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Switching Strategies: Cash Games vs Tournaments

Shane C

Jun 19, 2023

Strategies for Poker Cash Games vs Tournaments

Asia’s largest poker room is celebrating its partnership with the industry’s most prestigious brand, the World Series of Poker, this August with a six-week schedule and 33 official bracelet events to match. The second online edition of the WSOP festivities held in Natural8 is geared to award over $53 million in total, making it definitely worthwhile for every poker player joining in on the rare occasion.

With a month-long lineup of events left to play through, a bulk of the 33 coveted bracelets is still up for grabs, along with its juicy top prizes and hefty prize pools waiting to be claimed by the tournament players.


Why Play Cash Games & Tournaments?

The crazy action stands to be highly inviting for many online poker grinders yet a chunk of cash game regulars find themselves indifferent to the special events happening right under their noses. Cash game and tournament poker, whilst the same game, pose notable differences in gameplay and strategy which might make players think twice about getting out of what they are accustomed to. 

Given that being a regularly winning player in cash games may be profitable, outlasting hundreds or even thousands of tournament players in a single event is an impressive feat above all. The opportunity and goal to turn a minor investment into a million-dollar one may be the most exhilarating achievement the game of poker may offer.

So for those looking to dip their toes in the water, you may find the highlighted notes below beneficial in jumpstarting that tournament career that has always been in your mind.

Natural8 is here to guide you on some key differences in cash game strategy vs tournament play, as well as additional tips that can push you in the right direction towards possibly an official gold bracelet and even a seven-figure score in a poker tournament.

Poker Cash Games Vs Tournaments

Poker cash games vs tournamentsCash games (otherwise known as ring games) are poker games where there is no predetermined start or end time, basically meaning a player can jump in or leave anytime they see fit.

A cash game player also has the freedom to likely choose what stakes, which table and seat they wish to play, as well as how much they want to buy in with. These are all unique aspects of playing cash games, while tournament poker is a whole different ordeal. 

Poker tournaments require each player joining in to post a required minimal entry fee to partake in action and only a specific period for registration at the beginning. Oftentimes, a guaranteed prize pool is set to be awarded, while there are also some which are dependent on the number of runners garnered for the event.

The number of players to be ‘in the money’ or those entitled to a payout is usually determined by the recorded total number of entries. Aside from prize pool distribution, the key difference remains to be the increasing blind levels for a predetermined duration which puts pressure on gameplay and affects strategy such as fold equity, steals, and so on, not evident when you play cash games.

Switching Strategies Between Poker Tournaments and Cash Games

While you may find some moves to work on both fields, switching overall strategy for a specific type of poker game– cash games or tournaments, may be best in the long run. If you are used to playing cash poker, you may find poker tournaments overwhelming at first.

However, after a few practice sessions, many realise that they are quick to adjust and at an advantage in terms of post-flop play. Mentioned here are key strategies to take note of to keep your poker career on track and play poker tournaments successfully.

Increasing Blinds and Changing Conditions

Increasing blinds in poker tournamentsDepending on which format of tournament you decide to play, the blinds can increase at varying times as dictated in the event structure and time schedule. This means you have to account for your stack size along with everyone else continuously as the blinds go up.

Deepstack play, for example, with a hundred big blinds, may be significantly different from handling a shorter stack of 25 big blinds in addition to the varying stages in the tournament.

Being aware of the effective stack size in relation to the blinds will push you to evaluate the appropriate value of your hand in a certain situation and aid in determining the correct action to go with.

Conditions in a tournament also change throughout, unlike that in a cash poker setting. The early, middle, and late stages note different hand playabilities, which can differentiate a successful tournament player from a losing one.

Finding added pressure on the bubble period or final table play may also require you to choose spots more carefully, as these decisions directly affect your actual cash winnings. Preserving your tournament life as you go deeper in a tournament is a necessary skill unknown when you play cash games.

Starting Hand Selection

Having some basic knowledge of what a good range of starting hands looks like depending on position, may be ideal when you play tournaments. Cash game players usually have a wider range of starting hands as they rely more on implied odds and have the option to rebuy or top up should they lose all their chips in one hand.

Playing fairly tight at the beginning is most recommended as no one wishes to risk busting out in a marginal spot very early on while opening up more as you go deeper in the game can matter greatly on your overall standing.

Stealing blinds during the mid to late stages of a tournament is another skill necessary in surviving the constantly increasing blinds. Observing your opponents’ strategy, whether it be tight or aggressive, is another way of determining which action would be best to take.

Reshoving marginal hands, for example, against a tournament player who frequently opens in a late position can be profitable in the long run, given the scenario.

Smaller Bet Sizing

Bet sizing in cash games vs tournamentsBet sizing in cash games is generally larger than that evident in tournament poker, considering that stack sizes in tournaments are finite with each big blind carefully accounted for. Putting in a bet of 40% of the pot or even less can sometimes be equally threatening as a 70% pot bet would entail. 

Late-stage gameplay would lean more towards only preflop and flop bets, with turn and rivers usually requiring players to be all-in given that everyone is sitting with more or less 40 big blinds. Additionally, smaller bet sizes could mean less risk for the hero should you be running a bluff while equally putting in the same amount of pressure you would for a value hand. 

Pros And Cons Of Cash Games Vs Tournaments

To make it easier for you to decide which format is more suitable for you, we have gathered all the most important pros and cons of both poker cash games and tournaments.

The Pros Of Cash Games

  • More suitable for analytical play. As there is no need to worry about the increased blind level or pay jumps, you can exploit your opponents with a deep stack post-flop.

  • More budget-friendly. Cash games allow you to play for fewer buy-ins and micro-stakes.

  • More flexible with different lifestyles. It's up to you how long you want to play and when you enter the game.

The Cons Of Cash Games

  • No massive winnings. Even if you're a good cash game player, you usually can get just a 15-20 buy-in profit.

  • Higher rake in most cases. An effective strategy for a cash game, especially in the case of micro stakes, prepares both against the players and the rake.

  • You may not like the grinding. In cash games, you won't experience such pay jumps as in tournaments, and you won't go from rags to riches in just one session. For some people, it may not be a disadvantage, as they like to do what they are used to, but others can easily get tired of the monotonous game.

The Pros Of Tournaments

Live Poker Tournaments

  • More money to win. Good tournament players winning the top 3 places can multiply their buy-ins by a significant amount. High-stakes tournaments allow you to win tens of thousands of dollars or even a million in 2-5 days if you play big and are not afraid of betting lots of your tournament chips.

  • Playing against fewer players with a lot of experience. Tournaments tend to attract many recreational poker players who consider this game more an exciting experience than a beneficial venture.

  • Playing high stakes against weak players. Thanks to the high variance of short-stack tournament play, weak poker players can last pretty long in tournaments. So, don't be afraid to bet more chips against them!

The Cons Of Tournaments

  • More variance. In tournaments, the variance can get really crazy, and for some people, it can be too much to handle (both in the financial and psychological sense).

  • The bankroll requirements are higher. Compared to cash games, the bankroll requirements in tournaments are harder to meet. It is inevitable for all the tournament players to have a strong safety net when they fall.

  • They take more time. Up to the moment you survive at least a few players and enter the money, you won't get any winnings. Moreover, even if you manage to win the money, it may not be enough considering how much time you spend in the tournament. If you happen to bust out anywhere outside the money, it will mean all the time you devoted to playing the tournament is wasted.

Try Playing Poker In Various Formats On Natural8

While there are a lot more strategies up for discussion, investigating for yourself which works best for your personal style is an experience unmatched by those uncomfortable with giving the tournament poker format a shot.

Natural8 is a great starting ground to explore this whole other arena, with the client’s user base catering mainly to recreational players. Sure enough, all players of different levels of bankroll will be able to find a thrilling game fit for their budget judging from the site’s wide range of online tournaments and cash games and unparalleled action across the virtual felt.