Should You Play Poker Tournaments or Cash Games?

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A dealer handles cards at the "Paris Elysees Club" in Paris. (Photo by Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP)

Let’s look at whether you should play poker tournaments or cash games!

1. Trial and Error

If you’re new to poker and trying to decide whether you should play tournaments or cash games, I suggest you try both disciplines to micro stakes. Time constraints can be fundamental to your decision.

Remember, if you’re playing an online poker tournament you need to have many hours in the immediate future free to concentrate whereas, cash games don’t have those constraints.

2. Patience

All forms of poker require patience but it’s fair to say, online poker tournaments require more.

It’s important to understand you will not be getting paid in an online poker tournament until you survive the final 20% of the entrants, sometimes you may need to reach the final 10% to cash the tournament.  

You can take it, as a rule of thumb that you will need 80% upwards of your competitors to be eliminated, to get paid. Once you do cash, it will not be a huge sum in comparison to your buy-in until you reach the final stages. The upside is that should you reach the final 3 of an online poker tournament you will multiply your initial buy-in by a considerable amount.

The only way to reach that upside is to become unruffled by the amount of time you’re devoted to an online poker tournament. Any lack of patience deep into a poker tournament will likely result in elimination which could become a source of huge frustration.

Fundamentally, those who win a poker tournament receive a significant multiplication of their buy-in and a sense of accomplishment. You must recognize there’s a huge amount of variance to negotiate before winning online poker tournaments therefore, your patience is tested from all angles.

Cash Games are the Here-And-Now Version of Poker

While enough players frequent your cash table you can play as long as, you’re happy too.  If you have time constraints, then cash games can be appealing to players who want to enjoy a game of poker for recreation. They may have made plans for that evening and only have a couple of hours to spare.

Like tournaments there is a downside, in a tournament, you know your buy-in is set and that’s the maximum amount you can lose.  In a cash game, the amount of money you buy into the cash game is the amount of money you can lose in one hand.  

To buy-in on a cash table, there will be a minimum amount of big blinds and most players start with the full buy-in of 100 big blinds.

In cash games, the variance in results isn’t so wide and therefore you can create a more gradual upswing, hence your overall results require less personal patience.

3. Psychological

I started by mentioning trial and error because I believe it’s important you play both to very low levels, so you find which one gives you the most enjoyment.

Usually, poker players prefer either poker tournaments or cash games, even if they are proficient in both. The most pleasure and enjoyment you derive from one form of the game is fundamentally important to your long-term progress in poker.

Because tournament poker requires more patience, you will torture yourself playing this variant, for hours at a time, if you’re receiving no enjoyment from the process.

This can only affect your ability to optimize your skill and play your best game. 

Final Thoughts

The ability to play your best poker game optimally will be enhanced if you’ve developed a deep enjoyment of one of the disciplines.

To aid this and remember we are all different, I will try and give you a guide to my mindset.

I always preferred tournaments from several points of view.

  • I knew my stake and how much I stood to lose.
  • I enjoyed that rare feeling of accomplishment when you knew you had outlasted the opposition to win an online poker tournament.
  • I had proved to myself early in my poker career that I had the patience required to go deep regularly in poker tournaments and occasionally win them.
  • I have always seen myself as a conservative gambler hence, I hated the feeling of losing 100 big blinds in a hand of poker when my bankroll management meant that amount of money would buy me in between 10 and 20 poker tournaments.

Remember, those are my personal thoughts, it maybe you have a little more gamble in you, than me and prefer action.  

If so, cash games could be for you! If not, You can practice tournaments at BMR Forum’s $1500 Poker Extravaganza! There are two satellite events left, as of press time. If you finish top 5, you qualify for the “Champions Tournament” on July 23!