Ellie Biessek: Playing cash in MTT’s

Playing a deep-stacked cash game style can be very effective in tournaments, says Grosvenor Pro Ellie Biessek, but you need to know when to change things up

Recently I have noticed a general shift in the playing style of lots of poker players in tournaments. It seems that a lot of players have adopted a ‘cash style’. If you watch the play from tournaments like the WSOP Main Event, you’ll see a lot of players maintaining a deep stack for a long time. These players are very skilled and are good post op readers, so that style suits them and it is perfectly justified.

If you are a very good cash game player, you can still be very successful in tournaments, provided that you are able to change gears when the situation requires it. However, a lot of players seem to get this wrong and I’m seeing more and more players trying to do the stuff they see on TV and invariably making lots of mistakes along the way.

First of all, let’s look at the main difference between cash game and tournament play. A lot of cash game players prefer an ‘action’ style of play, where they play lots of marginal holdings and see lots of ops. It can be extremely pro table to put money into a pot playing a hand with a very low probability of winning, if you are likely to receive hundreds of times your investment back when it hits.

A lot of the concepts of a cash game are formulated under the assumption that you and your opponents have deep stacks and also the option and means to reload. This dynamic demands different strategies than playing a relatively short stack.

In a cash game you have unlimited time and if you are down to a short stack it is more dif cult to turn it into a big stack without reloading. In a tournament you have to come in the top 10% to get your money back. You can’t leave whenever you want and most players will be forced to take multiple coin ips on the road to the nal table, where the big money is. If you are a short stack and you shove, you have much more fold equity in a tournament than in a cash game. That means it’s much easier to turn a small stack into a bigger one.

Play the stacks

Another concept is the effective stack. In a cash game the majority of players are deep stacked. In a tournament, even if you are fortunate enough to have loads of chips, most of your opponents probably won’t, and you need to change gears to play effective stack strategies. That demands awareness of opening ranges.

When there are short stacked players behind you who are likely to three-bet jam, you don’t want to raise-fold marginal holdings, that might play well when everyone is over 100BB deep. Raise-folding means that you’re losing a few more BBs each time.

Also, tournament players are much more likely to use pre op strategy as part of their armoury, so there is a good chance that a tournament player will not allow you to see ops if they pick up on your frequent marginal opens. Therefore it is likely that you will need to adjust your normal cash game style to succeed in tournaments. Let me give you some examples.

Hand 1 – blinds 300/600/a75

An active player who has won a couple of big pots earlier on and has around 60k opens in middle position with 8♦-7♦, and the cut-off with about 50k flats. It’s folded to the big blind who is a good tournament player and he shoves all-in for 15k.

This is a good example of where a cash game player needs to be mindful of the types of players and the stacks behind him. In this case folding causes the original raiser to bleed chips, while making the call is even worse.

Hand 2 – blinds 500/1000/a100

A cash game player with 75k opens from UTG+2 for 2.5k with Q♦-9♦. The cut-off with 40k three-bets to 5.8k and everyone else folds. UTG+2, knowing that Q♦-9♦ plays well in cash games, calls.

The flop is J-9-4 with one diamond, giving him second pair and backdoor straight and flush draws. He checks and the cut-off bets 6.5k into 14k. He feels that there is nothing wrong with calling in this spot as the op doesn’t hit his opponent’s three-bet range that well and there are lots of good turn cards for him.

The turn is the A♥ and he checks again. The cut-off bets 11.8k into 27k pot. Now the pot is nearly 40k, but this a terrible turn card for our cash game hero. Calling here is a bad decision because he will be behind most of the time and bluf ng the river doesn’t look like a pro table move either. He has to fold, losing 12.3k in this hand – a very quick way to dent his healthy stack.

A more disciplined opening range would have maintained his stack and preserved a tighter image that he could use to his advantage for future opens.

If you want to be successful in tournaments you need to recognise that there will be times when you need to be considerably more conservative with your chips than you might be in a cash game. Don’t get me wrong and think I’m preaching an overly tight style. The constant pressures of raising blinds make an overly tight style a guaranteed way to get blinded away to your tournament death. A cash game style can be very successful if applied correctly and it is used by lots of world class players. That is why a lot of poker players are trying to copy it, but it is a style that requires skill to apply effectively.

It is possible to play this style well for long periods of time and then make just one mistake to knock yourself out of the tournament. Player who are not honest with themselves and overestimate their abilities are the ones who can build a mountainous stack and then lose it all before the bubble.

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