Cash Games or Tournaments? Which One Should I Play?


Cash games and tournaments are the two basic types of poker games. Whether to focus on tournament poker strategy or cash game poker strategy is one of the most often requested questions you'll hear from aspiring poker players. Which one do you think you should pick?


Main Differences Between Cash Games and Tournaments

1. There is only one table for cash games. Tournaments can be played on a single table or on multiple tables.

2. Players in cash games exchange money for chips, and there is normally a minimum and maximum buy-in amount based on the stakes. In tournaments, all players pay the same entry fee and receive the same amount of tournament chips.

3. A player may leave a cash game at any moment and exchange any remaining chips for cash. Tournaments finish when one player has all of the chips. Players are paid based on their place in the competition.

4. The blinds in cash games remain the same for each hand, depending on the stakes (e.g., $5/$10). The cost of the blinds rises throughout tournaments (e.g., increase every 15 minutes).


5. If you lose your chips or money in a cash game, you can buy in and continue playing. In a tournament, if you lose all of your chips, you're done and out of the game.

Pros of Cash Games

1. There are a lot less swings.

 You will never witness the awful downswings experienced by tournament players. A skilled tournament player can have a losing year if they run poor enough. For a strong cash game player, a similar run would be impossible, as long as the player puts in enough volume.


2. The ability to choose your own lifestyle.

 While tournaments have a registration time, cash games allow you to sit and play for as long as you like. Cash games allow you to play for as little as 30 minutes or as long as a 12-hour marathon.


When most people think of a poker player's life as one of freedom, they see a cash game player.


The psychological benefit of effectively "controlling your own fate" cannot be overstated. It's akin to the euphoria experienced by successful small company owners following each self-issued paycheck.


3. There is now more opportunity for analytical play.

You can focus on your deep stack post-flop game and attacking your opponents instead of worrying about pay jumps and blind level increases.


4. Less of a financial investment is required.

While it's questionable if 100 buy-ins are sufficient for tournaments, 40 to 50 buy-ins are more than plenty for any cash game grind.


Cons of Cash Games

1. It may be exhausting.

You won't go from rags to riches in a single session due to the lack of pay jumps. Of course, some may not consider this a disadvantage, but even the most devoted grinders will eventually be tired of the repetition of cash games. Seeing the same chip colors, blinds, and regulars again and over may quickly wear a person down.


2. Regs, regs, regs, regs, regs, regs, regs, regs, regs, regs

Because it necessitates a deeper understanding of the game, stronger players prefer to play more cash. Cash games attract clever players who are prepared to put in a lot of effort to reach their dream lifestyle because of the flexibility and lower variation they provide.


3. The rake is frequently greater.

A solid cash game poker strategy prepares you for both the rake and the players, especially at the micro stakes.


In cash games, you'll be raked once for each buy-in, however in tournaments, you'll only be raked once for each buy-in. It's effectively a winner's tax in cash games. It's only an entrance fee in tournaments.


4. There aren't going to be any big paydays for you.

Even the worst cash game sessions provide "only" a 15-20 buy-in profit, and the majority of excellent sessions yield +2-3 buy-ins at best. Tournaments, on the other hand, are the total opposite, with large 100+ buy-in payouts at the top of so many payout structures.


Pros of Tournaments

1. When you win, it's a huge win.

While winning first place (or any other top three finish) is a rare occurrence, it will significantly increase your buy-in. It's feasible to win a millions of dollars in a 2 to 5 day session if you play big stakes tournaments. It's almost hard to obtain the same in a few cash game sessions.


Certain tournaments have the extra benefit of bringing fame and money together. Tournaments seem to be pretty much your only shot of becoming the next poker superstar to be profiled by the mainstream media.


2. Play against recs rather than regs in this game.

Tournaments draw more recreational players than any other poker format since they are a mainstay of poker TV shows. Poker is more of an experience for recreational gamers than a money-making venture.


Experiential learning opportunities, such as competing in a poker tournament against professionals, are appealing. The goal and desire of reaching a large final table is enough to keep the fire going.


3. Play high-stakes games against opponents that aren't very good.  

While one might believe that poor players would not endure long in tournaments, the extreme unpredictability of short stack tournament play means that the converse is frequently true.


When the stakes are high enough, you can find yourself playing against a massive fish deep in a tournament. Consider the following scenario:


This makes competitions enjoyable for both recreational and competitive players. The recs get to compete for big money and pursue their poker aspirations, while the regs are placed against weaker opponents than you'd anticipate at such low stakes.


Cons of Tournaments

1. There's so much variation.

Variation in tournaments may be ridiculous. W While the variance has many advantages, the financial and psychological fluctuations are too great for many people. If variance is your number, live tournament players will experience losing months and perhaps years on a regular basis. If you exercise excellent bankroll management, your wallet will be capable of handling it, but your self-confidence may not.


2. Large amounts of money are required.  

When compared to cash games, the bankroll requirements for a great tournament player are quite high. You will encounter terrible downswings as a tournament player, and your bankroll must be able to endure them.


According to conservative estimates, at least 100 buy-ins are required for tournaments, however others would argue that this is insufficient. Overall, you'll need a solid safety net in case you fall, which would be an unavoidable part of every tournament player's life.


3. It takes a long time.  

You will not have any winnings until you have defeated a few opponents and entered the money. Even if you make the money, you won't be compensated appropriately for your time till the event is over.


Every second spent in the event was for naught if you blow out outside the money.



There are a lot of distinctions between tournament poker and cash game poker, as you can see. While some of these changes may have only a little influence on preferences, others will have significant strategic implications. If you're not currently considering these strategic implications, it's time to adjust your strategy.


Find the game format that best suits you, make the strategic changes we discussed here, and work your tail off to become the best player you can be in that format. With enough practice and dedication, you may begin to make a significant profit and realize all of your poker ambitions.

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