There’s plenty of discussion on internet poker forums about the differences between tournament and cash game players.
The general consensus is that cash game players are superior. And while I do believe there is some truth to that sentiment, it is important to recognize that the skills required for each format are vastly different.
The most obvious difference between a cash game and a tournament is that in tournament play, once your chips are gone, so are you. In a cash game, you can always dig into your pocket for more money.
As a result, tournament players think in terms of survival and play their hands to avoid losing all of their chips. Cash game players think differently. They’re concerned about getting full value for hands when they’re ahead and minimizing losses when they’re behind.
Another difference between big buy-in tournaments and high-stakes cash games is the caliber of players that compete in each. Even in the $10,000 WSOP main event, you’re sure to find a high percentage of low-skilled amateur players. That’s just not the case in high-stakes cash games where the tables are littered with professional sharks.
No one would argue that it’s much easier to beat a bunch of amateurs than it is trying to outwit elite professionals. Sure, you might take a few bad beats against amateur players who don’t know what they’re doing. But at the same time, it will be much easier to get all of their chips in situations where pros would simply fold.
You see, beating amateurs in tournaments is all about taking their money by playing fundamentally sound poker. That approach isn’t good enough when playing pros in cash games.
And that’s where Phil Hellmuth comes in. Even though Phil has won 11 WSOP bracelets — all of them in hold’em events — he simply doesn’t get a lot of respect from cash game grinders.
Phil has mastered two of the most important concepts of tournament play: survival is king and bluffing should rarely be used. He also knows that weak players will eventually make big mistakes, and when that happens, he’ll clean up.
Or else he’ll take a bad beat and throw one of his patented temper tantrums!
If Hellmuth tried that same patient, non-bluffing style of play against top cash game players, he’d see his chip stack slowly dwindle away. He’d never be able to trap his opponents; they’d see right through his strategy. Phil would be continuously hammered into submission before and after the flop.
You see, Phil Hellmuth’s successful approach to tournament poker just doesn’t translate into the world of high-stakes cash game poker.
Tournament play demands patience to survive and win. Winning at cash games demands a whole other level of thought and deception. You need to reach into your bag of tricks and run the occasional big bluff to be a consistent cash game winner.
Don’t get me wrong, not all cash game players properly adapt to tournament play and tournament opposition either. They attempt bluffs that might work in cash games but fail miserably in tournament play. They don’t realize that many amateur players aren’t skilled enough to recognize when they should just fold their hands.
I am most challenged by playing cash games against the world’s top players. These games force me to think several moves in advance, like in a game of chess. And though I also find tournaments fun to play, they just don’t provide the constant brain buzz that cash game players crave.
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