Arts & Entertainment

Poker: Tournament Poker vs. Cash Games

In a typical cash poker game, you don’t face the pressure of having to win every last chip on the table. Instead, you can play a steady, solid game, looking to make a small profit on the night by playing conservatively and making sure you have top hands when you do play.

All that changes when you play tournament poker.

In tournament poker, the stakes continue to climb as the blinds and antes increase. This factor alone necessitates a significant adjustment in how you approach the game, but there are other differences that must be considered.

To win a tournament, you must play more hands than the average player. A conservative approach might get you most of the way there, but to win all of the chips, you’ll need to kick up your level of aggression, especially as play becomes short-handed.

Your stack size – in relation to the blinds and antes – also plays an important role in your decision to play or fold. That’s not an important consideration in a cash game.

For example, if you find yourself dangerously short-stacked, it’ll sometimes make sense to put all of your remaining chips in the pot when you’re dealt a marginal hand like Qh-5h. Situations like that will arise in tournaments when you’ll be forced to play less than stellar cards for all of your chips.

The last thing you want to do in tournament poker is to wait, and wait, and wait for a premium hand while blinding away the majority of your chips.

On the other hand, when you’re sitting on a big stack of chips, you’ll have the luxury of relentlessly applying pressure on the shorter stacks by attacking them with pre-flop raises.  This approach, when utilized correctly, will help you scoop up even more chips on the way to the end game.

Ideally, in tournament play, you’ll find yourself at a table full of weak, tight players who rarely bluff. This is the perfect situation for a solid tournament player to take advantage by playing aggressively.

As you progress through the tournament, however, you’ll most likely find yourself up against other good players who’ll also want to go on the attack. It’s important to be careful against these players because they will take away some of your blind stealing opportunities.

Don’t be a pushover and let aggressive players run right over the table, but at the same time, be wise and choose your major battles carefully. Inevitably, if you and another player are fighting over the same blinds and antes, a clash will occur. When one does, switch gears just a little bit and play a bit more cautiously — unless, of course, you pick up a monster hand.

In tournament poker, the marks or fish at the table are those players that play conservatively; take advantage of their weaknesses. Remember, it’s the aggressive players that can do you a lot of damage; be weary of them.

Strangely enough, the exact opposite is true in cash games. In this venue, conservative players generally do much better than wildly aggressive players.

You’ll need to make adjustments when switching between tournaments and cash games. It’s not easy to do; even top professional players have trouble. In fact, some of the best-known tournament poker superstars become fish swimming in a sea of sharks when they sit down to play in big Vegas cash games.

It’s key that you consider your own poker strengths when choosing between cash games and tournaments.

If you’re a conservative person by nature, tournament play simply might not be for you; stick to a cash game. Conversely, if you see yourself as a player with a more wild approach, you’re probably well-suited for faster paced tournament play.

You can play both, mind you, but that requires a tremendous range of poker skills that few people possess.