Texas Holdem Freerolls
Freerolls are poker tournaments that don't cost anything to enter but provide an opportunity to win real money for the top finishers. Freeroll Texas holdem tournaments are set up and run just like most multi table tournaments with a structure and prize pool, with the only difference being players don't pay an entry fee.
Each online poker room that offers freeroll tournaments has different criteria for who qualifies to enter. Some tournaments may be open to all players, while others may only be open to new players, or players who've played a set number of hands in a set time period.
If you've never played a real money hand at an online poker room a freeroll tournament is a great way to get your feet wet. It provides a chance to win a little bit of real money while you learn how the software works and practice your tournament strategy.
Should you play in every freeroll tournament you qualify to play in?
The answer may surprise you. You can learn more in the section about opportunity cost below.
You'll also learn more about Texas holdem freeroll tournament strategy and how these types of tournaments are structured.
The structure for most freerolls is similar to what you'd find in a tournament where you paid a normal entry fee. Often the blinds accelerate faster than normal tournaments, but not always.
To determine the number of players who finish in the money the software uses the same structure used for real money tournaments. Then the total prize pool is divided up according to the same structure with the top finisher winning the most money.
Here's an example:
A freeroll tournament has a total prize pool of $100 and an entry limit of 1,000 participants. The top 100 finishers win real money. Here's a sample pay out structure.
Even if you get into the money, unless you reach the final table you'll only win pennies. This is true in most freeroll poker tournaments, and even the final table doesn't provide a great deal of money.
Another type of structure involves the size of your starting stack, the size of the blinds, and how fast the blinds go up.
Most freeroll tournaments have blind structures that accelerate fairly quickly. This helps you understand how quickly the blinds will become a problem for players who don't double up early and helps you understand how wild the early play may be.
Poor players take extra gambles when they feel the pressure of raising blinds.
Of course every player needs to pick a good hand and make a play to double up if the blinds get close to wiping them out, but most players start panicking too early.
When should you start panicking?
Different players have different recommendations, but as a general rule if the blinds will wipe out your stack in the next three rounds or less you need to start looking for a staring hand you can move all in with.
When you move all in you may win the blinds uncontested if everyone folds. When you call an all in bet the only way you can win the hand is by showing down the best hand.
Here's a list of starting hands you should consider pushing all in with in this situation. It's roughly listed from high to low, but when the blinds are eating your stack quickly you can't afford to wait so any hand on the list will do.
One simple way to avoid panicking is to understand how quickly you can go from a short stack to an average one. You usually only need to double up a couple times to reach a level where you're out of immediate danger and if you double up three or four times you're usually approaching the average chip stack.
If you're down to your last $500 and double up twice you're suddenly at $2,000. Two more double ups but you at $8,000. See how close you are to going from being knocked out by the blinds to a level where you can tighten up again and concentrate on finding good spots to play as a favorite?
Using Freerolls to Build Your Bankroll
A popular concept is building your bankroll at an online poker room by playing in freeroll tournaments.
The theory is you play in freerolls until you win enough to play at the micro limit tables and continue moving up in levels as you win more money.
It sounds like a great way to get started with no money while gaining experience and improving your poker game at the same time.
While this may be true, it also takes a great deal of time playing freerolls and micro limit games. This doesn't mean you shouldn't do it, but you need to make sure you're willing to invest hundreds of hours to earn a bankroll instead to finding another way to fund your account.
The professional poker player Chris "Jesus" Ferguson supposedly used this method at one time to build a bankroll and at the time it got a great deal of press in the poker community.
Many beginning players assume proper Texas holdem freeroll strategy is the same as you use in regular buy in tournaments.
As you advance in levels and get closer to the money in a freeroll this is true, but most of the time the early rounds are different. This isn't a good or bad thing, it's simply something you need to be aware of and adjust for to improve your long term chances.
In the early rounds of most Texas holdem freeroll tournaments you'll find players trying to build a large chip stack as quickly as possible or bust out. Since it didn't cost anything to enter most players either want to double up a couple times to give them a chance to get to the money or get knocked out early so they don't waste much time playing and get knocked out before the money.
This isn't a bad strategy, but it's one the best players learn to take advantage of.
Here's an overview of a strategy that gives you the best chance to win a tournament while using the poor play of your early round opponents to succeed.
The first thing you should do is determine how many chips the average stack will have when you get to the money. This is fairly easy to do. Multiply the number of entrants times the beginning chip stack for each player, then divide by the number of places that get paid.
A tournament with 500 entrants, a starting stack size of $1,000, and 50 players getting paid has an average stack size of $10,000 when you reach the money.
Of course you only need one chip to reach the money, but by knowing the average stack size you can gauge your chances of reaching the money at any time during the tournament.
If you find yourself with $15,000 or $20,000 as you're nearing the bubble you know you can sit back and only play your top hands while the lower stacks fight for survival. But you also know if you have $4,000 or $5,000 and 200 players are still in the tournament you'll probably need to double up in order to have the best chance to make the money.
Many players track how many times they need to double up to get into the money. In the example above when you double up once you go from $1,000 to $2,000. A second double up goes to $4,000 and a third goes to $8,000.
This means if you can win enough small pots to stay relatively even you need to double up three or four times to have an average stack size to get into the money.
While you want to bust out early if you're going to lose anyway, you need to play to the best of your ability and give yourself the best chance to win every time you play.
This means you need to avoid making stupid plays. It's not strange to see players pushing all in with small and medium pairs, any suited ace, and suited connectors early in these tournaments.
The good news is if you simply wait for your best hands you can usually find at least one player with a worse hand willing to risk their entire stack.
Even if you aren't able to gain much ground while many of your opponents are doubling up you should have plenty of time to build your stack.
Remain patient and look for opportunities to double up as a big favorite in a hand until you reach a point where the blinds are coming close to wiping out your stack.
As you advance in the tournament your strategy should revert back to normal. If you know much about Texas holdem tournament strategy though you'll notice that playing the way described above isn't much different than in normal buy in contests.
The main difference is weeding out the crazy plays early in the tournament and surviving the maniacs trying to bust or double up on many early hands.
If you don't have a bankroll and are trying to get one started by playing freerolls you might not consider your opportunity cost, but if you're currently a winning poker player you need to consider how much playing in a freeroll costs you.
It probably seems strange to think playing a tournament where you can win free money without paying an entry fee could cost you, but it can.
Of course you don't know how well you'll finish in a tournament until you play, but there's an easy way to determine the expected value from a freeroll. Simply divide the total prize pool by the number of entrants.
If a freeroll has a total prize pool of $250 and 1,000 entrants the expected value for each player is 25 cents. This means that every player on average will win 25 cents.
Of course around 90% will finish out of the money and the remaining players will split the money. But you can't accurately predict finishing in the money all of the time. Even if you're a great player you'll get knocked out before reaching the money many times.
Even if you count on reaching the money every time your expected value only goes up to $2.50 in the above example if 100 players get paid.
This brings the discussion to the point of opportunity cost.
An opportunity cost is how much you miss out on somewhere else by doing something. In this case you can't earn your normal win rate playing in a ring game or real money tournament because you're participating in the freeroll.
Even if you're able to play more than one table / tournament at a time, eventually you reach a limit where you can't play another table.
You need to know your average win rate so you can determine your opportunity cost and whether or not it's a good idea to play in a freeroll.
Large poker tournaments can take hours to complete and even smaller ones can often take a couple hours or more. This means even when you finish in the money on a consistent basis your hourly return will be small.
If it takes five hours to win an average of $2.50, your return is 50 cents per hour.
This means that if you're currently a winning poker player it won't be profitable from an opportunity cost standpoint to play in freerolls unless they offer a large possible return. This is rarely the case.
Even if you don't have a bankroll how is the freeroll playing in comparison to how much you could earn in the same time doing a regular job or picking up a side project for a few hours?
Most people make at least $8 an hour before taxes at a regular job, offering $6 or more after taxes. Continuing with the example above, you make more than twice your expected value working a single hour at a minimum wage job than finishing in the money every time you play.
But what if you're so good that you're convinced you'll win the tournament? First place will probably pay $20 or $25 and take at least five hours to play. So the best case scenario is somewhere around $5 an hour.
You'd still be better of working a minimum wage job for five hours.
Does all of this mean you shouldn't play in freeroll tournaments?
How big does the prize pool need to be to make it worthwhile to play?
Only you can answer these questions, but if you use the tools provided in this section you should be able to find the best answers for your level of play and profitability.
The bottom line for successful poker players is how much money they can make. Winning poker players are always striving to find an extra edge and improve their bottom line. This means that if they can make more money per hour in game A than in game B they'll only play in game A. Use this same mentality when deciding if playing a freeroll is the best use of your playing time.
One reason many players start building their bankroll using freerolls is because it can be difficult to make deposits in some parts of the world. If you don't have a credit card or other easy way to make a deposit a freeroll might be the best answer.
Texas holdem freeroll tournaments seem great on the surface, but they aren't always the best use of your time. If you want to see if you have the time, patience, and skill to start with nothing and build a bankroll at an online poker room then freeroll tournaments are the place you have to start. Just make sure you don't give up more than you stand to gain.