Cash vs Tournament Poker Game Strategy

versusWhen people are learning the different aspects of poker play, one of the most important to understand is the type of game you are playing, what else you can play and the differences between them.

There are two main types of poker play you can participate in, these are cash games and tournament games.

We will get into the bigger differences shortly, but to simplify these, a cash game is a single game on a table where you play for the cash pot you all collectively put together. A tournament game is where you play with a fixed amount of chips, and the aim is to get as far as possible in the tournament and end the winner by being the only player left with chips.

How you approach your poker gaming is based on your feelings towards poker. Some players are naturally conservative when they play, while others will constantly take risks and be aggressive on the table. Regardless of who you are, you will have to change how you play depending on if you are in a cash game or tournament game because they both require different types of play.

They also both require different situational types of play too, especially in a tournament. If you are in the first hand of a tournament, or you are in the last few hands and potentially going to win, you will play the game in very different ways.

Different strategies for different games and game situations are available. The key for most players is to simply have one and have an idea of what you want to do as a player. There will be a time to step back and play safe, and a time to go all out and be aggressive, you need to get this right and have some kind of idea about when these situations are activated.

The Benefits of Playing Poker Cash Games

poker cash game

If you are looking at playing cash poker games then here are some of the benefits of playing those.


If you look at the poker players who have big success and make good money from playing then they all have freedom in their life. This is gained by being a poker player and making money, but it is also gained by playing cash games, rather than tournaments.

You may not be a pro or someone who makes any kind of money from poker regularly, but this point about freedom still stands. A tournament has registration periods, set playtimes and can last for hours. These all eat into your freedom.

Cash games have no registration, you can simply log on and play whenever you want. You can also choose how long you want to play. If you want a quick gaming session, you can’t get this in a tournament, however, you can get this while playing cash games.

Fewer Swings

Tournament players can play really well and come away with nothing, or a very small consolation prize. That is not the case with cash games, you are rewarded for the good hands you have and the good plays you make.

Rock-solid tournament play can result in a swing where you do not win a big tournament prize for a while, and you have to sit and wait for the big win to come along and clear out all of your losses. That doesn’t happen with cash games, you will win and lose on a fairly regular basis if you are getting good hands dealt and putting them to good use.

If you think you are a competent poker player then you will gradually make money by playing cash games. You will of course lose games, but with fairly regular wins you will be able to steadily build up your betting bank. They don’t offer the same big cash boost as a tournament win would, but if you are aiming to play regularly and want consistency from your gaming to aid profit, cash games are the way to get this.

Smaller Bankroll

It is important to have a bankroll in place when you begin to play poker a little more seriously and if you don’t have that in place then you should be looking at starting one as soon as possible. Cash games require a smaller bankroll behind you, so more players can get involved in this method of poker gaming.

A bankroll for cash games is advised to be around 40-50 x the buy-in figure. The bankroll for tournament games is advised to be 100x the buy-in figure. This is because wins should come more freely with cash games, you may have to sustain big losing runs as a tournament poker player and need funds available to keep up with those for when the big win does eventually come.

In terms of winnings, slow and steady is the approach for cash games, while aiming for the big prize is what tournament players do. If you want small wins, you need a smaller bankroll to do it, as you will be able to add to it on a fairly regular basis.

The Benefits of Playing Poker Tournament Games

player sits back during a poker game

Tournament poker games certainly have a lot of appeal to players, and here is why so many people love playing this way.

Any Win is a Big Win

If you win a tournament then you are going to land a big win. We are not talking about small and steady increases to your bankroll here, we are talking about a big sum of money, multiple times the size of your buy-in.

For many, poker is an enjoyable hobby, they want to make money, but don’t want to strategize making money. This is similar to how many people feel about all different types of gambling, and why we see bets like accumulator sports bets and jackpot slot casino games have huge popularity.

When people win, they want to win big, even if that means racking up losses along the way, and for this reason, many prefer tournament games because this is the only chance to land one big win playing poker.

The Quality of Opposition

This is not guaranteed, and of course, every single time you sit down and play, you are playing against different people at the table, and you have no idea how good they are. However, generally speaking, the casual players who may not be as good as others are often drawn into tournament games, so if you are in a tournament, there is a chance you are playing against easier opposition here.

Many professional players and those who try to take the slow approach to their gaming and win small amounts of a long period are all going to be playing cash games most of the time. By heading into a tournament, you will avoid these, and give yourself a slightly better chance of winning as you will be playing against a lower quality opponent.

Cash v Tournament Strategies

poker chips in shape of a question markThe final aspect of cash v tournament poker is to look at the strategies, how they change between the two types of gaming and what you should do depending on the situation you are in.

Situational play is very important to understand when you are looking at the strategy playing in these two. For example, there will be times when you have no real option but to go all-in when you are playing in a tournament, almost regardless of the cards you have in your hand. This will never happen in a cash game, as each individual game has value, is different to the next, and has no overhanging prize to aim for.

With tournaments, you have to play differently. When you run out of chips, you are out of the game, so if you are clinging on to the last few chips, you will go all-in when you normally wouldn’t. When this happens in a cash game, you can simply buy in again if you wish to keep playing.

The Increase in Tournament Blinds

Most tournaments have increased blinds as you progress through the tournament. This means that your initial chip value decreases as you go through the game, so you need more of them. This is what causes a lot of people to go in with the strategy of being more aggressive in the early stages of a tournament. If you go into the later rounds, with the bigger blinds in place, and you have already secured a good number of chips by winning in the early stages, you can then switch to playing a little more conservative and wait for opportunities to arrive.

If you don’t do that, you are under pressure and feeling like you have to play and make a move because the larger blinds are making your pile of chips disappear quickly.

The Tournament Situation

We have already spoken about being more aggressive in the early parts of a tournament, and there is also a period when players are often a little more conservative with their play. This is just before the cut off where players are going to receive a pay out.

For example, if the top 10 get a meaningful pay out and there are two tables of six remaining in the game, so 12 players in total. At this point, many players will see how close they are to a pay out and will go conservative, in a bid to maintain their place in the game, not take any risks and guarantee some kind of pay out.

You have two options here. If you are sitting well in the game and have a lot of chips compared to the others, you may want to follow suit and go with the pack, to ensure you are amongst the top players heading into the final stage.

Alternatively, if you want to take a risk and try to do something a little different, you can push aggressively here. With others at the table being conservative and more inclined to fold their blinds, this could be a quick and easy way of picking up blinds from players and increasing your chips. Of course, if someone else does this, or others have a good hand, you could find yourself losing at a crucial stage of the game.

Expected Value in Cash Games

If you want to do the best in cash games over a long period, then you need to have expected value at the top of your list and front of your thoughts. This will not work in tournament games and is a poor strategy for that, but the isolation of each individual cash game means that this works well for players.

When you play a cash game, the main focus is all on getting the very best out of the hand you are playing with, and nothing else. There is no bigger picture to think about or larger aim for players. Every time you start a new game, a new hand is dealt and you have completely new cards to try and reach your aim.

This individuality gives players the freedom to play situations where they may fold during a tournament because there is more at risk due to the bigger picture of the tournament taking place. Many players who play both will often find themselves playing on with a hand in a cash game which they would likely fold in a tournament game.

Neither option is better than the other, they just both relate to the situation at the time and the type of game that is being played.

What is key for players is to remember the type of game, and what affects it. In tournament games, the bigger picture and the situation where the tournament currently is will have a big impact on your decisions.

When it comes to cash games, everything is isolated and alone, so your decisions are based solely on that hand, the cards you have and the pot, nothing else.