What’s Best Cash Games or Tournaments | How to Play Poker

What kind of poker games are you focusing on right now? If you’re like most new poker players, you’re trying to get a handle not just on how to understand the various poker rules, but also what kind of games you need to be concentrating on. There’s a whole lot of difference between poker cash games and tournament poker, so most players do try to pick one or the other.

The good news for the indecisive is that there’s not really a bad choice here. Both types of play are actually totally valid ways to go pro (or at least make money as a side hustle), and there are compelling arguments for each. What you have to remember, though, is that your preparation for each type of poker game is going to be quite different.

Since you only have a limited amount of time, it’s a good idea to look at how you should develop your talents. As such, we’re going to take some time to look at how each format is played, as well as the benefits and drawbacks of each type of play.

Poker Cash Games or Tournament Poker: The Difference in Games

Poker cash games are, at least for most players, the standard format for poker. This is what you probably first learned to play, whether it was at home or online. You play for cash in this game, and you’re playing to win money. There is usually a minimum amount of money that you’ll have to spend just to get in the game, as well as maximum stakes to determine just how friendly the game will be.

Most cash games are fairly limited, but there are absolutely plenty of no-limit cash games. You can get into cash games just about anywhere, and you’ll be able to play for as much or as little as you’d like to spend. Most cash games are also grouped in skill level, so you won’t generally be playing against people who are willing to spend too much more than you.

Poker cash games do, however, have some fundamental differences from poker tournaments. You only play at one table in a cash game, and you can leave whenever you like. This means that poker cash games can be significantly shorter than tournament poker games, and that a valid cash game strategy is to absolutely make as much money as possible and then to get away from the table.

Tournament games, on the other hand, are a little different. When you get into a tournament, you pay a set entry fee and get a stack of chips. Everybody comes into the game with the same stack size, and the winner is crowned when every player but one is defeated. The stakes of the game grow as it goes on, with blinds getting bigger in order to hurry the game along and bigger bets requiring players to start gambling in ways that their cash game strategy might not usually support.

In a tournament, there is usually more than one winner. As many as ten percent of the field might take home some kind of money, but the person who actually wins the tournament is going to take home the bigger share of the pot. It can honestly be quite difficult to determine exactly how much you’re going to win, so make a part of your poker tournament strategy focus on learning each tournament’s rules and payouts.

tournament poker

Finally, it’s important to remember that the chips in a tournament don’t have any inherent value. You don’t get to walk away and cash them in – you’re there until the end, or you don’t get paid at all. This means that your tournament poker strategy absolutely has to be centered on sticking around until you get to the money rounds.

Poker Tournament Advantages and Disadvantages

Sitting down to a Texas Hold’em Poker Tournament can be a lot of fun, but it’s not perfect for everyone. Below are some of the benefits and drawbacks you’ll get when you decide to focus on a tournament poker strategy instead of a poker cash games strategy.


If you’re going after the big money, you’re going to want to focus on your tournament poker strategy almost exclusively. When you play in these games and actually win, you’re going to walk away with a significant addition to your bankroll. If you jump into a high-stakes tournament, it’s entirely possible that you could walk away with six figures+ after a single day if you’re in one of the top three spots.

Focusing on a tournament poker strategy also gives you the benefit of getting to play more against amateur players than pros. Yes, there are plenty of pros who hit the tournament scene, but most amateurs like to jump into tournaments just for the experience. As such, you’re probably going to have a better chance of making it up the ladder just because you’ve got a better-developed poker tournament strategy than most of those against whom you are playing.

Finally, there’s something to be said for the sheer fun of tournament play. You can get into some really interesting – and really profitable – situations, just because of the sheer number of people involved. If you’re looking to take home big money and to test your skills against players of all skill levels, you need to focus on your tournament poker strategy.


There are a ludicrous number of variables at play in tournament poker. Being a great player is not always – and not even often – a guarantee that you’re going to walk away as a winner. You’re going to be playing the odds on a truly stupendous scale, and all the strategy in the world isn’t going to help you if the cards keep falling badly for you.

Tournaments are also really, really long. It takes a tremendous amount of time and energy to make any money at all in a tournament, and you really can waste an entire day without making a single dollar. If you’re not making it up to the money levels, you’re essentially paying for the privilege of wasting your time.

tournament poker - time clock

Finally, you need a fair bit of money to bankroll a tournament career. Cash games are easy enough to buy into, but a big part of your tournament poker strategy has to be learning how to manage your money correctly. If you want to go all-in for your tournament poker strategy, the conservative estimate is that you’ll need enough of a bankroll for about one hundred buy-ins.

Poker Cash Games: Advantages and Disadvantages

There are also plenty of players who go in for cash games. If you’re working on your poker cash games strategy, it’s a good idea to know the advantages and disadvantages as well.


The great thing about cash games is that they’re not on a set calendar. You can jump in and play as often or as infrequently as you like, making these games a great choice for casual players. This freedom is also amazing for those who want to have control over their own paydays, as it’s easy to decide to jump into a quick online game or to stick out a longer session when you feel the need. Your poker cash games strategy can vary greatly depending on where and when you feel like playing.

There’s also a deeper level of analysis that can go into your poker cash games strategy. After all, you’re not going to be dealing with weird blind rules or other tournament nonsense. You’ll actually get to focus a lot more on playing poker – and even better, having a solid poker cash games strategy will help you to avoid those dreaded downswings that take out so many tournament players.

Finally, cash games are much easier to play in when you don’t have quite as much money. If you’re looking to go into the cash game world, part of your poker cash games strategy should be having forty or fifty buy-ins – just a fraction of what you’d need for a successful tournament poker strategy.


You’re going to end up playing against a lot of good, regularly players/grinders if you go into the cash world. The weak tend to get weeded out very quickly, and even those who are mediocre will eventually lose interest. As such, you’re going to have to perfect a poker cash games strategy that allows you to deal with players who are as good – or better – than you.

You can make money in cash games, but you’re also going to have to grind out every dollar you make. There’s not a lot of giant pots here, so you’re going to be pulling in a couple of hundred dollars at a time. This can get incredibly monotonous and it’s actually enough to scare some players off. A huge part of your poker cash games strategy will be learning how to play the same games over and over again.

Finally, you’re going to end up paying more to the house when you play cash games. You’re not just preparing your poker cash games strategy against the other players – you’re preparing it against what you have to pay the house (rake) every time you win. Tournament players only pay a fee when they enter, but cash game players pay whenever they win a hand, every hand they win, plus a tip to the dealer.

Poker Cash Games or Tournament Poker: Which is Best for You?

It’s always a good idea to ask yourself a handful of pertinent questions before deciding whether to focus on poker cash games or tournament poker. These questions include:

How Much is Going to Cost Me?

How much can you realistically afford to spend on poker? This is both a question of bankroll and a question of the fees you’ll pay in online or live games. There’s a huge monetary difference between cash games and tournaments, so know where you fall.

What’s Around Me?

Let’s be honest- you can’t really play in poker tournaments if there aren’t any around you. If you’re far from a major city or just in a poker dry area, you really don’t have a choice here. While all of the other questions have to do with your personal choices, this one comes down to simple logistics. If you are in North America visit pokeratlas.com to see if any tournaments in your area.

What’s the Time Commitment?

Tournaments don’t just cost money – they cost a lot of time. If you can’t sit for an entire poker tournament, you can’t afford to the commitment to play. If you are short on time, cash games are the obvious choice for you.

Why Do You Want to Play?

Are you looking to get rich and famous? If so, a Texas Hold’em poker tournament at the WSOP might be for you. Do you want to dip and make money whenever you want? You’re more of a cash game player. Figure out where you stand before you make your first buy-in.

tournament poker - wsop

What Do You Want to Play?

Finally, and most importantly, figure out what you like to play. Poker should be fun at the end of the day, and there’s no use forcing yourself to play in the kind of poker games that you dislike or don’t quite understand, I really don’t like limit games, I prefer No-Limit Texas hold’em. If you like playing one type of poker over the other, play it!


Cash Games vs Tournaments – FAQs

Q: How do you play poker cash games?

A: You buy-in for the amount you want to play. The chips are equivalent to real dollar amounts. Unlike a tournament, you can play for as long as you want and the blinds never go up.

Q: Can you cash out of a poker game?

A: You can cash out of a cash game whenever you want. You can even go eat dinner if you want. Most poker rooms will let you leave the table for 30-60 minutes.

Q: How many big blinds should you start with in a cash game?

A: Ideally, you want to start with 100 big blinds. I will usually buy-in for 60 big blinds. That’s more than enough, in my opinion.

Q: How much does it cost to buy-in poker cash games?

A: Every cash game has a buy-in range. For instances, a buy-in at a 1/3 NL game might be $100-$500, and a buy-in range at a 2/5 NL game might be $200-$1000. In some games, you can also match the biggest stack at the table.

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