Playing your first international poker tournament: Dos and Don’ts with the Asian Poker Tour Team

With two events hosted in Vietnam this year, the Asian Poker Tour is tapping into new markets with a fair number of players new to the game.

We took a chance during the latest event hosted by the Tour in Ho Chi Minh City to ask Lloyd Fontillas – APT General Manager & Executive Tournament Director, and his right hand man on the floor Raymund Gamier AKA Papi Bear what a new player should know before playing in an international tournament.

loyd Fontillas Raymund Gamier AKA Papi Bear
Loyd Fontillas & Raymund Gamier AKA Papi Bear

Somuchpoker: Firstly, a lot of new players might have some apprehension going into their first “big” tournament. What are the basic advice you can give them?

Asian Poker Tour Team: I would say the two most important things a new player needs to know before entering an international tournament are bankroll management and knowing the rules before sitting down. Just like any other tournaments you enter, you need to know what you can afford and how much you are willing to lose. There will always be winners and losers, therefore manage your expectations in order to make the game more fun for yourself.

On the other hand, many players who just started playing in tournaments have played in small games, eg. home games, before. The difference between home games and international tournaments is that there are strict rules that apply. Information about these rules is easy to find on the internet, so please study them carefully beforehand.

SMP: How about the dress code, and what are the things players shouldn’t forget to bring with them the first time they enter a poker tournament room?

APT: Each house might have their own house rules. For APT normally we put that information on our website, for example if shorts or slippers are allowed, but as poker is a game of sports we do encourage players to dress their best.

Meanwhile, you need to have some forms of identification with you, for example your passport or driving license. Some venues might also ask for a player’s card. Some might charge you a fee and some don’t, but you always need identification.

SMP: Beginners are certainly welcomed in international poker tournaments, however according to you what is the minimum level of knowledge they should have before jumping into the game?

APT: Speaking of that, we had a big surprise today. There was this player who had never played poker before, not even one game. He had only played some house game – 3 cards hold’em. He came here for the first time after finding out about APT through a Japanese channel. He walked up to us pre-hand asking for some tips.

The only tips we could give him were to make sure to act in turn, how the actions work going around, how the buttons work, who’s first to act, the gesture of checking, etc. Of course coming into the game means you need some basic knowledge in terms of what beats what, but at the end of the day you can come up to any of our floor staff and they will teach you all you need to know.

And again, let’s go back to bankroll management. In that guy’s case, it’s the first time he has ever played and at a Main Event so you can imagine what his bankroll is. He’s not here to play a Deep Stack Turbo for $100. He plays a $1000 event, so it all comes down to bankroll management and having fun.

SMP: A lot of new players think the rules will be different depending on the venues or the hosts, but in fact most international tournaments follow the same guidelines. Is that correct?

APT: Yes, basically the TDA (Tournament Directors Association) rules are applied everywhere. The only difference is that there might be some in-house rules.

For players who don’t know what TDA rules are, basically it’s a set of poker tournament rules that was put together globally about 15 years ago. I’m very fortunate to be one of the board members and directors. Every other year, directors from all over the world are invited to sit down to adjust and update every rule. This has become an international standard to help players feel more comfortable going from event to event all over the world, be it APT, WSOP or WPT. I would say 99% of events see the same types of rules, and 1% is the house rule that might apply.

Another issue I hope players will be comfortable with is hearing the mother tongue language in the host country. Here I had a complaint the other night from a Singaporean player, who said he felt cheated when hearing the Vietnamese players talk in a different language about the hands being dealt. Actually part of the TDA rules is to announce what languages will be spoken during the event. Of course here in Vietnam 90% of the market speak Vietnamese, including the dealers, therefore we put our trust in the dealers, we train them to report anything suspicious at the table. Other players should not feel cheated if there are talks in Vietnamese at their table as it’s a natural thing for the Vietnamese players to chat in their mother tongue. Same when we go to Macao, we would allow the dominant language to be Chinese besides English. Again, we hold meetings with our floor staff, local operation managers and dealers beforehand, and train them well to make sure players coming to the event feel comfortable.

SMP: What are the rules you enforce regarding the way chips need to be arranged on the table?

APT: Most players stack their chips 50, 60 high, however we do regulate that their stacks have to be visually countable. Furthermore, the largest chips have to be put in front and be separated out, in order for players to at least be able to estimate their opponents’ stacks visually.

SMP: What about the way to handle the cards themselves?

APT: Cards have to be in front of chips. Here at APT most of our tables have betting lines and we do our best to enforce that, but the marker that we use first to make a ruling is physical card. Any chips going past those cards are considered a bet or raise, which means cards in front of chips, visual to all players at the table at all time but protected. The only way to protect your hand is physically holding on to your cards. A lot of players bring items such as a special coin, a special toy, or even chips to put on top of their cards but that’s negative. Even in such cases a dealer can still mistakenly take your cards away, or other players might mistakenly throw a hand on top of your hand. Therefore, the best way to protect your cards is to physically hang on to it, but not hiding it.

And remember, never throw away your hand until the pot is actually in front of you. Many newbies make the mistake of thinking the action is already over, after making a bet they think nobody calls so they are too fast to throw away their hand when in fact there is still somebody there who has a hand. So if you think you are winning the pot, don’t throw away your cards until the pot is in front of you or has been awarded to you. That’s one of the most important advice I can give to a new player.

SMP: A lot of players like to talk at the table. What are the dos and don’ts regarding this matter?

APT: Table talk is one of poker traditions and part of the game. You can talk, however the only rule is that you can’t talk about or give away the value of your hand.

SMP: Regarding players’ interaction with dealers during a tournament, are there any rules in terms of what they should or should not talk about?

APT: The only time a player should be talking with a dealer is either to ask for a count, or when they are unsure about what is happening or just happened at the table. Other than that players should not be chatting up with dealers about other topics not related to the game. The dealers are there to control the game, and it is very hard for them to do so if players try to engage them in small talk.

SMP: If a player feels that a mistake or foul has just been made at the table, either by a dealer or another player, how should he react?

APT: Part of players’ duty is that if they witness any problem or mistake at the table, they need to call floor. We can only make a ruling when someone, either a dealer or a player has done that.

Besides, we also implement a one-hand penalty right away for acting out of turn. In the past we did warn players first but they kept abusing it, so now it’s a 100% penalty. It’s not a huge penalty but will teach players to pay attention, and by paying attention they will stay longer in the game. So in a way, we help the players by penalizing them.

Lloyd Fontillas and Bear Vietnamese style
Lloyd Fontillas and Papi Bear Vietnamese style

SMP: “Tanking” has been a hot topic lately, and with the introduction of shot clocks new players might feel pressurized too much into having to think and act quickly. Can you give them an advice as to how long they can take to make a decision, and what they should avoid?

APT: There has always been a huge debate about how much time a player gets. Here at the Asian Poker Tour, we make decisions based on the hand’s context.

If the action is raise, reraise, all-in and the player has to call for his tournament life, he will get his time to think. However, if a player is the first to act pre-flop, that’s a different situation. In my view as a player as well, if I’m not playing the hand pre-flop, I will throw it as fast as I can.

The key to run a successful tournament, or even as a player looking for a better blind structure, is that it only gets better if players can play it fast. A good structure can become a bad one depending on the pace of the game. Imagine in a Deep Stack Turbo event with 20-minute levels, if each player tanks 2 minutes, we won’t be able to play a full round before seeing the blinds increase again, and it won’t be much of a tournament. So it’s all about the number of hands we put up.

My advice to new players: Act faster on hands you are not going to play anyway. Sometimes on TV you see players who tank for nothing, perhaps just for TV time. That’s unacceptable and those players should be banned.

SMP: Can you let us know how the penalty system works in your events?

APT: As I mentioned earlier, we enforce a one-hand penalty straight away for acting out of turn, but we do make announcement pre-hand to warn players about this first. We try to keep it at a one-hand penalty as in many situations those mistakes are innocent, however there are other cases when we have to give out a more severe penalty.

For example, we have disqualified one player before for bringing his chips to the bathroom, although it was an innocent mistake. He came from a broken table, went to the bathroom, taking his chips with him and missing a round. When he came back the blinds were past him already, so we had to disqualify him. That’s the worst penalty we have ever given to a player. In fact, that player is now one of the top players in the world – Victor Chong. This was all the way back around 2011 when he just started playing poker with us.

We believe that when players get penalties like these they won’t repeat the same mistake again, and that’s good for poker. Even with the most innocent mistakes, we still need players to learn a lesson and set examples.

SMP: Our last question is about players’ concerns regarding buy-in / cash-out or tax issues, especially when big amounts of money are involved. What advice can you give them?

APT: Here at APT we do our best to assist players in getting their winnings to their country, and to facilitate the process. Regarding taxes, they vary from countries to countries, for example, the Philippines or Macau has no taxes. Here in Vietnam being a new market, minus the buy in, anything above VND 10mil is taxed 10%. The venues have records of each player’s buy-in, how many times they have bought into an event… and they will be paid out straight away after that.

As mentioned above, we do our best to help players to facilitate the money into their bank account, or they can also keep their money with us. We have many players who do that so the next time they come to another event of ours, the money will already be available to them.

In terms of deals when players hit the final table, unlike other events in the world, we assist players in facilitating the deals, and make sure the money is split fairly. We have heard cases when players make a deal to split the money and only play for the trophy, but then the winner doesn’t want to give up his half of the winnings. It happens, so here at the APT we make players sign off first on the deals they have made, then we let them play. And the rule of thumb in a deal is that a player cannot make more than the posted first prize.

SMP: Thank you very much for your time.

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Louis Hartwell

Graduated in Media Communication at the University of Lausanne, Louis Hartman is a co-founder of He began his career in Cambodia as freelance journalist. In same time he was making his living by playing poker every night at that time. Intense learner, he read dozens of poker strategy books to improve his skills during many years. With a strong interest about poker "behind the scene" in Asia and his communication skills, Louis launched Somuchpoker in 2014.

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