The world’s most popular and prestigious poker tournament is undoubtedly the World Series of Poker. WSOP — as it’s commonly referred to — is divided into multiple live events culminating in the Main Event that determines the world champion. In parallel, the WSOP Online tournament decides who is the best of the best in the world of online poker. It’s a thrilling spectacle that attracts an audience of millions every year.
One thing that makes WSOP so compelling is that it’s a freezeout tournament, creating a level playing field that ensures all players have a fair chance at the ultimate prize. Who can forget rank outsider Chris Moneymaker’s Main Event win at WSOP 2003 — a phenomenon wilder than the most outrageous fiction books on poker?
Players with deep pockets can take advantage of other formats to purchase advantages, but freezeouts are totally democratic. Take a closer look at the ins and outs of this popular poker tournament type.
Freezeout Poker Tournaments Defined
So what is a freezeout poker tournament exactly? A freezeout is a format for live or online poker tournaments that does not allow for rebuys or re-entry. Every player that registers for the event pays a specified price (known as the buy-in) and receives the exact same number of chips to start with. As the tournament proceeds, some players will lose all their chips. As a result, they will be eliminated from the tournament or “frozen out.”
The aim is to win the tournament by stacking all the chips and squeezing out the competition. The player who finishes last is declared the winner and gets the most significant chunk of the prize pool. Several top finishers (usually 10%) also receive prizes according to how late they are eliminated. Players eliminated before that stage receive no payouts at all.
Freezeout Poker Tournament Structure
The more players are frozen out of the tournament, the greater the remaining players’ chip counts will be. To keep a consistent flow of play, the tournament is broken up into a number of levels or stages with a specific time period allocated to them. Typical blind level lengths are 15, 20, 30, 45, or 60 minutes.
As each level ends, a new structure of blinds and antes comes into play. As a result, players have to put in more chips to participate in each successive round. By keeping chip stack sizes consistent with the size of the blinds, this rule forces players to play instead of sitting out and waiting.
The Money and the Bubble
One of the most intense periods of a freezeout tournament — and among the most exciting for railers (poker audience members) — is the bubble. This term refers to the period just before the payouts start. For instance, if 100 players register for a freezeout tournament, prizes are reserved for the top 10% of finishers — so 10 players. A few hours later, if there are 15 players left, only 10 will make it to “the money.”
During the bubble, the hand-for-hand play rule applies. This means that every table must finish its current hand before all tables can move on to the next hand. This helps to keep things fair and eliminates the potential for angle shooting, like stalling play in hopes of passing the bubble. Once the bubble has been crossed, play resumes until the final winner emerges.
Freezeouts vs. Rebuy and Re-Entry Tournaments
To fully understand freezeouts, you must understand the alternatives, so here’s a comparison. In a re-entry tournament, players who lose all their chips can buy their way back into the event with the same size chip stack as a completely new player and a new seat. Depending on how many re-entries are allowed, this can really slow down a tournament. It can also be disheartening for recreational players. Imagine taking down a veteran with a hard-won triple-barrel poker bluff only to see them heading for the cash desk to purchase a fresh stack.
In a rebuy tournament, you can rebuy chips while you’re still at the table. It’s like reloading in a cash game. If you rebuy, you won’t be treated as a new player and get to keep your seat. This format favors players with deep pockets, who tend to be pros.
Freezeouts still offer recreational players the best shot at taking down the title compared to the rebuy and re-entry formats. By contrast, rebuys especially are suited to high-roller events. Looking toward the future, it seems that freezeouts will continue to be the most popular format for large-scale poker tournaments, although some players call for a more balanced approach where one rebuy is permitted. This would cancel the disappointment that some players might feel after traveling a long distance to a live tournament and getting a cooler in the first round.
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