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Why Cash Games are Better than Tournaments

Be honest. Does the idea of appearing on television at the final table of a major tournament really excite you? Do you dream of someday winning a WSOP bracelet? Why not? That would be one hell of an accomplishment! There’s no doubt about it: tournaments are sexier than cash games.

In fact, most players these days probably come into poker from the tournament side: having first watched that format on television and played tournaments with their friends. It also feels safer when you know up front how much you’re risking, but that’s deceiving.

Tournaments Have Higher Variance

Tournament pros suffer much greater swings than cash game professionals. An online MTT pro, depending on volume, can go for months before showing a profit. An online cash game pro putting in the same number of hours will rarely have a month where they don’t show a profit.

Getting a handle on variance regardless of what game you play takes a lot of experience. You can read all you want about the swings, but you are not likely to fully grasp what this means until you experience it yourself. And when the downswings strike they can shatter your confidence, especially in the early days. If you’re hoping to “go pro”, you need to do everything you can to protect that initial motivation and enthusiasm. Trying to come up via the tournament route is going to be harder on your psyche.

Cash Games Allow for More Skill

You will spend a large percentage of your time in tournaments playing short stacked (e.g. with less than 50 big blinds). The shallower your stack gets, the more basic your decisions become: e.g. push or fold. Playing full stacked and especially playing deep stacked allows for more streets of play. As you add more streets to the game, you exponentially increase the number of potential decisions you have to make. As the pot gets bigger on those later streets, those decisions become more important (i.e. cost you more if you make a mistake).

I concede that tournaments require a much different kind of skill: call it art as opposed to science. When you get knocked out, you’re out. Thus you often have to make very tough decisions with very little information. Correctly interpreting subtle reads is a critical skill.

Cash Game Pros Work Better Hours

One thing new players don’t realize is that to make an equivalent hourly rate as a cash game pro, you usually have to play 10x as many tables. We’re talking perhaps 10 to 40 tournaments at a time. If you’re only playing one or two at a time, you have a long way to go. As a cash game pro, I average four to six tables at a time.

Think about what that means. If you’re in 10 tournaments, you hopefully get a 5 minute break every hour if they’re all timed together, but that’s it. Otherwise you’re in them for hours. Many MTT players work 8 to 12 hour shifts. Those are LONG, draining days. As a cash game player, you can sit out of all of your tables whenever you want. I often split my day into 3 shifts of one to two hours each with a long break between each one.

You Can still Be Famous!

There are still high stakes cash games that are televised. And the reality is that if you reach the top as a cash game player, you will also likely be playing in the big tournaments. The side cash games are where it’s at anyway!

If you’d like to learn more about win-rates and how to calculate them for both tournaments and cash games, read my post on how much money poker players can make.

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