Differences Between Cash Poker Games And Tournaments

Many beginning players mistakenly assume that they can move between tournaments and cash pokre games with ease. And why not since tourneys and cash games use the same deck of cards and same basic rules. Unfortunately, thinking that poker tournaments and cash games are alike is a big mistake that will cost you lots of money. Keeping this in mind, here are some of the differences you need to aware of when moving from tournaments to ring games and vice versa.

Increasing Tournament Blinds Force You To Be More Aggressive

If you’re a cash game player moving to tournaments, one of the biggest differences that you’ll encounter is the increasing blind levels. This is done to ensure that eliminations occur quicker so the tournament doesn’t drag on forever. The blinds normally increase anywhere from every 15 minutes to two hours, depending on the size and type of tournament.

In any case, the increasing blinds mean that you can’t sit back and wait for good hands like in ring games because you’ll get blinded out (blinds will take your stack down to nothing). Instead, you need to constantly be looking for spots where you can gain an advantage, even if your hand isn’t top-notch. And one of the best ways to do this is by stealing small pots and blinds, which we’ll discuss next.

Steals Are More Valuable in Tournaments

While stealing small pots and blinds is valuable in any form of poker, this move gains significant value when you’re in tournaments. To illustrate how valuable it is, consider being in a $2/$4 cash game where average stacks are $300; if you steal the small and big blind here, you’re only gaining $6, which is an additional 1% added to your stack. Contrast this to tournaments, where the increasing blinds mean that steals become more and more valuable as the tourney progresses. For instance, if blind levels have increased to $50/$100 and you have a $1,500 stack, stealing the blinds is going to add 10% to your stack.

In order to be successful at stealing, you need to pay special attention to your position. In almost every case, your best opportunities for stealing are going to come in late position for the simple fact that there are fewer players left to call/re-raise you. Also pay attention to your cards since you want to have some sort of hand in case you’re called. If you get caught stealing, Ts9s gives you a much better shot at value after the flop than Ts5h does.

Pot Odds And Implied Odds Rule In Cash Games

Cash games reward players who make the statistically correct play over and over again. In fact, anybody who doesn’t make statistically correct plays in ring games is going to be a loser over the long-run. That’s why pot odds and implied odds are so important because they are your best tool for consistently making sound plays (if you’re unfamiliar with pot odds and implied odds, make sure to check out our section on these concepts).

This being the case, you need to drill pot odds and implied odds into your head so you know when to make profitable calls. Interestingly enough, pot odds and implied odds aren’t quite as important in tournaments because the statistically correct play isn’t always your best bet here. You’re dealing with a limited stack in tournaments, so your stack size sometimes prevents you from making the best play, which we’ll get into below.

Tournament Chip Stacks Are Limited

As discussed before, blind levels are constantly increasing in tournaments, which means you have to be aggressive or risk being blinded out. Along with this thought, you also have to consider that your chip stack is limited when making decisions too. Unlike a cash game, you can’t just pull more money from your account to replenish a dwindling tournament chip stack. This being said, you should be extra careful with the decisions you make since you’ve only got one chip stack; once it’s gone, you’re done.

Even if you’re getting slightly positive pot odds, this doesn’t mean you should make the call if the decision could cripple your stack. Instead, you should fold in slightly positive situations so that you can benefit from more favorable situations later on. For instance, why make a $1,000 call with top pair on a risky flop when you can fold and make a $3,000 profit with the nuts later on?

A Win Is A Win In Cash Games

One of the nice things about cash games is that you can log off in the middle of a winning session and keep your profits. Sure you don’t want to quit when you’ve got an advantage and are doing well ; however, if you have to do something else, you can jump out of the game without worrying about your profits being affected.

You aren’t quite so lucky with tournaments because you need to stick out the entire event to possibly make money. What makes things tougher is that only the top 10-15% of players get paid, which means profits won’t come as frequently as you’d like. Out of the 10-15% of players that do get paid, most of the money is at the top, so you need to play for 1st instead of just looking for a cash.

Small Differences, Same Game

There are quite a few differences to be aware of as you move between cash games and tournaments. However, you should also realize that most of these differences are small, and you’re still playing the same game. Most of the strategy that will make you effective in tournaments will also pay big dividends in ring games too, so don’t over-think things.

Just keep in mind that your ability to master the small differences between tourneys and cash tables will help you become a universally good player like Phil Ivey, instead of a one-hit wonder tournament player who loses tons of money in cash games.

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