Can you Leave a Poker Tournament?

Apart from taking home a nice cash prize, there is the obvious bragging right that comes with being the winner of a poker tournament. This separates the wheat from the chaff, proves your other victories were not a fluke. But, you can not always win in life -literally and figuratively. What happens if you have to urgently leave the table because life intervenes?

when you need to leave a poker tourney
You can leave a tournament. But you might get penalized for doing so if you don’t do it correctly. Simply standing from the table, and not saying anything, is not the best idea.

 In this article, I’ll be discussing whether it’s possible to leave a tournament halfway through.

Can you leave a poker tournament? Yes, you absolutely can. There are no rules forbidding you from leaving a poker tournament at any time. After all, no matter how high the stakes, it doesn’t automatically trump your fundamental right to movement. That said, there are repercussions and you might lose your money. But, if that doesn’t bother you, then you can walk away without much fuss.

In fact, most casinos do encourage you to leave the table if you want to take a call, make one or use your phone for any reason at all. But what happens if you leave and do not return until the end of your set? What does the dealer or casino do with your chips? What Happens to Your Stack When You Leave a Tournament?

Leaving a Poker Tournament

There are two distinct possibilities that can play out when you leave and to a large extent, it depends on the information you give to the dealer or floor supervisor:

  • Disqualification: If you approach the dealer and tell him you have to leave during an on-going tourney, there is the likelihood of your chips being pulled from play, no matter the size of your stack. Of course, you’d not be getting a refund.

Poker is a sport and in the spirit of sportsmanship, you are expected to make the best efforts to win.

In this case that would involve competing with other players at the table by ante-ing up, betting, going all in, etc when necessary. Leaving an unfinished game cannot be considered as you make your best effort to win.

It is not enough to pay for your entrance into the tournament, you are also required to play the game to its logical end -until a winner emerges. Moreover, as a player, you are obligated to protect other players in the tournament. Being an absent player does not protect the other players in a full table since you’re making no effort, yet your stack remains in play.

So, it makes perfect sense for a player who asks to leave the table during a tournament to be disqualified and completely removed from play. Though, disqualification is only ever an option if you’re asking to leave and know you won’t be returning. At least, not in time to play in the tourney.

leaving the live tourney penalty
If you need to leave the table for a few minutes or up to an hour, then announce it. You will be blinding off, but it is still better than getting disqualified.
  • Blinding Off: In situations where you reckon you only need some minutes or even an hour but you’re sure you would definitely be coming back to continue playing, all you need to do is to announce your intention to leave to the dealer, then leave the table. In some cases, your seat will continue to be dealt and mucked. You will also have blinds and antes (if applicable) taken from your stack until your chips have been blinded off.

Although some casinos speed up tournament play by specifying that if a player is absent for a stipulated number of minutes or 2 to 3 successive big blinds, he automatically forfeits his remaining chips to the house, his seat is closed, and he is deemed out of the tournament.

If you return either after your chips have been blinded off or the stipulated time has been exceeded, when your seat must have been closed, you still do not get to return to play.

Why Can’t You Just Dump Your Chips or Announce You’re Going All In?

Some players actually consider discreetly dumping their chips around the table as a fair way of leaving a tournament without disrupting play.

If you’re one such person, of course, you already know you certainly can dump your chips. And while you might be doing this for altruistic reasons, it doesn’t make your actions any less wrong. Chips dumping is generally forbidden in tournaments as a rule.

Announcing you’re going all-in is hardly a good strategy if you want to leave the table. More often than not, you might end up winning because everyone folds or calls it, which means you have to sit and play, even though some other players who actually wanted to play in the tournament have been knocked out. That’s just you holding up everyone else from playing because you no longer want to play.

A variation to this would be when you go all in and dump all your chips to one player, thereby giving the player an unfair advantage. It is never cool to tell what you’re holding in a bid to solicit a call and then dump out.

The courteous thing to do would be to sit out. This way, no player is given an unfair advantage or even a disadvantage because of your actions.

Leaving An Online Tournament

leaving online poker tournament
Online you will simply be bleeding the blinds and antes if you decide to leave. When you are out of chips you will be out of the tournament. This is not a valid strategy to get into the min-cash prize.

Online tournaments are mostly structured after real-life poker tournaments. Once a tournament begins, it only ends when one player has won all the chips. So what happens if you want to leave?

In an online tournament, the game is structured. Players receive a stack of chips for each buy-in. These stacks are not taken from their chips total or bankroll, they’re part of the overall arrangement of the game. It is these chips that are used to measure who’s winning, who is losing and who has been taken out of the game.

For the fact that the tournament only ends when one player takes possession of all the chips, it is not convenient to remove any player or their chips once a tournament has kicked off. To promote fairness, every chip that was in the starting stack at the beginning of the tournament must also be at the final table.

What this simply means is that should you sit out, you would continue to post blinds and pay antes (if necessary) until you either return or run out of chips, whichever happens first.

Why Sitting Out is Not A Good Strategy.

A common concern with letting players sit out if they have to leave the tournament for any reason is the fear that some players would employ it as an underhanded means of remaining in the tournament or even winning. But the reality is that this is hardly the best way to win.

When you sit out of a tournament, you’re actually giving your opponents a considerable advantage, as you still have to pay blinds and antes even though you’d never get the chance to build up your stack.

If you blind off your chips and still end up in second or third place, you’re worse off than those who played their best game. And if you’d played, you might have placed better, as it would take a loose event for you to reach the payments and even win pots by sitting out.

Final Thoughts

Poker tournaments are fixed, structured event, with aspects of the game already predetermined, including the buy-in, the blind sizes, the stacks, and the time limit.

Basically, a tournament does not end until a specific number of hands has been played. The play continues until a winner emerges. Only then is the prize money distributed according to the predetermined arrangement.

Leaving in the middle of a tournament would always make things a little bit difficult for your dealer, so as much as possible, try to reach a compromise.

Related Questions

When is the best time to leave for a quick break during a tournament?

I’d say the best time to take a short break is at the early stage of the tourney when blinds/antes are low and if you have a large stack of chips. But why would you want to risk missing a good hand or voluntarily reduce the number of hands you see?

When do I leave the table during a cash game?

I once came across this advice: “play until you have doubled your money, then leave when you have lost half of your winnings”. It sounds like great advice to me. You get to enjoy the game without exceeding your budget too. But many poker pros don’t leave the table until they have played a certain amount of hours. They might also remain on the table as long as someone they think is weaker play than them, keeps playing on it.