The popularity of poker tournaments prompts the question: what makes a good tournament? I should explain, first of all, how a tournament works, which explains in turn why players like them so much. In tournament poker (as distinct from cash games) each player pays an entry fee to buy chips. All the money goes into a prize pool, to be divided among the eventual winners - sometimes the last four or five to survive, sometimes the final table.

So if 100 players put up pounds 50 each, the pool is pounds 5,000. In fact, the total prize money would normally be substantially higher, say pounds 8,000, thanks to "buy-ins", when players who get knocked out early buy in for another try. If first place pays 50 per cent, the winner would take home pounds 4,000; second place might be 25 per cent, third place 10 per cent, and so on. The attraction is two-fold: the chance of a big prize for a small outlay, and the fun of competing against all-comers - masters and minnows alike.

According to the former world champion Tom McEvoy, writing in Card Player, any event which promises a top prize of 50 times your original buy-in or more is a good tournament. He, of course, makes his living from playing in tournaments across the US and expects to get into the money more often than not. For new players, I would suggest that any tournament where it looks as if most of the entrants are playing for fun is worth taking a shot at. You need a lot of experience to learn how to survive in tournaments - simply because when you have lost all your chips, you are O-U-T. As in most things in life, you have to pay to learn.

Here is a strange incident I saw in a no-limit Hold 'em satellite, when McEvoy misread the hands. He was all-in with (A-K) against another man with (A-Q).

The flop came down:


The hole cards were turned. Each man had an ace to make a house aces on tens, so the dealer split the pot.

A couple of hands later, when it was all over, McEvoy's opponent suddenly yelled: "Hey! I had a house aces and queens in that hand!" McEvoy, to his credit, pushed over all his chips and quit the table.