Recently, we reviewed the national norms for poker tournaments. The purpose of that article was to give tournament players some idea of tournaments across the country to evaluate their own typical weekly games. However, both from our experiences traveling and looking at the data it’s clear that there is a lot of regional variation in the way tournaments are conducted. What are some of the regional differences in poker tournaments in the country?
Regions of the US Poker Scene
Dividing the United States into regions is always a bit tricky. In developing our cash play activity tables and our poker tournament tracking, we started with geographic proximity but also considered the density of poker rooms with six or more tables (our standard for inclusion in our poker map).
The result was the map below. Most notably, Florida, Texas, and Nevada are all their own region due to the sheer number of rooms in each state. We could have done similarly for California. But when we started this endeavor Oregon and Washington had so few rooms that we included them with California. As those states grow their poker scene, we may separate them out in the future.
Some multi-state regions have poker rooms in most of the states. However, there are regions like Mountain where rooms are restricted to Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico with none in other states in the region.
For our analysis, these are our groupings. Note that we only tracked regular poker tournaments in rooms with 6 or more tables. For example, Rhode Island has a poker room, Twin Rivers, but it currently is only running cash games.
Below are the states included in each region for poker tournament analysis.
New England (slate blue): New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut
Mid-Atlantic (light green): Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, North Carolina.
Florida (red): Florida (always its own thing in every way.”Florida man was playing poker….”)
Michigan, New York, Ohio (light purple): Michigan, New York, Ohio
Midwest Central (aqua): Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri
South Central (dark purple): Mississippi, Arkansas, Lousiana, Oklahoma
Texas (orange): Texas (oh my – how Texas poker has blossomed in the last 10 years!)
Mountain (dark green): Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico
Nevada (blue): Nevada (the granddaddy of them all)
West Coast (light blue): California, Oregon, Washington
Regional Differences in Poker Tournaments: Buy-Ins
Buy-in amounts for weekly tournaments range widely, from as low as $5-$10 to as high as $500. Many rooms shut down and/or eliminated tournaments during the height of the pandemic. As they reopened, poker rooms re-evaluated the value of poker tournaments compared to cash play. In the region we primarily play, New England, many rooms failed to bring back tournaments at all. And those that did increased their buy-ins, creating a higher per entry profit for the rooms. Finding a tournament under $100 in New England, once very common, become challenging.
After collecting these tournament numbers, we were curious as to what the various regions offered. For one, we wanted to know whether our sense that New England had become relatively expensive was indeed the case. The table below shows 1) the number of weekly tournaments in each region 2) the median cost of tournament buy-ins and 3) the distribution of buy-ins into 4 buckets.
Region Number of Tournaments Median Buy-In$50 or less$51 to $100$101 to $200More than $200New England28$15514%18%43%25%Mid-Atlantic67$1400%16%63%21%Florida164$10010%41%43%6%Michigan-New York-Ohio126$5540%38%17%4%Midwest Central68$1101%44%44%10%South Central64$1000%61%34%5%Texas*234$5051%18%25%6%Mountain48$10010%50%35%4%Nevada291$8510%61%21%7%West Coast201$7527%43%23%6%
New England and the Mid-Atlantic are the two most expensive regions to play a poker tournament, with most tournaments being over $100. The medians are $155 and $140 respectively. On the positive side, when high buy-ins are paired with large fields the potential payouts can be sizable. At the other end of the spectrum, the Michigan-New York-Ohio and Texas regions offer a lot of tournaments under $100. However, most Texas rooms operate under a “membership” model where you pay a membership fee to play poker. So figuring out exactly how much a tournament actually costs in Texas is tricky. Make sure you do your research before playing in tournaments there.
Nevada, mostly represented by Las Vegas, offers a lot of lower-end price points. Almost three-quarters of tournaments are $100 or less. Venues such as the Atlantis, Horseshoe, Sahara, and South Point all have many low-cost options. The Venetian and Wynn are the highest ticket tournaments in town. If you’re looking for the best poker tournaments to play in Las Vegas, we can help.
Regional Starting Chip Stacks
Starting chip stacks are not as critical as overall tournament structure. However, deep starting stacks are one component allowing decent quality play longer into tournaments. Interestingly, larger starting stacks (20,000 or more) tend to be characteristic in rooms at or near the East Coast. They are actually fairly rare elsewhere, with the exception of Texas and Nevada where the median hovers around 20,000 chips.
Region Number of Tournaments Median Starting Stack10,000 or less10,001 to 15,00015,001 to 20,000More than 20,000New England2830,0000%0%32%68%Mid-Atlantic6720,0004%16%31%48%Florida16420,00026%18%32%25%Michigan-New York-Ohio12625,0009%11%25%56%Midwest Central6915,0001%44%44%10%South Central6412,00041%32%17%10%Texas23720,00023%27%16%35%Mountain4810,00073%21%0%6%Nevada29120,00019%23%36%21%West Coast20613,00043%31%15%12%
Again, starting chip stacks are not the most important feature of a tournament structure. However, all else equal, if you start with 30,000 instead of 10,000 chips you’ll generally have the ability to play deep stack poker for several early rounds.
Regional Differences in Poker Tournaments: Structures or S Point Calculations
In our previous article, we explained S-Points (structure points) in greater depth and you can also read the creator’s explanation and use his calculator. In short, S-Points are a calculation that helps you determine how much “quality” play a tournament provides. They take into account starting stacks, length of blind levels, and how quickly the levels go up. If you are playing in an early afternoon tournament with 10 or less S-Points, feel free to make dinner plans. That bingo tournament will be done in about 3 hours at best, and you’ll be in shove or fold mode within about 90 minutes. Alternately, if you’re playing in a tournament with 50 S-points you can be more patient, but be prepared for a late bedtime if you run deep.
As you would hope, the higher buy-in tournaments in New England and the Mid-Atlantic translate to a lot more well-structured, longer tournaments. Florida tournaments have structures similar to the Mid-Atlantic, with most of its tournaments over 20 S-points. Florida tournaments are thus often six or more hours in length. Conversely, in the middle of the country, you will find mostly quick hitters with very few long affairs.
Nevada, mostly Las Vegas, offers the most interesting profile. There are a lot of fast-paced, luck-driven affairs at rooms like the Atlantis, Sahara, Horseshoe Las Vegas, and Caesar’s Palace. But there are also higher buy-in tournaments with good structures at rooms such as The Venetian, the Wynn, and Resorts World Las Vegas. Resorts World, in particular offers a nice value for $160 buy-in with 40 S-points.
Region Number of Tournaments Median S Points10 or under11 to 2021 to 3536 or moreNew England14380%14%21%64%Mid-Atlantic45340%4%64%31%Florida115280%17%51%32%Michigan-New York-OhioNot Enough Structure Sheets to SummarizeNANANANANAMidwest Central38203%53%39%5%South Central27200%52%44%4%Texas2072016%36%39%9%Mountain213143%0%43%14%Nevada2401241%27%10%22%West Coast962011%39%48%2%
Average Poker Tournament Field Size
More good news for New England poker players paying those high buy-ins. The payouts in New England tournaments are often be big! Nearly half of New England tournaments get 100 or more players. And these numbers do not even count Encore Boston Harbor which just restarted a couple of weekly poker tournaments in late July 2023. New England does not offer many tournaments anymore, and those that exist are high priced affairs. But they offer good structures and attract big fields.
Region Number of Tournaments Median Number of Entries25 or under26 to 5051 to 100More than 100New England14847%14%36%43%Mid-Atlantic50524%42%52%2%Florida139506%47%33%14%Michigan-New York-Ohio504612%44%36%8%Midwest Central44557%34%50%9%South Central554413%53%29%5%Texas2102649%30%15%6%Mountain446414%18%48%20%Nevada1923525%43%16%16%West Coast735623%37%29%11%
For most other regions, tournaments tend to be in the 40 to 60 player range. However, Texas, with its dozens of rooms and hundreds of weekly tournament options, gets spread more thinly. Although there are a smattering of large tournaments, most tend to garner under 50 players, with about half getting only 25 entries or less. Nevada (i.e. Las Vegas) continues to show wide diversity with a fair number of small, medium, and large tournaments.
Summary of Regional Differences in Poker Tournaments
As we’ve collected both cash and tournament metrics from across the country, it has become clear that there are significant regional disparities in how poker is played across the country. In the case of tournaments, New England and the Mid-Atlantic offer largely expensive, large, and long affairs. Conversely, in Texas, you’ll have lots of cheap options, mostly with small fields and fast structures.
Get to Vegas (and to some extent Florida) and the poker tournament world is your oyster – big and small, expensive and cheap, it’s all there. But you’ll need to do research to determine which tournaments meets your needs. As a reminder, you can find specific tournament details on our Poker Tournament Activity page. And if you’re more a cash player, check out our Cash Poker Activity page.
Each area of the United States puts its unique stamp on poker tournaments. This diversity is an exciting opportunity for the poker traveler as they journey through the country.
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