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Tournaments Versus Cash Games

There are two major ways of playing No Limit Hold’em: cash games and tournaments. In a cash game, you buy-in for a certain amount of chips, play for as long as you’d like, and cash out for the amount of chips you have on the table when you’re done.

In a tournament, on the other hand, each player buys in for the same amount, gets the same amount of chips, and then plays until one person gets all the chips. Payouts are then determined by rank.

While many poker fundamentals apply to both tournaments and cash games, things like SPR, balance, and preventing tilt, these two different play-types do affect the way that the game plays out and does influence our strategic decisions. Let’s go over a couple of the ways that they differ.

Stack Sizes

In poker, size does matter, at least when it comes to stack depth. The deeper your stack, the more wiggle room you get; you can enter the pot with a wider range, and you have more room to place bets or fold on the turn and river. When you’re really short stacked, you’re much more likely to shove it in either pre-flop or right away on the flop.

In cash games, anything goes, but most players prefer to play deeper. In tournaments, on the other hand, because blinds continue to go up as time goes on, your stack depth continues to shrink and shrink until you have little to no choice. You’ll reach a certain point in a tournament where you’ve got to stick it in and hope it’s good.

This means that having a solid pre-flop strategy and a functional knowledge of equities is even more crucial to tournament play. Basically, tournaments are even more mathematical than cash games, so study up.

Staying In

Though you’ll need to put it all on the line at some point in the tournament, you’re also incentivized to wait longer in a tournament because you’ll win more if you are knocked out later rather than earlier. For instance, if there are four people left at the table and the top three are paid out at the end, then you might want to play a little more conservatively until someone else gets knocked out.

In a cash game, since you can go or stay as you please, it really doesn’t matter. If you don’t ever want to go all-in, then you certainly don’t have to. And, of course, you can always re-buy if you do shove and bust.

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