Poker isn’t just the greatest card game in the world: It’s several great games. When you’re playing online poker for real money at Ignition, you have your choice of Texas Hold’em, Omaha, and Omaha Hi/Lo. Go to a live casino that’s busy enough, and you also might find classic poker games like Razz, Stud, Stud Hi/Lo, Deuce-to-Seven, Ace-to-Five, Badugi – the list is practically endless. But no matter what live or online poker game you play, it must fall under one of two formats: cash games, or tournaments.
The differences between the two are big enough that you could be really good at one format, and awful at the other. Cash games (including Zone Poker), where each hand is its own discrete event, require a different approach than tournaments (including Sit-and-Gos), where you play a series of hands and try to outlast your opponents. Here are eight key differences to watch out for when you’re deciding which games to play.
Poker Chip Value
When you’re playing online poker, it’s easy to ignore all those virtual chips on the table and just look at the numbers. But live players know that the chips are different for online poker tournaments compared to cash games. The chips at the cash table are also known as checks; they can be exchanged for the cash value printed on the face. The poker chips at a tournament do not have a denomination printed on them.
This is more than just a subtle difference. With the tournament format, you can’t just get up in the middle of the event and take your chips to the cage – you play until you win or get eliminated. As a result, in most situations, the chips you gain are actually worth less than the chips you lose. This means you’ll have to apply a slightly different strategy when you’re at the tournament tables.
Here’s one of the biggest differences we’re talking about. In poker cash games, it makes perfect sense to take small edges wherever you can find them; in Hold’em, getting all your chips in with pocket Deuces against Ace-King will be profitable in the long run. Doing the same thing with your tournament life at stake might not be the right thing to do, especially during the early levels. If you’ve got, say, a 60/40 edge over the tournament field, taking a 52/48 coin flip like Deuces vs. Ace-King probably isn’t worth the risk.
Ironically, tournaments will also give you situations where you’ll willingly take a flip where you’re on the wrong side – like Ace-King vs. Deuces. That’s because of the dwindling stack sizes relative to the blinds. There will be times when you open-shove with any two cards, even something as awful as Seven-Deuce. That almost never happens in a cash game, where you can (and probably should) replenish your stack any time you fall below 40 bigs.
In a cash game, you get paid whenever you like – just leave the table and cash in your chips. Not so in a tournament. You won’t see any money until you win or get eliminated, and most of the time, that money will come in the form of a min-cash. But every once in a while, you’ll go on a deep run, and sometimes you’ll win; when you do, you’ll get a giant pile of money all at once, which almost never happens at the cash tables.
Because of this irregular payout schedule, poker bankroll management becomes even more important at the tournament tables. Winning cash players tend to have a smoother climb towards success, still with plenty of peaks and valleys, but if you’re playing tournaments, your bankroll will be going down more often than it goes up. You need to be very careful with your roll if you want to stay in the game long enough to claim one of those large prizes that will make you profitable in the long run.
When you sit down at a cash table, you can play as long as you like – one hand, 100 hands, it’s up to you. Then you can come back later and play some more. Tournaments go on until a winner is declared, so unless you want to forfeit, you have to stick around to claim your prize. This could take hours, or even days for a major tournament like the World Series of Poker Main Event.
In a cash game at Ignition Poker, you can buy in for the minimum of 30 big blinds, or the standard 100 big blinds, or anywhere in between. In tournaments, you start with however many chips they give you, and your stack goes up or down from there. You’ll be working with a lot of different stack sizes when you play online poker tournaments, and each size requires a different way of thinking.
Most recreational poker players prefer to play tournaments, looking for that big score at the end. Cash poker tends to draw higher-skilled players who want to “grind” out an hourly income. If you’re still learning the ropes, don’t completely ignore cash games – the microstakes are a great place to work on your skills. But you’ll probably find more success in tournaments early on.
On average, even if you’re a skilled player, you’re only going to make the money once in every five to seven tournaments you enter. If you happen to go on a run of bad cards, it could be a while before you see any profit. The turnover is much quicker in cash poker; the next hand is just around the corner, giving you another opportunity to add something to your bankroll. Consider diversifying your portfolio and playing a blend of tournaments and cash games if you’re serious about making money at poker.