Are Cash Games Harder than Tournaments?
When I first started learning poker I would play online freerolls tournaments or buy-in for $20 on a Friday night at a friend’s house. I’m sure that my experience is very similar to many of you. The tournament format has become popular because of television; many players have gotten into the game by watching the World Series of Poker or the World Poker Tour on ESPN and other cable channels.
A lot of poker players have trouble moving from playing mostly tournaments to sitting down and grinding a cash game. Many players believe playing tournaments is the best strategy for online poker. I have been asked a number of times why cash games are harder to play than tournaments? I will identify 5 reasons why moving from tournaments to cash games can be difficult.
Chip Stack Amount
Tournaments guarantee players the same amount of chips as their opponents. Each player in a tournament essentially starts out as a deep stack. In a cash game, chips can vary greatly when you sit down at a table. Even if you buy-in for the maximum amount you likely won’t have the deepest stack of chips.
You should get a significantly larger about of playing time for the money you invest in a tournament. In cash games your chip stack is worth only the amount of your buy-in. You are not guaranteed nearly as much playing time.
Tournaments have a set buy-in, which often attracts weaker competition. If you want to know how to find bad poker players, online poker tournaments are a good place to start. These players feel more comfortable knowing they can only lose a set amount. I am not suggesting that tournament players are not as skilled as cash game players, only that there is a larger percentage of weak competition.
In most cases you will never be forced to go all-in in during a cash game. This is particularly true if you’re playing at the right stakes and with an appropriate sized bankroll. In a tournament format however, you will find circumstances where you do not have an alternative. An example is when you are close to being blind out of the tournament.
Good tournament players get used to taking advantage of short stacks by playing an aggressive style against them. If a short stack is close to making the money they often will muck their hand. This is often where tournament players turned cash game players will get themselves in trouble. In a cash game there is a good chance the short stack will just buy back into the game, making it easy for them to call if the pot odds are in their favor.
Difference in Bankrolls
Cash game players normally have deeper bankrolls and are willing to take more risks when they know they have expected value. This will often surprise tournament players who play an aggressive style, as a cash game player are willing to risk a large amount of chips knowing they can buy back into the table.
Cash game players are much more concerned with the probability and pot odds than the current size of their chip stake. They are looking for long term value on their bets. In a cash game a player may choice to call even if they only have 10 to 1 odds if it will be profitable over the long run. Making a call like this in a tournament would most likely send you home.
Considering these 5 differences, it is understandable why tournament players have trouble moving to cash games. It is not a question of skill, but of understanding that they are a similar but different game. If you are new to poker I would suggest starting with cash games, even if you only have the bankroll to play at smaller stakes. Starting out at cash games will allow you to understand betting patterns and why players make the decisions they do.
If you’re a long tournament player consider the differences mentioned above and try your hand at a few cash games. In the long run playing and improving your cash game skills will make you a better tournament and all round poker player.