10 Sep

Poker Cash Games: They’re not just for practice

Learn why many poker pros prefer cash games to tournaments.

why many poker pros prefer cash games to tournamentsIn the greater scheme of poker evolution, there’s a basic order to things. New players learn the rules, then enter low-stake cash games to hone their skills. Next, they move up to tournaments, hoping to one day claim bigger rewards, if not a coveted title or bracelet.

There’s so much more to cash games than a stepping stone to a successful, professional poker career. The ultimate goal is not to progress to tournament worthiness. The ultimate goal is to be a winning player; to make enough money to sustain a bankroll and make a comfortable living.

Why Many Pros Prefer Cash Games to Tournaments

When I say tournaments, I’m not talking about the WSOP Main Event, or WPT Montreal. Everyone dreams to play in—and hopefully—wins tournaments of this nature. I’m talking about every day game play. When you log into your online poker account, do you scour the cash games menu, or look for a valuable MTT or SNG tournament?

Everyone has a preference here, but many of today’s top online poker pros agree that cash games are much more valuable overall. Even the low-stakes games can produce a better ROI than tournaments.

Unless you happen to be a tournament beast already—in which case you should close this page and get back to it—there are several reasons why you may find cash games more beneficial to your bankroll.

Cash Games Have Lower Variance

Most cash game players don’t mix up their game too much. If they’re experienced, they have a specific strategy that they stick. If not, they’ll play pretty loose most of the time. This gives you a chance to evaluate your opponents quickly, and consistently exploit any weaknesses.

Tournaments don’t work this way. The variance can be much higher. The tables are consolidated regularly as more players fall to the way side. You’ll constantly have to reevaluate your opponents and situation, and that’s if you stay conservative enough to survive the…

Tournament All-In Extravaganza

Tournaments are a boiling pot of volatility, especially in the earliest stages. They have a starting buy-in, then deliver everyone the same number of chips. Most players don’t see these chips as real money, therefore they’re much more likely to risk them all right out of the gate.

Imagine a 9-seat SNG with a $1.10 buy-in. How much does that $1.10 really mean to each player? Sure, they all want to win, but wasting time on a slow, tight game isn’t the goal for most. They want instant gratification—the reason they chose a cheap, single-table SNG to begin with. And that means most players are going to shove their stack on the first hand, hoping to double up. There’s nothing worse than being dealt a great opening hand, only to lose because everyone else shoved blindly, fingers crossed.

Even if you play tight, someone is going to double or triple up from the start, possibly more than once. So, for all your conservative efforts, you’re left trying to come from behind. It’s not fun, and it’s not conducive to a winning ROI.

Cash Games Pay Better

In cash games, you’re competing against a small number of steady-variance players willing to spend however much they bring to the table. Every chip is a potential coin in your wallet.

How much can you really win playing a 9-seat $1.10 SNG? It could take quite a while to finish this game, and your highest possible reward is $9, if it’s winner-takes-all format. In a larger tournament, there are so many players that even with a good strategy, the odds are bad. As such, paying larger buy-ins at high variance can be very costly.

Poker cash games allow players with above-average skills to win more often than they lose. Having a positive ROI is everything. Even at the lowest stakes, you can multi-table to increase your hourly rate.


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