting stack, and increase on a regular (timed) schedule.


  • Let’s say you are playing in a tournament with a starting stack of 1,500 chips.
  • The blinds will likely be 10/20 to start.
  • Based on a fixed schedule, the blinds increase every 7 to 10 minutes.
  • So after 7 (or 10) minutes of play, the blinds move up to 15/30.
  • And after another 7 (or 10) minutes of play, the blinds move up to 25/50.
  • And so on….


After about an hour of play the blinds can easily be at 100/200 or more, which you will note means you are paying a fifth of your starting stack or more every time the blinds go round. So if you haven’t accumulated more chips quickly, you will soon be in danger of getting ‘blinded out’! And Regular blinds use one of the slowest increasing blind schedules! Which brings us to…


Turbo Blinds


Apparently regular blinds just weren’t fast enough for some people, and the folks that run these games know that the sooner people get knocked out of tournaments, the sooner they can sign up for another one, so they came up with Turbo Blinds.


Turbo Blinds increase at double the speed of regular blinds, but the blind levels remain the same. So every 3.5 to 5 minutes (in the example above) the blinds go up. So now, after an hour of play the blinds will be in the 300/600 range, so if you haven’t been piling up the chips you’ll have almost no chance of staying alive long enough to take down a top prize. On the flip side, of course, if you ARE piling up the chips you will be nicely positioned to pick off your opponents who are struggling just to stay afloat.


Super Turbo


For those that like to splash around their chips and prefer short but frequent bursts of poker excitement, there are even Super Turbo blind schedules. In Super Turbo games, the blinds move up as frequently as every 1 or 2 minutes. You don’t need to do the math to figure out that you either build your stack quickly and continuously, or you’ll get left on the rails with equal speed. Super Turbos are strictly for adrenaline junkies or people who have to catch a plane in the next hour…


Shootout/All In/Lottery


If you don’t even have time for a Super Turbo, then you might as well go to the completely random realm of Shootout tournaments (also known as All In or Lottery tourneys).


In these tournaments, all players are forced “all in” on every hand. No matter what cards you are dealt. When we say random, we really mean random. The best way to look at it is, if there are 100 people in a Shootout tournament, then your odds are exactly 100 to 1… the same as everybody else’s.


The good news about Shootout tourneys is you don’t actually need to be logged in to participate. As long as you are registered for the tournament, the poker software does the rest.


Since there is no actual competition involved when playing a Shootout, most rooms use these kinds of tournaments as a novel way of giving away prizes (in Freerolls for example).


Deep Stack Blinds


Just to be contradictory and round out the discussion on Blind Structures, rooms will occasionally offer Deep Stack tournaments, which feature much larger starting stacks and much slower blind level progression. These tend to be higher buy-in tournaments ($10+) where one of the main objectives is for you to get your money’s worth and not feel like you have to go all in with every good hand to stay alive.


A typical Deep Stack tournament will give you 10,000 starting chips, with 10 or 15 minute blinds, and starts with a relatively miniscule blind level (e.g., 10/20).


Players who like to sit back and enjoy the ambience of the online poker game will enjoy Deep Stack tournaments. Just remember you could be playing for a long, long time…


Poker Game Formats (Tournaments)


The format is another aspect of poker games that can have a big impact on your decision of which tournaments to play in.


Freezeout Tournaments


The standard tournament format is called a Freezeout. This means that you pay your buy-in and once all your chips are gone you are out of the tournament. Plain and simple.


Rebuy Tournaments


Many tournaments now feature rebuy options. A rebuy gives you the ability to add chips by paying another buy-in – of the same amount as you originally bought into the tournament to begin with.


Rebuys are generally allowed any time you have less than the amount of chips you started with. You will receive another stack of chips equivalent to your starting stack. Rebuys are normally allowed only for the first hour of play in a tournament.


Example: You buy into a tournament for $5 and receive 1,000 starting chips. After 30 minutes, your chip stack is down to 700. For another $5 you will receive 1,000 more chips, making your total chip stack 1,700. After 75 minutes, your chip stack is down to 900 chips. You can no longer rebuy.


Alternatively, if you go all in at any point and lose your starting stack, you can rebuy and essentially start all over again. You will receive the same 1,000 chips.


Most tournaments offer unlimited rebuys, which means you will theoretically never get knocked out of a tournament during the (one hour) rebuy period, as long as you are willing to pay another $5 every time you lose your chips!


Re-Entry Tournaments


Re-Entry tournaments are very similar to rebuy tournaments, except that you can only re-enter if you run out of chips. You have to pay the buy-in fee again, and will receive the same amount of chips you started with. The re-entry option is usually only available for the first hour of tournament play.


Add-On Tournaments


In order to add more chips, money and excitement to the game, most rebuy tournaments will also allow you to “add on” another stack of chips for a fixed price right at the end of the re-buy period. To entice players to put more money in the prize pool, you will usually get a better deal for your Add-On than you do for your re-buy. In addition, you can take the Add-On no matter how many chips you have!


Example: You buy into a tournament for $5 and receive 1,000 starting chips. You make one re-buy after 30 minutes (for another $5) and receive 1,000 more chips. After 60 minutes the rebuy period ends and you have 3,650 chips. You will be given the option to add-on 2,000 chips for another $5. You may accept or refuse (i.e., ignore) the add-on request.


Late Registration


Late registration is fairly self-explanatory. Once the tournament starts, if there is late registration available, new players can still join in the tournament which is now in progress. Late registration is usually offered for one hour.


Basically, late registration accomplishes the goals of the poker room (i.e., allows more players to buy-in making them more money and increasing the prize pool for you). Plus, it serves the players needs as you don’t have to worry about being ‘late’ for the tournaments starting time. Nothing sucks more than sitting down to play a tournament only to find out you missed the start time by 2 minutes and can’t get in!


Sit and Go Tournaments


Unlike regular tournaments which start based on a fixed time schedule regardless of the number of players entered, Sit and Go Tournaments (aka SNG, S’n’G, Sit&Go, etc.) are restricted to a certain number of players, and only start once that number has been reached. SNGs are normally aimed at players who like the certainty of a tournament that will not go on forever – a one-table 6, 9 or 10 player Sit and Go usually lasts about an hour.


You will find Sit and Go’s in a separate tab from the Tournaments in the poker lobby. You can see how many players are required, and how many players have already signed up. What happens in practice is there will be a lot of empty SNG tournaments (0/6, 0/9), and one where the players are waiting. If you see 6/9 – this means 6 players have signed up for a 9-player SNG – you are best to register because everyone can see that the table is nearly full. As soon as the table fills up, the tournament opens up and the game starts.


On Demand Tournaments


On Demand Tournaments are simply a hybrid of Sit and Go tourneys and standard tournaments, with late registration. Basically, a pre-determined number of players are required to start the On Demand tournament (like a Sit and Go). However, unlike a Sit and Go, once the tournament starts players are still allowed to buy-in and the tournament proceeds like a regular Freezeout Tournament. You will often see On Demand tournaments under both the Tournament Tab as well as the Sit and Go Tab in the poker lobby.


Time Tournaments


Time Tournaments are tournament with both a fixed starting time and a fixed finish time. They can be 15 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour, or 3 hours in length. Play proceeds as with a regular Freezeout tournament. Players who are knocked out during the fixed time period get nothing. All players who survive until the end of the tournament receive prizes. A portion (and sometimes all) of your prize money will be dependent on and proportional to the number of chips you have at the end of the tournament.


Rush/Speed/Zoom Tournaments


Speed Tournaments (aka Rush, Zoom, Twister, Fast Fold, etc. depending on which poker room you are playing in) are the latest craze for poker adrenaline junkies.


All the players in a Speed Tournament are pooled together, and the tables are randomly populated with players every hand. Each time you fold your cards, you will be immediately put back into the pool and assigned a new table with different opponents, again all randomly seated.


Even by online standards, the pace of play in Speed tournaments is dizzying. If you are getting bad hands, you could be playing upwards of 200 hands per hour or more!


Blinds are determined based on who has played the longest (at your random table) without paying. So it actually pays to play as fast as you can. Speed games are not for the faint of heart.


Poker Game Formats (Cash Games)


Unlike a tournament, cash games are played against the same players for real money. You buy-in for an appropriate amount – the blinds always stay the same, and you have the option to add more money to your stack if you should ever need it. The ‘house’ takes a small share of the pot each hand, whereas in tournaments you pay a fee along with your buy-in. Fortunately, there are only a couple of variations of cash game formats given that No Limit Holdem is by far the prevalent cash game type available.


Standard Cash Games


Standard is a relative term here, because you normally have a large buy-in range from which to choose when you sit down at a cash table. However, as mentioned the stakes are fixed so the game play and strategy are not the same as in a tournament.


Example: If you want to play in a cash game, go to the Cash Game Tab in the poker lobby. There you will see all the stakes levels available. Let’s say you decide to play in $0.25/$0.50 game. This means the small blind is 25 cents and the large blind is 50 cents. Every hand. When you select a seat to play, a box will pop up asking you how much of your bankroll you want to bring to the table. At a $0.25/$0.50 game you can sit down with as little as $5 or as much as $25. You can choose either of these amounts or anything in between.


Cash games are where you can collect large chunks of your bonus money, because rake is being taken on most hands and (assuming you are contributing your share) this is the best way to earn Player Points and generate bonus cash. See our articles on earning poker bonuses for more details.


Speed/Rush/Zoom Cash Games


Speed Cash Games are the same concept as Speed Tournaments (see above). Every time you fold a hand you placed back in the player pool and assigned a new table with new opponents immediately. You can play 10 times as many cash game hands in a Speed game than you can in a standard cash game in the same time.