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At some point all poker players ponder the question of whether cash game poker or tournament poker is better. Each has their own merits and there are recreational and pro players that swear by both.

Today we start a two-part series taking a brief look at the differences between cash games and tournaments. These are just a few helpful pointers to help you make a decision. Both have their own style and strategy but we will focus more on the advantages between the two.

We’ll start with cash game poker. Prior to the 1970’s, there was no debate between cash games or tournaments as there was just one option. Since the 70’s, tournament poker slowly grew and exploded in the early 2000’s thanks to the Poker Boom.

Read More: 5 Reasons to Choose Poker Tournaments Over Cash Games

Many still use cash games as their primary, and some their sole source of poker income. Let’s look at some reasons why you might choose cash games over poker tournaments.

Cash Games Are More Flexible

Cash game poker offers you flexibility over tournament poker in multiple areas. For live players, cash games can offer a lower buy-in than most low stake tournaments. The lowest stakes have a buy-in as little as $20 in many casinos. An average rule is you have to put up at least 10 big blinds to buy into a live cash game.

Whether playing live or online, cash games give you flexibility in the amount of time you’re required to commit. You can choose how long you play in a cash game.

In tournaments, you’re going to commit anywhere from several hours to several days in live tournament settings. Also, you usually don’t have to show up at a specific time for a cash game. The exception being certain games that only run when certain players are in the poker room.

On average, you just show up to the poker room or login and you can immediately take a seat in a cash game. Granted, there are times you can’t get into the exact game you want but there’s normally another game running that you can bide you time in.

If you feel that you’re running badly in a cash game, you can pick up your chips and cash out. That’s not an option in tournaments.

Also, you have greater flexibility in what games you can play in cash games. You’re only limited by what’s offered at the venue or at the online poker site you’re playing at. NL Hold’em dominates in tournament poker and in some cases that is your only option.

More Money is Available Overall

When it comes to cash games, there’s much more money to be made than in tournaments. In tournaments, you’re limited to the money available in the prize pool. If the prize pool is $25,000 with 30% going to first, you can make $7,500 for that event.

Let’s say you sit down at a $5-$10 NL with everybody buy-in in for $1,000. You have $9k available on the table at the start, and you know other players are going to be coming in and out with others rebuying multiple times.

Why do you think that Phil Ivey and Doyle Brunson have skipped the World Series of Poker in past years in lieu of cash games. Who knows the number of times they have made more in a single pot than someone has made for winning a 3-day bracelet event?

Variance a Bit More Controllable

Variance is a part of playing poker, but we don’t have to be slaves to it. Cash game poker offers you a bit of control over variance. The most obvious way you can control variance is by moving down in stakes.

If you’re playing $5-$10 NL and are on a losing streak, you can move down to $2-$4 NL or even all the way back to $1-$2 if needed. Tournaments don’t always offer that flexibility.

Let’s say you’re in an area where tournaments are around the same buy-in on average. If you’re on an extended losing streak, you can’t simply move down in stakes to control losses.

Other options that may be available to your include cherry picking your tables and even switching the type of poker you play. If you’re getting your teeth consistently kicked in at NL, maybe play some Stud or Omaha Hi-Lo for a while.

Online cash game players have the option of switching it up and playing NL Six-Max, Heads-Up, or even non-Hold’em events you seldom find in live poker like Badugi, H.O.R.S.E. or 8-Game.

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James Guill

James Guill began his poker career in 2006, spending two years traveling the US tournament circuit. Since 2008, he has covered the game extensively for some of the biggest names in the industry. When not writing about the latest poker news, he can be found hunting for antique treasures in Central Virginia.

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