Cash Games or Tournaments- Which is Best?

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Let’s Put an End to The Ultimate Debate Between Cash Games and Tournaments

Poker enthusiasts often find themselves at a crossroads, confused whether a poker cash game is worth their time or a tournament is the way to go. Chances are that depending on your personal goals you will have to vary your game. Both, cash games and tournaments, can win you money and help fine-tune your skills if approached with the right mindset.

There are many factors a player has to consider when weighing out cash games vs tournament games. All the way from the time and money available at the player's disposal to the proficiency and speed that a player can demonstrate. All of these go a long way in determining whether you should pick your next game at a thrilling multi-table tournament or eye your next win at well thought out cash games.

At times, the temptation of winning big at a tournament can sway a player's realistic outlook and lead them to underestimate the average opponent’s skills.

So, is it better to specialise in one format? Should you have a certain amount of experience playing both, cash games and tournaments, then take a call? Well, there just isn’t one right answer! Since each one of them has their own advantages and pitfalls, let us break them down for you so you can be on your way to your next pot!

Poker cash games vs poker tournament

It is important for a player to first know the basic difference between cash games and tournaments. Cash games are played for cold hard cash on a single table. There is usually a minimum and maximum buy-in amount, which of course, depends on the stakes of the game. Cash games are fairly consistent considering that the blinds stay the same for each hand.

Additionally, a player can easily quit a cash game at any point to cut losses or try at a different table or even buy in again at the same table after losing a hand. Staying in a poker cash game is always an option. The online cash games popularly called 6-max games are more action-packed as players get to play more hands, more aggressively.

In contrast to this, tournaments can be played on single or multiple tables and the buy-in is the same for all players. Players are all given the same amount of tournament chips in exchange for money. During tournaments, the cost of each blind increases at set intervals, raising the stakes of the game accordingly. Tournament players are in it for the long haul. With tournaments that last from a few hours (eg. Sunday tournaments) to even a few days long. The widely acknowledged downside of a tournament is always that once a player loses all their chips, the game is done and dusted for them. The exception is a rebuy tournament (bankroll permitting) wherein one may re-buy their place in a tournament within a pre-determined time frame. Once the rebuy period expires, the tournament becomes a freeze-out.

Now that the basics are out of the way, let us dive into the factors that can affect your decision while picking between cash games and tournaments.

1. Time Commitment

The primary and most important factor while choosing a game should always be your time commitment.

If a player is short on time, then cash games are hands down the way to go. The invention of “snap” games have made time crunches a non-issue when it comes to poker. With these, a player can instantly join a game at the stakes of their choice and get started.

However, if time is your friend, then tournaments are a fantastic choice for you to experiment. Apart from the Sit-n-Go format which requires lesser time commitment than larger field tournaments, one must be prepared to forsake large amounts of time at the tables in tournaments. At times players may get the chance to get out in a few hours but it is still important to plan ahead, in case one gets thrown into a deep run. That being said, online sites not only offer attractive multi-table tournaments but also tournaments in different poker variants. So you can definitely head on there for variety and thrill.

2. Variance

Although uncertainty and poker go hand in hand, there is a difference in the level of variance that one experiences depending on the format being played. Variance in cash games is usually lesser than it is in tournaments.

Cash games, if played often enough, have a fair chance of generating profits even after a few bad runs. Owing to the smaller pool of players and their consistency variance is under control. Hence, for players who want to grind out some consistent turnovers from their gameplay these are their safe bet. Remember, safer does not always mean cheaper, there are big wins everywhere, even in cash games, one just has to see them.

The high stakes at tournaments, especially multi-table ones, can lead to even professionals going months on end without a win. The chances of return on investment are lower. The variance can be limited by playing smaller fields, but the truth is that multi-table tournament players simply can't resist the chance of bagging a prestigious tournament win. If your ultimate poke dream is to win an exciting tournament and soak up all the attention it brings, then keep testing your skills at them. Leave the cash games to the grinders.

3. Skill Set

Just like any other game, poker comes with its own tricks of the trade. Every player has their own skillset and tricks that can help them in cash games and tournaments.

In a poker cash game, players start with a pre-determined stack and make decisions in each play keeping in mind the stacks of other players, shallow or otherwise. During cash games, the play is more structured and static. Since they are played with higher stacks and give players less margin for mistake. Playing cash games thus requires a higher level of skill and an in-depth understanding of the game. Most professional players opt for the challenge of cash games which give them a chance to prove their fortitude.

While playing in a poker tournament the stack sizes are change all the time and this dynamic play requires a decent level of skill. It provides players with changing scenarios in which they can make profitable decisions. Usually, beginners and players of comparatively lower skills opt for tournaments although this may not always be the case. Tournaments do bring with them the time pressure that cash games do not extend to their players.

Honing your skills for one does not guarantee that they will translate to the alternative play format. Which means that a player who performs well at a poker cash game may not necessarily be able to win big at poker tournaments. This is the reason why most avid poker players prefer to master one form of the game.

So which should you choose?

The discussion above can easily and quickly help newbies determine their preferred format. It can even motivate professionals to try their hand at their less preferred one if they think they have the skill to do so. Considering these three main factors will definitely help you pick out a game format either a poker cash game or a poker tournament. To further help you out here are some additional tips and a quick summary.

While choosing between the variants of tournaments and cash games, one has to take into account other aspects of poker. Poker offers varied tournaments. This nature of tournaments makes it possible for one to choose the kind of tournament that favours their playing style. Single table tournaments to reduce the dynamic play effects that multi-table tournaments bring along. If you are fond of the tournament thrill but afraid of losing all your chips and dropping out, you may pick a tournament that permits rebuying. A Sit n Go tournament is again helpful for those who don’t want to invest as much time as a traditional tournament would demand. The advantages are pretty clear, you invest lesser money and stand to win big but at the risk of much greater variance, i.e., you may lose a lot more often than you would in cash games.

In the case of cash games highly skilled players can gradually rake up their earnings by opting for games with higher buy-ins or gradually build up their fortune. Cash games online offer different stakes. With a poker cash game, you can always cut your losses, drop your levels down by playing smaller games and working your way up. Playing them consistently, can give you an idea of whether your playing style is profitable or in need of some alteration. The room for improvement is comparatively greater in a poker cash game. If pomp and show are not on your bucket list and you are looking for a good time and a better pot, make cash games your forte and keep minting some sweet bucks.

All said and done, the great attraction of the poker is that is has something to offer to every player. Strategic cash games or enticing final tables at tournaments. No wonder it is a go-to for so many card players. Choosing the format in accordance with the skills and factors that suit you is the most important thing. At the end of the day, it is all about enjoying yourself and obviously, winning.

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