Cash or tourney?

When it comes to choosing between cash games and tournaments, focus 100% on whatever you’re best at

Here at PokerPlayer we
get quite a lot of emails
from inexperienced
players asking about the
differences between tournaments
and cash games. And we often give
the same well-trodden answer about
how in cash games the blinds don’t
increase, the stacks are usually deep,
and each chip is worth an actual
monetary value rather than a
tournament value. But what we
don’t touch on is why you’d choose
to play one format over another or
which suits each individual best.

Until now, that is. Because recently
I got thinking about the two very
different formats of poker and why
I play one pretty well (tournaments,
where I’ve probably won close to
$35,000 in MTTs over the past two
years) and one pretty bad (cash
games where I’ve probably lost close
to $35,000 in the… no, I’m only
joking, but you get the picture).

I would love to be able to play cash
games well and build my bankroll as
quick as Brian ‘sbrugby’ Townsend,
but it ain’t going to happen. To be
honest a big part of it must come
down to the fact I’ve been schooled
in tournaments – sit-and-gos, MTTs –
and have become so used to the
tournament formula that translating
the same strategies and thought
processes to cash games just doesn’t

Don’t get me wrong I’m
competent and am aware of the basic
and advanced strategies in cash
games (and I’ve had some great
sessions both online and live) but
on the whole I just don’t get them.

For some reason I get myself in
horrible situations where half my
money is in the pot and I have to
fold, but I don’t, and then I lose a
buy-in. Online in particular I
somehow play far too loose, too
aggressive, don’t give people credit
for good hands, and am constantly
convinced people are bluffing me.

And I don’t have the same concerns
that I get in tournaments about losing
my money or chips – I actually give
more respect to my tourney chips
than I do my real cash, which is just
bizarre whichever way you look at it.

One-track mind

Anyway, I came to the conclusion
that cash games aren’t for me, that
I should stick to what I do best –
tournaments. And that’s the message
I’m going to impart to you – find the
format you prefer, or are making the
most money at (or losing least at),
and really attack it, study it and
look to improve your game. Because
I’ve found the constant switching
between game types is a distraction
from the main goal of improving,
winning and making money.

If you find you’re regularly going
deep in tourneys, play more. Or if
you never seem to make the money
in MTTs or STTs but regularly have
winning cash sessions, channel all
your efforts into that. You’ll start to
see the difference in no time. And
when you feel like you’re a consistent
winner and strong player at one, you
can always look to convert to the
other format at a later date, whether
that be six months, a year or a

The games are never going
to go away and you’ll be a much
more confident and competent player
going into the other game if you’re
already winning at one.

So that’s what I’m doing from now
on. Cash games are dead to me. I’m
plugging my leak. I’m also going to
ignore the cash game players who
dismiss tournaments as ‘donkaments’
and claim that cash poker is ‘real’
poker. Both formats warrant the
same level of respect but for very
different reasons.

Tournaments require strong
mathematical and observational
skills, coupled with aggression and
patience, and provide a real buzz
when you go deep. They’re for
making a big score, while cash games
are for regular earnings. (Although
try telling Sorel Mizzi and Annette
Obrestad that you can’t grind out a
successful living in online MTTs.)

Sure, they can also be frustrating and
you might lose 20 in a row on a
bunch of coin-flips and bad beats,
but it only takes one big win to
propel you to fame and fortune.
So put this magazine down, have
a look at Poker Tracker or your
spreadsheets, or even just go off
gut instinct, and choose your poker
path for the next 12 months. You’ll
thank me at the end of the year.

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