Differences Between Poker Tournaments & Cash Games

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Today’s question comes from flyinhazard and he says, “What are your thoughts on tournament poker versus cash games? Also, why don’t you make videos about tournament play?”

Flyinhazard, that’s a great question and there’s a bunch of differences, as well as similarities, between tournaments and cash games. The similarities are going to boil down to what makes a good versus bad play, those are going to be the same between tournaments and cash games. Same thing with the math, things like pot odds, implied odds, and all those kinds of things, nothing is going to change, it all stays the exact same.

There’s a bunch of similarities as far as the fundamentals are concerned, but there’s also a lot of differences and the differences are what have led me to focus more on cash games rather than tournaments.

One of the really big things that gravitates me more toward cash games than tournaments is simply flexibility and freedom. When it comes to a cash game, I come in whenever I want, I buy in for whatever I want—within the table constraints—I play for as long as I want, and then I leave whenever the heck I want and that’s a great thing for me personally.

Whereas a tournament doesn’t really allow for that. You come in at the designated time that it starts, but you don’t know how long you’re going to be there. You could be there for 15 minutes until you drill your stack, you could be there for 15 hours, or if you’re playing a WSOP event, you could be there for days and that just doesn’t really work for me and the way that I like to play poker.

Also, another thing is thinking about how long you can stay mentally focused and on your A-game. When I’m playing a cash game and I’m thinking really, really intensely, sometimes my mental fatigue level is going to be like three, four, five hours, whereas if I’m playing a tournament and it’s a longer-lasting tournament, obviously that’s not going to be a great thing. I can’t cap out halfway through day one, that’s not going to be a good thing.

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You have to understand your own strengths and weaknesses, not only as a player, but also as a person, thinking about mental fatigue especially, and how that’s going to factor into which one you’re going to specialize in, going forward.

That being said, that’s what works for me. Some people are going to prefer tournaments, of course, and tournaments give you some added benefits that cash games don’t really allow. First and foremost is that when you are buying into a tournament, what you’re going to spend that day or on that particular tournament is finite. It’s unlike in a cash game where you could easily drill through a few buy-ins and maybe you weren’t expecting to spend that much. You can set a stop loss, but it’s not the same as a tournament where you know exactly what the buy-in is, if there are re-buys or add-ons, you can allocate for those and you have a very finite idea in what that day is going to cost you. Some people do prefer that.

The other thing is that tournaments can obviously offer massive home run potential in a single day or single tournament, whereas cash games really don’t allow for that. On like a super, super, super great day, maybe you take 10 buy-ins out of a cash game, whereas in a tournament you can win 100 buy-ins that day and that’s obviously a massive, massive home run potential that tournaments offer but cash games don’t really.

At least keep that in mind and again, that’s going to work for some people, it’s not going to work for some people. Just understand what works best for you when you’re making your decision.

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The last bit of your question was, why do I make cash game videos versus tournament videos? That’s plain and simple that I don’t play a lot of tournaments. There are a lot of nuances in tournaments that I’m just not familiar enough with. Obviously there are basic things like the constant fact that you have the blinds pressing against you, thus lowering your effective stack size, and at that point it becomes very, very mathy.

In a cash game environment, I rarely need to work on anything like 5 or 10 big blind kind of play. It’s very rare that someone has that low of a stack in a cash game, so I’m not as familiar with it. I could put the work into it, for sure, but at least I’m being honest with you, it’s not something that I work on very much at all today.

The other thing and the big difference is the one life to live mentality. Obviously in tournaments that’s huge, knowing that any mistake can send you to the rail immediately whereas in a cash game if I make a mistake, I can just add more money on the table and I’m right back in business again.

For me, personally, again, I don’t really have enough experience with tournaments. There are tournament nuances that I’m not familiar enough with and thus I wouldn’t feel comfortable giving a lot of hard core MTT advice. I can give advice here and there, especially in early stages when we’re just talking about deep stacked or 100 big blind play, things I’m very comfortable with, when it comes to certain tournament things I’m not as comfortable and I never like giving advice on something unless I’m very, very confident in it and thus I leave that to people like Gripsed or Jonathan Little, people that specialize in tournaments and give very, very good advice accordingly.

SplitSuit

My name is James "SplitSuit" Sweeney and I'm a poker player, coach, and author. I've released 300+ videos, coached 500+ players, and co-founded the training site Red Chip Poker. Contact me if you need any help improving your poker game!

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