There are two ways to make money at poker: sticking to the tournament scene or grinding it out in cash games. You’ll need to learn a vastly different skill set to consistently grow your bankroll in each environment because each venue tends to attract a specific kind of player.
Recreational players are more apt to play in tournaments whereas higher skilled players usually favor cash games. That’s an important distinction because the better skilled your opponents are, the more creativity and sophistication you’ll need to bring to the table.
You see, not every poker player has what it takes to make the transition from tournaments to cash games, or vice versa. Even some of the best known tournament TV pros don’t have the necessary tools to consistently win against tough cash game competitors. Sure they can beat a table full of novices in a tournament. But it’s not uncommon for them to immediately blow their winnings in a cash game soon after. It’s a cycle that has been repeating for the past 20 years.
Many of the best cash game pros simply don’t respect the stars of TV poker. The celebrities of the small screen get plenty of recognition and notoriety but cash game pros believe they have the superior poker skills – hands down and end of story.
Well, they’re only half right.
While it’s true that cash game specialists tend to have a significant advantage over tournament players in a money game, tournament players often are able to outplay the least skilled cash players because they know how to exploit their weaknesses.
And tournament specialists also understand that the single most critical element of tournament poker is survival. These players are very careful to protect their chip stack, even if that mindset occasionally costs them some value.
A cash game player, on the other hand, is all about getting full value for every hand they play. As a result, when these players compete in tournaments, they often find themselves in situations where they risk their tournament lives in marginal situations. In tournaments, cash game players will inevitably make this type of mistake; seasoned tournament players rarely will.
Take a look at how cash game and tournament tables compare.
You’ll usually find five or six pros, one grinder, and a couple of truly bad players at a typical cash game table. It’s reversed in a tournament where you’ll likely see only one or two solid players, a few average ones, and the remainder all novices.
That highlights another interesting consideration: Cash game players are better at making skillful plays and sophisticated bluffs. The irony is that these tactics just aren’t effective against the bad players that populate tournament tables.
You beat bad players by letting them beat themselves. Nobody understands that better than experienced tournament veterans. These players consistently focus on fundamental play and wait for bad players to dump off all of their chips. And trust me, they will.
That approach doesn’t work in cash games and that’s why tournament players are often overmatched. Skilled cash game players don’t make enough mistakes for an A-B-C poker style to work. To beat the best cash players, you need to think strategically and figure out how to get maximum value for your good hands.
So which players are better? I’d give the edge to cash game players over tournament players, but only by a slim margin.
Your goal, however, should be to excel in both styles of play. Learn how to beat weak amateurs in tournaments and tough pros in cash games. That’s what really makes a truly competent and complete poker player.