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Online Poker Tournaments vs. Cash Games

With the enormous boost in poker’s exposure over the past few years, many new players are introduced to no-limit hold’em through online poker tournaments. It’s a natural progression seeing as how many beginners have gone from the couch to the computer, learning tournament poker from professionals and fortunate amateurs on countless televised events. Many beginners even do the smart thing and immerse themselves in a no-limit poker book or two to refine their skills, and they may even have some success at Sit ‘n Gos or multi-table tournaments. However, many of these players spill over into the no-limit side cash games offered at all online sites and fail to adjust their play. While it’s true that in poker the most money is made in cash games, many players make critical errors when they try to transition into this format. My goal in this article is to help you eliminate some of those mistakes.

One of the most basic, but important, things to realize about cash games is the difference in structure to tournaments. In no-limit poker tournaments, you pay a specific buy-in and are given an arbitrary amount of arbitrary chips. Those chips have no cash value, and you can only make money by finishing in one of the top places. You can only lose your original buy-in. In cash games, you’re playing with your own money.

The chips on the table – digital or otherwise – represent your hard-earned dollars. Don’t treat them like a tournament buy-in. You can lose real money real fast, and no one will be there to stop you from re-buying as many times as you’d like hoping to recoup your losses. Another cash game mistake that many tournament players make is playing too aggressively too often. They also tend to bluff more often than cash game players, trying to use the same relentless aggression that has worked for them in tournaments. That style of play simply isn’t necessary in cash games where the blinds stay at the same level and no one is worried about being knocked out. I tend to play more aggressively and bluff more often in tournaments because my opponents tend to be more timid and willing to let go of their hands. Veteran cash game specialists can simply wait for a premium hand or trap their opponents when they have the best of it. You don’t need to play a lot of hands and combat the blinds in a cash game. Playing, and winning, one big pot with pocket Aces can make you a winner for the session.

The great part about playing online is that no one will give you the evil eye when you double-up and promptly leave the table. Also, tournament-style gameplay has become common in online no-limit cash games. Many inexperienced players have an all-in mentality that stems from loose tournament play. You’ll see hands like AK vs. JJ or AQ vs. 66 where all the money goes in preflop. This is simply unnecessary and a sign of impatience. None of these hands are a big favorite, which means that these players are willing to risk their entire stack on a coin flip. This type of play makes sense in a tournament setting where you are continually battling the blinds, you may be shortstacked and need to double-up, or you’re just looking to put the maximum amount of pressure on your opponents. In a cash game, why not wait for a better spot before getting in all of your money? Instead of going all-in and chasing out worse hands when you’ve Aces or risk going broke when you’ve got Jacks, why not make a standard raise of 3 or 4 times the big blind and re-evaluate the situation on the flop? Patience is rewarded in no-limit cash games and you’re under no pressure to accumulate chips.

Unlike in a tournament, you don’t have to play in a cash game until you either go broke or gain every chip on the table. The blinds are the cost of doing business at the table – not an ever-increasing chip monster dictating your actions. If you’re a beginning player, you should play tight and wait until you have a top hand in proper position. As you gain experience, you can begin to open up your starting hand requirements a bit. Don’t forget that in cash games, you can take your chips off the table and walk away at any time. Separating your cash game strategy from you tournament strategy can do wonders for your bankroll. Playing a straightforward, dull, and consistent game is often the best strategy to crush no-limit online cash games.


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