Facts about Cash Games & Tournaments

Facts about Cash Games & Tournaments
Facts about Cash Games & Tournaments

The game of poker can be classified in a few different ways. There is a variety of betting structures that are used, such as no limit and fixed limit, and there are different versions of the game as well. Among these versions are the ever-popular Texas Hold’em, the slightly less well-known Omaha, and all the versions in between. Here are the Facts about cash games & tournaments.

In addition to these classifications, there are also two main formats the game can be played in: cash games and tournaments. The fundamentals of the game are the same in each but the two formats both have certain characteristics which make them very different from each other.

You’ll probably want to try both of these formats out when you first start playing poker, so you really should learn the mechanics of them both. We explain the basics of each one below to help you understand exactly how they are played. We also summarize the main differences and see if we noticed that one version is better than the other.

How Poker Cash Games Function

How Poker Cash Games Function
How Poker Cash Games Function

Cash games are played on a single table and can involve any number of players between two and ten. They are played using a fixed blind level (such as $1/$2), which remains unchanged during a game. A player may join an active cash game at any point, providing there’s a seat open at the table.

To be a part of a cash game you must first buy-in. It requires exchanging cash for the equivalent value in chips. There’ll usually be a minimum amount you can buy in for and there may be a maximum too. The house rules and the type of game being played will determine whether or not a minimum and a maximum buy-in will apply. A typical minimum buy-in is ten big blinds and a maximum buy-in is 100 big blinds. So in a $1/$2 game, for instance, you may be able to buy in from anywhere between $20 and $200.

Value of Chips

Your chips have a real monetary value when playing cash games; and money is won and lost in each and every pot. If you put $10 into a pot; and end up getting beaten by a better hand, you’ll have lost $10 of actual money. If you win a pot with $50 worth of chips; then you’ll have won $50 of actual money (minus what you had put in the pot of course). This aspect of cash games might seem incredibly clear; but it’s the complete opposite of how you win and lose money in tournaments.

If you lose all your chips during a cash game or are running low; you can buy more by exchanging additional funds but any table minimums and maximums will still apply. However, you can’t mostly remove any chips from the table unless actually on the table.

On the subject of leaving, you can do this at any point during a cash game. Any chips you have will be converted back into cash. This is another significant difference to tournament poker, which you will learn more about if you continue reading.

How Poker Tournaments Function

How Poker Tournaments Function

Poker tournaments are somewhat more complicated than cash games; primarily because they come in a range of different formats and structures.

Unlike cash games, tournaments can be played on either a single table or multiple tables. This means the number of people that take part is essentially unlimited. Tournaments can involve just two players or thousands of players. Most, but not all, tournaments that take place on multiple tables; have a fixed start time which is set in advance and these are known as scheduled tournaments for that reason.

The alternative to scheduled tournaments is a sit-and-go tournament. These don’t have a fixed start time as they start as soon as the required number of players are entered and ready to play. They are generally played on single tables, with between two and ten players taking part but they can be played across multiple tables as well.

How to Enter Poker Tournament

How to Enter Poker Tournament

To enter a tournament, you have to pay the required entry fee. In exchange, you’ll receive a fixed number of chips (called your starting stack), which will be the same as every other entrant. You’ll be eliminated from the tournament if you lose all of your chips at any point. You don’t have the option to rebuy more chips in the same way you do in cash games, although there’s one exception to this rule. There’s one specific type of tournament where you are allowed to rebuy another starting stack when you lose all of your chips during the early stages.

The chips in tournament poker have no monetary value, so therefore real money isn’t won and lost on each hand. Instead, players win money based on their finishing positions. Tournament entrants are eliminated as and when they lose all of their chips and the last one left with all of the chips is declared the winner. The final finishing positions for everyone else are determined by the order in which they are eliminated.

Tournament Payout

Tournament Payout
Tournament Payout

At the end of a tournament, the prize pool (which is made up of all the entry fees) is distributed to the highest finishing players. There’ll be a payout structure that stipulates how many players get paid and how much each player wins. There are no fixed rules regarding what that payout structure should be and it’s ultimately up to the tournament hosts but it’s typically based on the number of entrants.

A payout structure for a single-table tournament with a $10 entry fee and ten entrants might look something like this.

Cash Game & Tournaments: Which is Best?

Cash Game & Tournaments: Which is Best?
Cash Game & Tournaments: Which is Best?

There are main technical distinctions between cash games and tournaments above and it should be noted that there are other differences that we didn’t cover as well. The most significant of these is the strategy involved. Certain aspects of the basic strategy are the same for both but many of the strategic concepts involved are entirely different.

The two formats require slightly different approaches psychologically, as there are further differences in terms of the potential profits about the amount staked and the variance involved. All that you need to know as a beginner is that each of the two formats has its own set of characteristics, which come with certain advantages and disadvantages.

You should also know that to some extent at least, these pros and cons are a matter of opinion. It’s not possible for us, or anyone for that matter, to state definitively that either cash games or tournaments are the “best” poker format, as it’s eventually down to personal preference.

Often players focus on playing either just cash games or just tournaments, while many prefer to play both. Either approach is absolutely fine. There are certainly some benefits to concentrating on a single format, but there are benefits to playing both too. There’s no right or wrong approach here and it’s entirely up to you to choose what you want to do.

It is better to try both formats out for yourself. You might find playing one significantly more than the other, or you might find that you get noticeably better results in one over the other. If you’re playing primarily for fun, then play what you enjoy the most, whereas if your goal is to make money, focus on what makes you the most profit.


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