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Updated: May 3, 2024
Poker Cash Games vs Tournaments – Which One Should You Play?

Should You Play Poker Cash Games or Tournaments?

Poker enthusiasts often find themselves at a crossroads, confused about whether a poker cash game online is worth their time or a multi-table tournament is the way to go. Chances are, depending on your personal goals, you will have to vary your game. Both, cash games and tournaments, can win you money and help fine-tune your skills if approached with the right strategy.

Poker tournaments & cash games are two different formats, with two different sets of skills required to be profitable are a good and viable way to make tons of money in today’s poker world. You can pick either one and be profitable with enough hard work and commitment.

How do you make a decision, then? Are you better off sticking to cash game action or should you venture into the exciting world of tournament poker? The answer depends on many factors but this article will help you gain a much deeper understanding of both formats.

Difference Between Cash Games and Tournaments

The ultimate decision will still be yours but to start with, let’s clarify the basic fundamental differences between the two. It is very important for a player to first know the basic difference between cash games and tournaments.

Now that the basics are out of the way, let us dive into the factors that can affect your decision while picking between cash games and tournaments.

1. Time Commitment

The primary and most important factor while choosing a game should always be your time commitment. If a player is short on time, there is no question that they are better off playing cash games. Cash games allow a player to sit down whenever they want and play as many or as few hands as they like before leaving.

In contrast, tournaments often need a large amount of spare time just in case a player makes a deep run. Some of the larger field MTTs can take over 6 hours. So, even though a player may often bust out of the tournament within the first few hours or so, they need to make sure that their schedule is free before the player even registers.

2. Variance

There is a reason why many professional players choose cash games over tournaments. The variance in tournaments is a lot greater than in cash games. Naturally, a player can limit the variance a little by playing smaller field events, but generally playing MTTs for a living means a player needs to get themselves ready to embrace some variance.

In extreme cases, a cash game professional who plays decent volume might not make a profit for over a month just as a result of a bad run, i.e. variance. For an MTT professional, it gets much tougher. An MTT pro can go for over 6 months without seeing any return on investment.

3. Skillset

Just like any other game, poker comes with its tricks of the trade. Every player has skills and tricks that can help them in cash games and tournaments. The skills required for MTTs are somewhat different from the skills a player normally requires for a cash game. Most of the differences are related to effective stack sizes.

In a poker cash game, players start with a pre-determined stack and make decisions in each play keeping in mind the stacks of other players, shallow or otherwise. During cash games, the play is more structured and static. Playing cash games thus requires a higher level of skill and an in-depth understanding of the game.

In tournaments, the stack sizes change all the time and this dynamic play requires a decent level of skill. It provides players with changing scenarios in which they can make profitable decisions. Usually, beginners and players of comparatively lower skills opt for tournaments although this may not always be the case. Tournaments do bring with them the time pressure that cash games do not extend to their players.

4. Blind Levels

The blind levels of both formats are opposite in structure – poker cash games have static blind levels while poker tournaments feature an increase in blind levels every few minutes. Static blind levels in cash games facilitate less variance and almost no pressure on the players.

So, every hand that a player plays in cash games will have the same structure, which sometimes may make the game casual and monotonous. On the contrary, poker tournaments create immense pressure that evolves with time and affects players’ decisions. Depending on the blind level a player wants to play for, they can choose between the two formats accordingly.

5. Bankroll Management

Bankroll management is another factor a player should consider while choosing between online poker cash games and tournaments. The reason behind this is that poker cash games offer flexibility to players to pick a minimum bankroll and play for a variety of stakes. Whereas, in a poker tournament, the players need to have 2-5 bullets/buy-ins for re-entries or re-buys.

6. Prizes

In a cash game, if a player wins the pot, he/she can walk away from the table with the entire prize amount. However, in tournaments, the 1st ranked player gets the largest part of the total prize pool while other “In the Money” players receive a portion of the prize pool based on their rank in the game.

There are many forms this intriguing game of poker can take. Some people prefer the challenge of playing cash games, and others prefer the buzz of playing in poker tournaments. It comes down to personal preference when choosing between both the formats of the game. All said and done, the great attraction of Poker is that it has something to offer to every player.

Strategic cash games or enticing final tables at tournaments, no wonder it is the go-to game for so many card players. Choosing the format by the skills and factors that suit you is the most important thing. At the end of the day, it is all about enjoying yourself and obviously, winning.

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Learn more about Poker

1. Poker Hand Ranking Chart (Strongest to Weakest) & Poker Hand Mnemonic
2. Poker Charts Every Poker Player Should Memorize

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