PokerStars Festival London: What to expect from your first live PokerStars tournament


The PokerStars Festivals scheduled across the globe this year will probably present many new players their first taste of major tournament action. These events are open to players of all levels of experience, of course, but the emphasis is on the grassroots. You can qualify online for next to nothing, then cut your teeth in tournaments that mimic everything about the highest buy-in events except the cost.

But what actually happens at live tournaments that you might not be aware of? What should you know if you're coming to a live event for the first time? Here are a few pointers that should ease you into this unique world. It is far less intimidating than you might think.

Arriving to the casino

Whether you are buying in with cash, or if you have qualified online, you need to seek out the registrations desk. This should be well signposted and pretty easy to find, but just ask any of the tournament staff if it's not obvious. There's always a small army of PokerStars employees on site, with a Red Spade proudly stuck about their person. Ask any one of them.

Here's where you'll need your ID--a passport or national identity card. Folks, bring your ID. If you've qualified online then staff will cross-reference your details with their list of qualifiers and give you a tournament receipt. The same applies if you're buying in with cash, once the money has been accepted. (It's worth noting that the procedure at PokerStars Championship events is slightly different as they run a unique PS Live registration system.)

It's probably worth checking the dress code too. Sometimes casino premises have a specific requirement for what you can and cannot wear.

To the tournament room!

When you get to the tournament room, you exchange your tournament receipt for a seating assignment. This tells you the table number and the specific seat you'll occupy. The table number is pretty easy to spot (again, ask if it's unclear) and seat numbers run clockwise from the dealer's left. The dealer will be able to tell you where to sit if there's any doubt. You'll also be given a small card bearing a number that you'll need to place face up on the table in front of you. This is your media number and sticks with you throughout play. (See below.)


See if you can guess how you find your table

There's a chance you'll sit in that seat all day, but there's also a chance you'll be asked to move at some point. As players are eliminated from the tournament, tables close and so you may all need to move. A tournament official will come over and give you a new seating assignment. Similarly, if another table has fewer players at it for whatever reason, you may be asked to move. It's totally random which players will be asked to move to fill the gaps, but may well get you out of the big blind, which is always nice.

When you're moving, put your chips in a rack. This is super important. Don't put your chips in your pockets. Use the rack provided by the tournament staff.

Fill in the form

As you sit down for the first time, you'll be asked to fill in a waiver form. This is mandatory. It gives your official confirmation that you will abide by the rules of PokerStars Live events and confirms that you are content to feature on our blogs and live webcasts. Read it carefully so you know what you're signing up for--there's nothing frightening or unusual.


Form filling and registering: It's not so hard

All PokerStars Festival and Championships have some excellent and in-depth reports about them. If you go deep, you're friends and family will know about it. You'll get accustomed to seeing photographers and reporters hovering around the tables to record the action.

The media will use the media card in front of you to identify who you are, so they don't need to keep tapping you on the shoulder to ask your name. (They cross reference the number with a master list of players.) Keep the media card visible at all times, and take it with you when you move tables.


You most likely know the rules of poker, and they are of course upheld throughout this tournament. A flush still beats a straight. But there are certain things you'll be expected to do in the live environment that are automated online, and the quicker you get used to them the better.

First up, don't forget to put your blinds and antes in when it's your turn. The dealer will remind you if you forget, but it's getting pretty annoying for them to have to do it every hand. If you don't have the precise amount, just put a big chip out and you'll get change.

Secondly, make your decisions in a timely fashion. In most tournaments, there's no shot clock, which means there isn't a clock ticking down in front of you, nor a screeching alarm to tell you to act. In theory, you get as much time as you want to make your decisions, but try to act as quickly as possible. Many pre-flop decisions, in particular, don't require anything beyond a hasty fold, so don't delay.


Respect the dealers and they'll respect you

The dealer can usually help with most queries you have during play, but they are not allowed either to count the pot size, nor the size of an opponent's stack. You'll need to track those things. The dealer will however, if asked, be able to tell you precisely how big a bet you are facing.

If in doubt, say it out loud

If you want to raise, say "Raise". If you want to check, say "Check". If you want to call, say "Call". There are several widely accepted motions for all of these things, but the only sure-fire way to make sure your intentions known is to say them.

Here's one thing to definitely remember: if you put only one chip over the line and don't say anything, it cannot be a raise. It is a call only, no matter the size of the denomination chip. If you want to bet or raise, you must be really clear about how much.

Get some food, drink or a massage

If you want to eat or drink at the table, go ahead. There will be waiting staff wandering around to take drinks and food orders and you can usually get pretty much anything you want from the menu. Some casinos offer complimentary soft drinks to players, but you'll need to check about that. And also don't use your greasy fingers on the cards!

Many card-rooms also have a team of massage therapists doing the rounds offering an at-table service. Check the rates--it's charged by the minute--and keep limber as you play.

Get ready for the long haul

2017_Festival1_London_MickeyMay_114255.jpgMost events last for several days and often have two or more starting flights. If you play Day 1A, for example, and still have chips left at the end, you'll likely be looking at a two-day break before you return for Day 2.

You should always confirm this at the end of the day. Find out precisely what day and time you are required back, then enjoy your rest.

Enjoy yourself

Most importantly, have fun. There will usually be a PokerStars Players Party (here at the Hippodrome, it's Friday at 9.30pm in Lola's) and whether or not you succeed in the tournament, the chances are that you'll be in a terrific city with plenty of time to explore.

"We welcome all newcomers to our events and do everything we can to ensure you have the best possible experience," says Jonathan Raab, Business Development Manager for PokerStars. "We aim to make it friendly rather than intimidating. You don't have to wait until your next visit to feel comfortable."

At PokerStars Blog, we have been reporting on poker tournaments across the world for more than a decade, and have watched plenty of newcomers develop into seasoned pros. There was a 22-year-old named Jason Mercier who played his first live tournament in Sanremo, for example. And nobody really knew Mike McDonald when he showed up in Dortmund. He was only 18, after all.

The point is this: everybody has to start somewhere. Why not make it here?

Howard Swains
@howardswains in Live Poker