Cash Games vs Tournaments

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The two most common formats of poker are Cash Games and Multi Table Tournaments (MTTs). Most poker players dabble in a bit of both while deciding on one format.

In this article, we will list down the differences between the two and how it should affect your choice.

1. Variance

Let's say you have a pocket pair of Kings( KK ) in the pre flop. You raise, your opponent         re-raises you, you decide to go all in, villain calls, shows Aces and wins the pot. The worst thing that happened to you here is that you lost a big pot.

Imagine this happening in a tournament at the bubble (Bubble: In a tournament, top x% of the people are paid, x being usually 10-15%. For example, say 10 people are paid in a 100 person tourney.

The stage of the tourney where 11 people are left would be called the Bubble. 11th person gets 0 bucks). So the hours of your effort of outlasting so many opponents went down the drain in one unlucky hand. You can't reload, you can't enter again.

This is variance - getting unlucky in key spots in tournaments hurts much more than it does in cash games. In terms of actual money, you might say that in both scenarios you lose the same amount (for example, Rs. 10k buyin in a tourney and a Rs. 10k buyin cash game). But losing that big pot in the tournament hurts your potential equity (since the structure of tournaments is top-heavy, losing a big pot in a critical spot reduces your chances of making it big). 

A big mistake in a tournament can cost you the tournament life whereas in cash game, just a bit of moeny. Having said this, being on the opposite end of this situation also makes getting lucky that much more useful in tournaments.

2. Justice or lack thereof 

If a bad player sucks out on you and busts you out of a tournament, you can do nothing about it. You can just hope that maybe next time, you find him on the same table and punish him. Justice of playing bad isn't served immediately. So it isn't uncommon that a bad player is running deep in a tournament. Whereas in a cash game, even if the bad player gives you a bad beat, you can always reload and outplay him in the same session. This lack of or delayed justice in tournaments brings us to the next point.

3. The Mental Game

For a good poker player, having a strong mental game is very important, more so in the tournaments because of the aforementioned reasons. It is said that in poker, a good player will always win in the long run. This 'long run' can be longer in tournaments than in cash games. And a strong mentality is required to navigate those rough times. Patience becomes a key virtue.

Likewise, it might happen that a newbie gets lucky and makes it big in a tournament. It is not uncommon to see them lose it all later in high stakes games thinking they are good enough since they've won a big tournament. So it is very important to have a clear assessment of your skills.

Having said this, suffering a bad beat in a cash game and playing in a tilted state can result into a bigger loss. In tournaments, since the buyins are smaller, the amount you lose because of poor mental game will also be smaller.

4. Return on INVestment (ROI)

The high variance nature of tournaments also makes it the format with higher returns of investment. Consider this for example: You are playing a cash game with a buyin of Rs. 10k. A good session will probably mean a win of 3-5 buyins. Let's say you win Rs. 50k, making your RoI as 5x the initial investment.

Compare this with a tournament of Rs. 10k buyin. Usually such a tournament will have a guaranteed prize pool of Rs. 20 Lac with the first price being around Rs. 5 lac. Say you win the tournament, the return thus becomes 5lac/10k or 50x!

Where cash games give you a regular monthly income, tournaments present the chances of giving you life changing money.

The choice of what game to play depends upon your risk appetite, your skill in each format, bankroll and the stage of your poker journey. We hope this article gives you a good insight into the two different formats. Leave your questions and comments below.

This article was written by Mayank Jain. Mayank is a writer who plays poker for a living. He writes at on mindfulness, travel and art, among other things.