Many players devote time to both disciplines, trying to become a master at both. There’s obviously value to learning both well as it affords you flexibility. Being a hybrid will also help you when it comes to live poker. If you bust a tournament, there’s usually cash games running! But it is important to know which one is more suited to you. It may be that you play one 90% of the time and the other the rest. It is important to know which to dedicate yourself to as it will shape your poker decisions, the money you earn and how many hours you play too.
This article will explain what is required for both forms, asking you to answer which is relevant for you. I recommend giving a tick to each one that applies to you, when you get to the end of the article, the one with more ticks should probably be the one you focus more time and energy on.
Have a pen and paper ready for your tally of ticks.
How Flexible Are You?
Does your personal life dictate poker needs to be flexible? If so, cash games are probably can up your street. You can get up and leave whenever you want. You can sit and play 8 hours or 1, there are no rules or regulations when it comes to how long you play for. This flexibility is ideal for players who have commitments and do not have the free time to commit to playing long sessions.
Tournament poker is a different animal. You register and you must stay for the duration. Whilst online poker is played quicker than live poker, it still takes a long time to take it down. Many online poker tournaments have thousands of entrants and navigating through them is no picnic. You get a 5 minute break every hour but is that enough?
If flexibility is a must then it’s a tick for cash games, if it’s not a problem, a tick for tournaments.
How Risk Averse Are You?
Every form of gambling has an inherent risk with it. Poker is a game of skill in the long run, but it’s subject to risk every session you play. The question of how risk averse you is relevant though as a person happy to gamble, is probably going to more suited for cash games. If you are nervous about losing tangible money, you probably will play scared in cash games. Tournament poker might be more suitable as you know what the buy in is when you register. It’s a fixed fee and if you bust, you know what you’ve lost and it’s capped.
Cash games require a certain mindset. You need to separate the thought of money and see it as blinds or chips so that you can make the best decisions possible. If you are worrying about making a call or a bluff because it costs money, then you probably shouldn’t be playing.
If you are naturally very risk averse, tournament poker gets a tick, if you are mentally fine with gambling for money, then it’s a tick for cash games.
What’s Your Attention Span Like? Prone to Boredom?
This may seem an odd question but if you want to play cash games, you need an excellent attention span. Cash games can seem monotonous after a while as the blinds and players are the same. You’re at the same table and things may seem repetitive.
Tournament poker is dynamic and changing. You’re moved tables a lot, the blinds are always increasing, and your stack is constantly changing. This environment is less likely to cause boredom. Let’s face it, when you lose interest and bored, you are prone to making mistakes. You want to avoid mistakes when playing so its important to recognise the differences between cash games and tournaments.
If you have excellent attention span, give cash games a tick, if you get bored quickly, give tournaments a tick.
Are You Technical or Strategic?
This may seem like an unusual question to ask but allow me to elaborate. Technical poker is the ability to learn advanced, deep stack poker playing. Strategic poker is an overall strategy that guides your mentality. The former is ideal for cash games and the latter is required for tournaments. That is selling tournament poker experts short a little, but the underlying point is true.
Deep stack poker playing is what cash games offer. They require advanced thought and poker playing. From river check raise bluffs to triple barrel bluffs and overbet bluffs. Cash games will often be played with 200 big blinds or more. This is not the case in tournament poker, where 50 big blinds is considered a great stack a few hours in! These stack sizes eliminate some of the advanced poker concepts that can be used post flop. To expand on this further, general short and big stack poker can help guide you through a tournament. Couple this with push/fold strategy and you can probably do well at micro stakes.
If you are very technical then tick cash games, if you prefer general strategy, tournament poker gets a tick.
Money or Prestige?
People play poker for different reasons. Some play for fun, some play to play pass time. Most play to earn the most they can and some play for prestige and glory.
It may strike you as unusual to ask which is more important to you. After all, if you win, money is there with prestige at the end. However, if money is your sole goal then cash games are going to be better for you. Cash games produce quicker results than tournaments and a more steady return on investment. Tournament poker bears results over time and is all about the long game. A good in the money rate is anything over 15% or so. That means 85% of the time, you won’t even get your money back.
If the prestige of winning is more important, than tournament poker is perfect for you. Winning tournaments comes with a lot of prestige. It’s a great ego boost to best thousands of poker players and win hundreds of times your buy ins too. Prestige doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Many poker players use this as motivation to win. Look at the prestige that comes with winning events like the WTP or WSOP. You go down in history books as a winner. Prestige can come with cash games too but it’s definitely rarer. You can be a big long term winner at cash games and do so in anonymity.
If money is more important than prestige, give cash games a tick, if prestige is just as important, give tournament poker a tick.
Conclusion on Cash Games or Tournaments
Time to mark up your scores. How did you do? Did the results surprise you? Sometimes, people play poker out of habit and don’t know why they play one form over the other. Hopefully this article has helped you think about whether you are playing the right form and at the right ratio. Or, perhaps this article has re-enforced what you already do.
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This article was written in 2020 and has been updated.