Poker Betting Strategy: Tournaments vs. Cash Games

The setting that we play poker in has a huge bearing on the type of strategy we approach the game with. A tournament setting should be approached differently than playing in cash games. It makes sense to play the best type of poker for your style, but both tournament and cash games have their value in our daily grind. Tournaments offer huge prize pools for the small investment you have to make, while cash games give you the freedom to come and go as you please from game to game.

But if you play cash games the way you play tournaments, or vice versa, you’ll have a lot of difficulty being successful in both settings. Tournament strategy is based around blind levels and heavy pre-flop action. Until the final table, play is mainly tight with only big stack players forcing the action with big bets and bluffs. Tournament play tends to be tight in the early stages, and only loosens up when the blinds have elevated. In this type of game you must continually adjust your aggression based on how many chips you have and how big the blinds are.

Tournament settings will change drastically, especially at the final table where opponents are being knocked out and the number of players is decreasing. As the table gets shorter you should be more aggressive, while still considering your stack size compared to the ever-elevating blinds.

If you played a cash game with this stack size mentality it would cost you a lot of money. Taking a less than favourable gamble in a situation because you have more chips than an opponent is not the way to play a cash game. You’re not trying to knock them out; they can just reload if you take all their chips. The way to play a cash game is to get your money in the pot when you have the best of it. Decisions should be based on pot odds, gut feeling, and betting pattern or physical tells – not because you’ll still have 70% of your chips if you lose the hand.

Cash games tend to be much looser than regular tournament settings. Position plays a big role in cash game play because players don’t want to get in a situation where they’re out of position with a mediocre hand. Late position players often force the action and attempt to steal blinds, which leads to blind players defending them and pots are created. It’s also important to bet your good hands for value in cash games. Slow playing, unless you have the absolute nuts, is not a recommended play. In a cash game you take the pot when you can, and you do whatever you can to protect any lead that you may have.

If you’re going to play both variations of poker you should be able to adjust to each game. Make a conscious effort to tell yourself that you’re going to play properly for the game that you’re in, and don’t get the two mixed up. And remember to play cash games and tournaments that are within your bankroll limitations.