Poker cash games or tournaments?

Should I play cash games? Should I play tournaments? Should I play both?

We here at Red Chip love poker so much, we think you should be playing every type of poker you can get your hands on, including Pineapple Open Face Chinese!

But as you’ll hear from our coaches, the two forms of poker can be worlds apart, from overall approach to specific strategy. Even though the fundamentals are similar, a cash game player will develop a very specific skill set apart from an MTT player. Understanding the difference will be the difference between winning and losing.

Featuring: Sweeney, James, Little, Cardner and Soto

Cardner: Tournaments Are the Most Fun, Most Trying

Cardner cut her teeth in tournament poker and never left the scene. She discusses the challenges that come with being an MTT player, primarily that it’s a high-variance game that can be tough on your bankroll. She recommends cash games for beginners as a great way to learn how to play the deep stack, a useful skill in MTTs. Ultimately, tournaments are played with smaller stacks (less than 50BB), so your tournament player will usually specialize in the more technical aspects of playing those types of stacks.

While the possibility of a losing year in tournament poker is very real, the lure of winning hundreds of buy ins in a day or two has a powerful attractive force.

“In tournaments… you’re not going to cash the vast majority of the time.”

Related Podcast: Dealing with Downswings

Soto: Play Both, with a Cash Focus

Soto is well-versed in both avenues of poker, though his specialty as a deep stack player makes his skill set native to cash. So it’s no surprise his advice concerns deep stack cash games, and why they’re a perfect place to start for the burgeoning 1/2 NL player.

Soto points out that in tournament poker, 20BB play has for the most part been “solved” mathematically, so there’s not a ton to learn there once you’ve memorized enough of the push/fold chart. “Tournament poker’s a lot more mechanical,” he says, while cash games are more complex, offering more opportunities to exploit your opponents’ weaknesses. Ultimately, cash games will probably earn you the most, but you’ll never get the glory of turning a little into a lot with a tournament if you exclusively play cash.

“You’re going to learn how to play in a lot of interesting and weird situations in cash games.”

Related Article:: Playing Deep Stack Live Poker

Little: Tournaments Can Offer Weaker Opponents

Little primarily plays large buy-in tournaments, though he does also play cash on the side, especially if he busts from a tournament early.

Even though Little is at the top of the tournament food chain, his reasoning applies to even the lower levels of live play: Generally speaking, tournament players are going to be weaker than cash game players. There are plenty of exceptions, but in general, you’ll find the larger the game gets, the more fish swim into the tank.

Little admits that fame and glory, while not primary motivators, might be a subconscious driver of his tournament focus. Knowing what you’re looking to get out of poker, he points out, is key. Study your reasons for playing as much as the differences between tournament and cash games to find your niche.

There are tons of specific strategic reasons tournaments rule, including the fact that tournament players get to exploit random table draws to make crazy moves that would otherwise be picked up on at a cash game table of regulars.

“The only way to play high stakes against weaker players is in tournaments.”

James: Tournaments Give Greater Competitive Buzz

James has a perspective couched in online tournaments, where you’ll find him 99% of the time. Cash games, he says, don’t give him the same buzz as the shot of competing with other players to take a top prize.

It’s hard to argue with tournaments offer the best reward, even if the rewards are far more difficult to realize in tournaments than in cash.

James goes on to discuss the pros and cons of different tournament variants, and the importance of finding the one that fits not only your skills but your schedule.

“There really isn’t anything better than shipping a tournament.”

Related Article: Why Tournaments Are More Fun