– Online or Live –
– Cash Games, Tournaments, or Sit ‘n’ Gos –
– Full Ring or 6-Max –
– Low, Medium, or High Stakes –
– Beginner Tutorials or Advanced Discussions –
No matter the subject, Elite Poker University is home to quick, impactful lessons that will improve your skills and make you a better, more profitable poker player!
The EPU Course Catalog
Use the tabs on the left to navigate everything EPU has to offer!
Welcome to Elite Poker University!
Welcome to the first lesson of Elite Poker University — our series of short, to-the-point articles aimed at making you a better, more well-rounded, and more profitable poker player!
Cash Games vs. Tournaments
Last week’s #ElitePoker articles already touched on most of the basics, and some of the intricacies, of online poker: The rules, vocabulary, deposit/withdrawal methods, and the best sites on which to play were all topics we covered quite comprehensively.
A topic we didn’t discuss in great detail, though, was that of contest formats. I gave you the definitions of “Cash Game” and “Tournament” in my Online Poker Handbook, but stopped short of going into the details of their similarities and differences.
That is the purpose of this lesson: To help you understand these two formats so you can choose which is likely to be more fitting, fun, and profitable for you.
The “standard” format for poker. The chips used in the game represent actual amounts of money. For instance, if a player says they bet “$10”, they are risking an actual $10 of their money. Players can join, or leave, a cash game at any time.
Reasons You Might Choose Cash Games > Tournaments
You only have a finite amount of time available to play. In this case, cash games may be a better choice: You can leave a cash game at any time, whereas a tournament has the potential to last indefinitely. If you have to be finished playing by a certain time, or if you’re only looking to play poker for 15-30 minutes of fun, it’s probably better to sit in a cash game.
You want a more consistent experience, where you can focus on — and experiment with — the fundamentals of your game like hand selection, betting patterns, and card reading. The conditions in a tournament are always changing: The blinds/antes are rising, players are being moved around, each player at a table is likely dealing with a very different stack size, and so on. In a cash game, those variables are greatly reduced: The blinds/antes stay the same, players generally sit at a table and stay there for the duration of their session, and most of the players will maintain a stack roughly around that of the table’s maximum buy-in (because it’s common for players to simply purchase more chips if they happen to play a pot and lose a significant amount).
The consistency of these variables makes a cash game a much more “equal” sort of contest, where each player’s motivation is fairly predictable (acquire more chips), and there aren’t many outside influences affecting that motivation (like being short stacked, near the bubble, out of position against the big or short stacks, etc.).
This consistency is what makes a cash game the optimal place to hone your skills. With everyone, essentially, thinking the same thing (“I would like to have more chips”), and everyone having a relatively large stack (in relation to the blinds/antes), there are a lot of opportunities to experiment with different ways of playing pots.
You’re planning on treating poker more seriously, maybe even generating a second income from it. While you can definitely do this while focusing on tournament play (I did from 2004-2009), solid cash game play is almost always going to generate a more consistent income. Much like those in DFS, the “swings” involved in poker are very different between cash games and tournaments. You could play fantastic, even flawless, poker every day in 1000-person tournaments and go a month without even cashing in one, much less making a final table or winning, and that leads to huge swings in your bankroll and your self-confidence. Swings will always be a part of poker, but in cash games it’s unlikely even an epically-cold string of cards would cause you to take losses for more than a few weeks.
A special format in which a certain number of players each “buy-in” for a predetermined amount of money and receive a predetermined amount of chips. They are then seated at tables randomly, begin play all at the same time, and proceed to play until one player is in possession of ALL of the chips. Usually, the sizes of the blinds and/or antes at the beginning of each hand increase every X number of minutes, which puts pressure on players to take more risks as their stacks of chips become smaller and smaller relative to the cost of playing.
Reasons You Might Choose Tournaments > Cash Games
You’re playing for fun and are okay with having some big downswings or even losing a bit of money in the long run, but are excited by the idea of hitting that one big score. Much like in DFS, one of the great allures of the tournament format in poker is the idea of that One. Big. Score. You don’t get any notoriety from being a successful cash game player: Your wins are small, incremental, and unexciting when looked at individually. However, one big tournament score can change your profile forever (yes, you, Chris Moneymaker).
You’re taking poker seriously, but feel your skillset is a much better fit for tournaments. This is the pool I found myself in when I started playing full time. Cash games could never hold my interest, I’d get bored of seeing the same situations, and the same types of opponents, over and over and over. Tournaments provided relief from that: It’s entirely possibly you could go years of tournament play without seeing a situation repeat itself exactly (I could go into great detail about why this is true, but one reason, among many, is that in a tournament, the stack sizes not only of the players in the hand, but of ALL of the people at the table, are relevant to every player’s decision making and therefore greatly affect each player’s possible range of hands), making tournaments perfect for people like me who want to have as many variables as possible in play (simply put, more variables means more decisions for everyone, means more opportunities to make a better decision than your opponent, means a bigger edge, means more profit).
Add to that the feeling of competition, with a leaderboard, that tournaments provide, and they’re a no-brainer for me.
You’re an attention whore or are otherwise insecure. I’m being silly there, of course, but it’s true that even an extremely skilled and successful cash game player may pass through life anonymously (unless he’s Jeff Mans and won’t stop reminding you of it on the radio), whereas someone with very little skill may catch lightning in a bottle over one week in a tournament and end up with a lifetime of fame (again, hello, Chris Moneymaker).
There’s a reason those with self-esteem problems or major personality disorders (or both, Phil Hellmuth) gravitate to tournaments and generally dislike cash games, and there is nothing wrong with that: Know your own strengths, and weaknesses, and make decisions that allow you to take advantage of the former while neutralizing the latter.