What games should I play... and how much do I need? (Part Two)
In Part One of this series, we looked at the various games on offer and the betting limits available. If you've been paying attention you should therefore know by now that there is almost no such thing as No Limit Omaha but that No Limit Holdem is 'in' in a big way. In this concluding part, we'll move on from the various types of games and betting structures to looking at the various formats available (Cash games, Tournaments, Sit'n'gos and Satellites) and how much you can expect to need as a bankroll for various sizes of game (e.g., $1-$2, $10 plus rebuys, $100 No Limit etc), assuming you are or aim to be a winning player and aren't just there for fun (in which case you should just look at what you lose as payment for your entertainment).
1. Cash games
This is what you've traditionally seen when poker features in a film (with a couple of important differences). Players sit around the table with their chips, which equate to real money, and can leave at any time or take out more if they lose what they have. However, unlike the Hollywood myth of having to put up your house/car/girlfriend as collateral to stay in the hand (or take it to the bank and get a loan on it as in 'Big hand for a little lady'), cash poker is now almost universally played 'table stakes'. This means you can't be bet out of a hand, and if the betting exceeds the amount you have then you can simply go 'all in' and be entitled to see the hand to the end and win from each individual player an amount up to what you invested. Most professional players would say that they get their 'wages' from cash games, as they are the most reliable form of income for a poker player, and the format where luck plays the smallest part.
Bankroll Requirements: for Limit Holdem at least 250 big bets is recommended (so that's $2,500 to play $5/$10) and in 'big bet' Holdem (i.e. pot limit and no limit games) between 25-50 buy-ins. Of course the exact numbers depend on the type of game it is, with short-handed and wild games ensuring more fluctuations, and your playing style also needing to be taken into consideration.
2. Multi-table tournaments
The World Poker Tour and Late Night Poker programmes you've seen on TV are both series of tournaments where many players enter and are accorded a certain amount of starting chips which they play with until they lose them and are eliminated, with the blinds increasing at regular intervals to keep up the pace of the event. In a 'rebuy' event, there is a certain period of time (the 'rebuy period') in which you can still go broke and buy more, but in a 'freezeout' if you lose your allocation on the first hand you're out immediately!
Tournaments can be great fun and offer that elusive shot at a life-changing win (for example the big $200 online competitions each Sunday usually pay around $80,000 to first place). But bear in mind that the 'pot of gold at the end of the rainbow' is often exactly that (the main event of the 2005 WSOP had 2576 players!), and that its very hard to make a decent return playing tournaments, which is shown by the amount of broke superstars and big name players with backers (who cover their entries for a cut of the winnings) in them. On the plus side though, tournaments are where the glamour factor comes in and they are expected to be the future of poker, both because of the swathes of new players entering them and the allure of sponsorship. This has recently been taken to the next level with the announcement of the Professional Poker Tour where pre-selected players who've been awarded their 'PPT Card' get to compete for prizepools put up by the sponsors!
Bankroll Requirements: because of the varying buy-ins, the amounts of players entering and the sheer volatility in their nature, trying to make consistent money out of playing tournaments is not recommended rather they should be seen as 'taking a shot' at a life changing score, as fun, or as a viable path to exposure and sponsorship. Play them well within your means if you are trying to make a profit from poker, be selective, and look at what each individual event offers you in terms of value and other ancillary benefits, such as travel to an exotic location if you play one of the many live festivals listed on www.PokerInEurope.com or www.PokerPages.com.
Sit'n'gos, or one table tournaments, usually seat nine or ten players and pay out the entry money to the top three on a 50/30/20 ratio (although you can also play them shorthanded, heads-up or over two or three tables). This means that unlike in a multi-table tournament where you often have to outlast hundreds of players, in this format there isn't that far to go and your initial chances are improved accordingly meaning there is the promise of more consistent profit. They are also arguably more skilful and offer more benefits for the specialist player as they require that you not only play good poker, but can play well as the game gets short-handed and understand some specialist tournament concepts that are needed to ensure success. Besides that, they're just like playing the final table of a big tournament every time so as well as being fun and exciting are good practise for when your big moment arrives!
Bankroll Requirements: about 20-30 buy-ins should suffice whatever your level, with less needed the better you are relative to the opposition and the slower the structure.
Satellites are tournaments where you can win seats into bigger events instead of cash, and come in multi-table and Sit'n'go formats. Before you start though, have a look at the win ratio and think about how likely it is you will get a seat Sit'n'gos where you have to win to get the seat can be highly volatile affairs whereas multitable events are more survival based (although in single tables you may be able to negotiate a deal). Also remember that for every Chris Moneymaker who wins $2.5 million, thousands contribute to his ticket and hundreds more win the seat but lose in the big competition. So by all means try a few, but don't get stuck in a cycle of blowing your bankroll trying to win seats to events filled with world-class opposition!
Bankroll requirements: not really applicable here, but remember that although its great to be that one-in-ten ticket winner, overall its unlikely you'll get into the big events for less than half price in the long term.