WPT Global: Cash And Tournaments—Which Is Better For Your Poker Game?
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Getting better at poker is often split into two phases: study and practice. A lot of pixels have been darkened on the topic of how to optimize poker study, but in this article, we're going to talk about one of the most basic choices you make about your poker practice—what format should you play, cash or tournaments?
Cash games and tournaments play very differently, drawing on various skills, knowledge sets, and play styles. By forcing you to focus on these distinct areas of the game, each format will progress your poker game in differing ways.
But which will improve your game fastest and furthest? In this article, the WPT Global team helps us look at the advantages and disadvantages of cash games and tournaments to help you pick which is best for you wherever you are in your poker journey.
Cash games predate tournaments as the OG form of poker. The key features are that your chips have monetary value, you have the ability to cash out whenever you like, with very few exceptions, and the stakes (blinds, bets, or antes) remain steady throughout the game.
Players can join when there is a seat free, buy-in for different stack sizes, and leave whenever they please.
Cash Games PROS
Scheduling: One of the biggest advantages of a cash game is that you can join whenever your poker session starts, with no waiting around. It is also handy to be able to quit whenever you hit your stop/loss, get tired, or the cat starts scratching at the door to get in.
You set your schedule, which works great if you have limited free time or a busy schedule to work around.
Lower Medium-Term Variance: The variance in cash games tends to be lower than in tournaments over the longer term, with cash games providing something much closer to a steady income than tournaments. Winning cash game players who put in high volume can expect their income to be regular-ish over a much shorter long-term than tourney players.
More Room For Skill Play: Because of the deeper stacks and consistent blind sizes, cash games have fewer hands where your stack is all in, and the outcome is up to the cards. This allows you more spots where your skill is a factor.
Bankroll Management: Cash games, with their lower volatility and greater control over buy-in sizes, give you more options when managing one's bankroll.
Cash Games CONS
Higher Short-Term Variance: While cash games offer lower variance in the medium-to-long-run, the short-term variance can be much higher. With no-limit cash games, you can lose your original stake and every cent of profit you banked that session on the turn of a single card.
For this reason, cash games can be much harder on a player's nerves from hand to hand.
More Ambiguous Sense Of Competition: While winning a cash game hand can make you feel like a champion, tournaments have a clearer sense of competition, with an unambiguous first-place position to strive towards. For competitive players, cash games may feel unsatisfying or unmotivating.
Fewer All-In Thrills: The rising blinds of a tournament promote frantic all-in plays as standard. This element of drama is missing from most cash games. Unless, of course, you know where to find a regular pot-limit razz game.
With constantly rising blinds, a fixed buy-in, and an endgame payout structure, tournaments are a very different kettle of fish, sharks, and whales.
In a tournament, the goal is to survive longer than the rest of your competition and collect enough chips along the way to finish in the money and take a shot at the trophy.
Massive Payouts: Tournaments can stack up big prizes for the top spots, sometimes allowing you to win life-changing money off a small outlay. After all, no one is likely to spin $10,000 up to $12,100,000 in ten days of playing in the same cash game.
Exciting Hands:Tournament structures force players to shove, bluff, and gamble as the blinds rise. This makes for lots of big hands and exciting showdowns.
A Greater Blend Of Luck And Skill: Tournaments have a higher luck quotient than cash games, with tournament winners usually having to fade multiple 60-40 shoves and coin flip all-ins.
This can be a big factor in how fun the game feels, but it also means that less skilled players tend to stick around in tournament pools for longer than cash games.
Bragging Rights: There are no trophies for mopping up in a cash game. But tournament play comes with titles, player of the year points, and Hendon Mob flags.
Inflexible Scheduling: Tournaments take time, and you don't get to choose when they end. A deep run in a Sunday tournament might keep you up until commuting time on Monday. With late registration, you can enjoy a little flexibility about start times, but for the most part, tournament players are prisoners of regular start times and irregular end times.
Higher Long-Term Variance: The graph of tournament players is rarely steady. A player can go long periods without cashing—or finding only small cashes—then suddenly make up the difference with a couple of big final table finishes.
The result is often a steady short-term decline in bankroll, made up for by occasional large spikes. That's a variance pattern that is not for everyone.
So Which Is It?
When choosing to study and play cash games or tournaments, personal enjoyment should get a high premium. This is because you are more likely to show up at the table to play the version of poker you most enjoy.
Similarly, assessing which format you are already best at should be another key factor. The more you win, the greater your motivation and profit. Both of these are key to staying in the game mentally and literally.
Next, you should look at factors like whether or not you need a consistent income from poker or require flexibility in your schedule and whether you prefer to take your variance in the short or long term.
Most successful poker players adopt a hybrid approach, focusing the majority of their time on cash games or tournaments but hedging with some practice and study in the other format.
Ultimately, the best format for you will depend on your temperament, preferences, bankroll, strengths, and weaknesses.
Where to Play Cash Games or Tournaments
Once you have decided which format you want to play, you'll need somewhere to play it.
Tournament players can join the weekly PokerNews freeroll hosted on WPT Global for a low-risk way to test out new tournament strategies.
Both cash and tournament players can also get a bankroll boost by taking advantage of the WPT Global welcome bonus by downloading WPT Global and signing up for an account.