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Cash vs Poker Tournament Strategy

New poker players as well as veterans are often faced with a choice: Cash game or Poker Tournament. Many people get really super excited about the word tournament. Why? Because simply put it is the name. Tournament denotes - champion, trophies, big time winning. It can also signal big money. Deciding which one is the right one at any given time can be a daunting task. Sometimes it comes down to a couple of key differences. Those differences are time, flexibility, bankroll and purpose. No matter what the agenda, in the end it comes down to adjusting your playing style and strategies to both.

The Difference Cash vs. Tournament

Perhaps the biggest single difference between cash game and tournament poker is the nature of the payouts. Cash game poker requires taking calculated risks in situations where you have the ‘best of it’. Tournament poker rewards only those players left standing late in the game – with a bias towards the last few paying positions.

Cash and cards


Cash Games


The time necessary to complete a tournament is quite different from a simple cash buy-in game. Although you might find yourself out of a tournament very quickly, there is also a chance that you might not. Simply put; if you have dinner date to make at 8p and you sit down to a tournament at 6p, there is a very good chance your attention may not be on the game as your dinner date starts texting you every five minutes to ask when you are going to arrive. So, it is best to plan your poker play accordingly.


Many poker pros prefer cash games to tournaments. Primarily a cash game lacks the variety of tournaments. In a way that makes total sense. Why? Because you can focus on finessing one variant over another and then when you have mastered many you then enter into tournaments. Typically the Multi-Table Tournaments - MTT have the greatest variety of games and are best to be avoided if you are a newer, inexperienced player.

Required Skills:

Tablet and graph

There is no doubt that the skill set necessary for a simple cash game is quite different from a multi-table tournament. Just knowing how to enter into the tournament is a required skill. Knowing what size stack you should obtain is difficult enough for the novice. Additionally understanding the role that seat placement is a reality that eludes inexperienced players. For the veteran seat placement becomes a different issue when playing tournaments due to the game variety and skills necessary to keep your chips in tact.

The biggest difference really does lie in effective stack size. Typically in cash games it comes down to beginning with a predetermined stack sizes. Typically 100bb. Some players will opt to go with a shallower stack and then increase up when necessary. A player never wants to be in the middle of a hand and unable to raise when the getting’ is good.

When it comes to tournaments the stack size is in a constant state of flux. Although the initial stack size may be 100bb or even as high as 150, it is necessary to be ready to go with the flow when the blind levels increase. The worst thing a player can face is being short. When the stack begins to dwindle then sound strategies and tighter play will be necessary to keep your stack at 20 or above. No need to waste time on a weak hand. It may be a wise strategy to push or fold.

In closing it is very important for players to not approach either cash or tournament games with a very loose attitude. It is about holding on to your stack at the same time progressing in the game. A healthy stack of chips is the greatest offense and defence that any player can have regardless of the type of game. At the same time it is a weak strategy to just sit back and await the perfect hand. A good strategist learns how to use every little detail to their advantage.

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