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What Are Tournament Overlays and Why Does It Matter?

Dominic Field

Jul 2, 2023

Guide to Tournament Overlays in Poker

Ever wondered what people mean when they talk about overlays in poker? Well, you don’t need to be confused any more! In this guide, we’ll explain exactly what a poker tournament overlay is and why it might be beneficial to you.

What Is an Overlay in Poker Tournaments?

If a poker tournament has a guaranteed prize pool, but not enough players enter to cover that amount, there is a shortfall. The poker room must make up the difference, as per the terms of the guarantee. 

Although this is expensive for the company, it provides terrific value to players. Since there is effectively too much money in the prize pool, prizes are disproportionately large. Think of it the same way as getting great pot odds. Getting involved is a positive EV move!

Tournament Overlay Example

Imagine a $10 + $1 MTT with a $10,000 guarantee. Since the $1 is rake and doesn’t go towards the prize pool, this event needs 1,000 players to meet the guarantee. 

1,000 * $10 = $10,000

Now, what happens if only 700 players buy into the tournament? 

700 * $10 = $7,000

Here we have a shortfall of exactly $3,000. As a result, the poker room will have to put in $3,000 of their own money to top up the pool. This is known as an overlay.

Benefits of a Tournament Overlay in Poker

Benefits of Tournament Overlays in PokerThe advantage of playing in overlay tournaments is pretty self-explanatory. It’s all about value. 

Let’s say you were offered free entry to two identical tournaments. They both have the same number of players, the exact same competitors and the same number of spots paid. The only difference is that one has a $50,000 prize pool and the other $40,000. Which one are you choosing?

It’s a no-brainer, right? The former will reward you better for the exact same level of performance. Finding tournaments that pay more than they should is a good way to build your bankroll and maximise your win rate.

Biggest Tournament Overlays in Poker History

There have been some incredible tournament overlays in poker history. Let’s take a look at three of the biggest we’ve ever seen, each one coming in at seven figures.

2014 - Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open

The 33rd Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open in 2013 went about as smoothly as it could possibly go. Its Main Event boasted an impressive $10 million guarantee that was met easily, as 2,384 entrants stumped up the $5,000 buy-in.

Perhaps the tournament’s success went to the heads of the organising committee, however. Because the following year, just 1,499 players turned up, leaving a staggering shortfall of $2,505,000. To date, this remains the largest tournament overlay in poker history.

2020 - The Big Blowout

Million-dollar miscalculations by tournament organisers are more common than you might think. A case in point is The Big Blowout, a $109 buy-in online tournament held in December 2020. 

One of the biggest and most experienced poker sites in the world offered a $5,000,000 guarantee. But with just 37,673 entrants, an overlay of $1,232,700 was the result. Even the $339,057 worth of rake could barely soften such a blow. It remains the biggest online poker tournament overlay ever seen.

2018 - Sunday Million Anniversary Edition

Almost three years prior, in February 2018, the same site advertised an ambitious $10 million guarantee on their flagship Sunday Million event. The $215 No Limit Hold’em tournament celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2016 with a special 10x prize pool, which proved a huge hit.

Two years later, there was no reason to expect anything other than success when running a similar promotion. However, 34,274 initial buy-ins and 9,701 re-entries left the prize pool a whopping $1.2 million short of the guarantee. A considerable volume of rake greatly reduced the damage, but the operator remained an incredible $545,000 out of pocket.

Overlay Tournament Strategy 

You shouldn’t really look to change your tournament strategy just because there’s an overlay involved. The aim should always be to try and win the tournament, rather than simply ladder up. Don’t worry about the money, just play your usual game and look to win the event outright.

However, something to consider is that the tournament may allow late registration. If that’s the case, as players continue to register, the prize pool may no longer have an overlay. Factor that into the equation when choosing to enter a tournament that looks like it might miss the guarantee.

How To Find Poker Tournaments With Overlays

Tournament Overlay Alert at Natural8Unfortunately, unless you have a crystal ball, it’s not easy to predict which tournaments will meet their guarantee amount. The best thing to do is remain active on popular poker forums and social media. Of course, the more that news of a possible overlay spreads, the less likely it will remain so, as people rush to register.

One thing is for sure though. You’re far more likely to spot an overlay in an online poker tournament than a physical card room. With so many events taking place online these days, poker sites have to put up increasingly competitive guarantees. And since many of them take place around the same time, such as the big Sunday events, there’s always a chance of finding one that doesn’t meet the guarantee.

Overlays at Natural8

Natural8 and the GGPoker network are well-known for intentionally overlaying big tournaments. Take a look at the GGMasters Overlay Edition, for instance. 

The March 2023 event, won by German poker pro Philipp Gruissem, was a $150 buy-in event with a $10 million guarantee. In reality, the 64,622 entrants contributed $9,693,300 to the prize pool, for a massive overlay of $306,700. Gruissem was the main beneficiary, taking home $806,385 for his first place finish. 

What’s more, there are plenty of regular GGMasters tournaments with juicy guarantees to get involved with. Watch out for potential overlays in the following events:

Tournament Buy-In Guarantee When?
GGMasters $150 $150 $500,000 Sundays at 17:00 (UTC)
GGMasters High Rollers $1,050 $750,000 Sundays at 17:00 (UTC)
GGMasters Bounty $320 $400,000 Sundays at 18:30 (UTC)
GGMasters Bonus Bounty $108 $100,000 Saturdays at 18:30 (UTC)

Make sure you log into Natural8 regularly to check for more huge tournament overlays!