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Playing In A Poker Tournament? Here’s Why You Should Buy-In Early

by Jonathan Little |  Published: Jan 16, 2019


A little-known tip that professional poker players often discuss but recreational players never consider is that you should register for most poker tournaments you plan to play well before they actually start, assuming you think you have an edge.

This issue was recently accentuated for me when I played a large tournament series featuring numerous side events. Many more players showed up than expected for the main event, resulting in there being little-to-no-room for the other tournaments. Because of this, if you signed up for a side event on the day it started, you were almost certain to be an alternate. This resulted in alternates not being able to take their seats for about four hours, missing the opportunity to play deep-stacked poker.

Instead of showing up when the tournament started and complaining because I couldn’t get a seat, I signed up early, allowing me to play deep stacked with lots of recreational players. Clearly it is more profitable (and fun) to be in the action.

Another reason you should sign up early is because, in general, recreational players sign up early and professionals sign up late. This is because most recreational players know which events they plan to play because they are only playing one or two events. Professionals plan to play any event they can as long as they are not in another event. This results in recreational players signing up for exactly the events they want to play and pros waiting until the last minute, which leads to most starting fields being quite soft. (One exception to this are the high roller events, because most pros make a point to plan ahead for them.)

In most casinos, players are seated using a system that essentially ensures you will be at the same table with some of the people who sign up near the same time you do. If you sign up when all of the professionals are signing up, expect to be at a difficult table. Since pros often register late, you should make a point to not register then.

Taking this one step further, it is usually a good idea to register for a tournament exactly when a large satellite to that event concludes. This will result in you getting to play with the winners of the satellite, many of which will be playing well out of their comfort zone due to being forced to play a different tournament structure than the one they just played, and for significantly more money.

By using these tactics, I have made a huge amount of money compared to some of my peers who register whenever they feel like it. Remember, you make money from poker by playing against players who are worse than you. If you can improve your seat in a tournament, making it drastically better by simply signing up at an intelligent time, then you should. ♠

Jonathan LittleJonathan Little is a two-time WPT champion with more than $6 million in tournament winnings. Each week, he posts an educational blog and podcast at, where you can get a FREE poker training video that details five things you must master if you want to win at tournament poker. You can also sign up for his FREE Excelling at No Limit Hold’em webinars at