If you want to be certain of earning money in the long term while playing poker online, cash games are where it’s at because of:
Low variance due to larger hand samples and less “flipping”
One of the significant differences between online cash games and various tournament types is that a cash player achieves large hand samples fairly easily, which makes him more resilient to influence of variance (= actual results converge towards reality more quickly).
In tournaments you will bust out early or mid tournament much more often than going deep or reaching a final table, so average number of hands played per tournament is actually fairly low.
Combined with the fact that tournaments inevitably (via increasing blinds/antes) go into a “stack off” stage, when luck (primarily losing “flips”) goes bad, even a winning tournament player can easily go a very long time without success.
Naturally it will all be forgotten when he finally hits his big score, although, not everyone likes to wait for months (years?) for something that is far from guaranteed to ever happen.
Meanwhile, in cash games, a player that is (even slightly) superior to the field can grind out a steady and low risk profit without much trouble. Unlike a multi-table tournament (MTT) player, he will try to get his “big score” gradually by progressing through levels until he maximizes his income. Obviously this is not nearly as glorious as winning a big MTT, but slow and steady never busts his bankroll.
The whole philosophy is that a cash player counts on repeatedly applying small edges on a very large number of hands.
This comes from superior understanding of hand ranges and poker math, not “soul reading”, telepathy, “gut feeling” and such concepts that amateur players love to mention in their poker stories (it seems some TV poker commentators also love these instead of focusing on the real stuff).
Ease of winning at lowest levels of play (= bankroll growth)
Depending on the site, lowest level of NL Hold’em being on offer is 2NL, 4NL or 5NL. Full ring runs on bigger sites while 6max normally runs on every established site.
These days many sites offer Zoom, Rush, Snap (I will use Zoom for the whole subtype) type of poker, where every time you fold you get moved to a new table, which is great for volume and allows for some really fun exploitative strategies.
Regardless of the actual size of big blind, the lowest level is usually populated with beginners mixed in with semi-experienced players unable to defeat it. Winners usually move up simply because their bankroll management dictates it, money is better on the next level and almost everybody wants to see how high they can go.
Virtually all players are horribly unbalanced and easily exploitable so defeating them is not a problem (more on this in later blog posts). High volume combined with a certain skill edge equals easy bankroll growth.
Ease and comfort in achieving volume
Big advantage of cash games is that every hand is separate from the others so in case of any real life emergency it is easy to stop playing (ideally after we finish the circle for which we paid the big blind).
Playing six 10-minute sessions is exactly the same as playing for one hour straight as far as volume goes and every player can pick his own ideal way of achieving a volume goal.
In a big MTT, the real money is made only after hours of playing (deep in the tournament/final table), so having to stop playing for any reason when deep means both a huge waste of time and a huge loss of win rate (ouch!). Same goes for sit-and-go (SnG) tournaments, but those are much smaller/shorter and getting to the money is easier, so such losses are not as terrible.
Playing 4 tables of Zoom cash games (which is fairly easy to accomplish with some experience and practice) means you can play between 750 and 1200 hands per hour depending on:
- Experience (= speed of decision making)
- Composition of playing ranges (tighter ranges = more hands per hour)
- General post flop strategy (how deep towards showdown we go with an average hand)
If we lowball it, a casual Zoom player can easily play 750 hands * 2 hours * 30 days = 45000 hands every month, which will allow him to earn a small but steady side income (which consists of direct table earnings and rake back, bonuses, promotions cleared).
Average regular player can play 1000 * 6 * 30 = 180000 hands for a bit more serious income (including higher win rate and much better bonuses).
To achieve this number of hands per hour you can also play regular tables. It is normally accepted that 4-5 regular tables equal 1 Zoom table.
Those tables give a slightly softer field at the expense of more complicated logistics:
- you need to change tables when they break up or get bad
- connectivity problems hit very painfully (timing out on 16 tables sucks much more than on 4 tables)
- it is much harder to read a HUD on smaller tiled tables, which can be countered with a use of 2 or 3 monitors (more expense, more real life space needed)
Best education due to deepest necessary baseline technical proficiency
This seems counter-intuitive to be mentioned as a positive, but the whole “low variance” thing means that winnings come from real knowledge advantage.
The fact that in a cash game, players will play with an effective stack anywhere from 10bb (often when a recreational player does not reload but plays with his miniscule stack) to 200+bb (when 2+ players doubled up on someone) means experienced players have “seen it all” and know what to do in more varied situations.
Tournament forms of poker have their own specific knowledge requirements (push,fold,call ranges, ICM considerations) but these are fairly easy to pick up to a competent level because math is simpler when stacks are shallow, there is really not that much space for creativity with a 5-10 bb stack.
This allows for easier expansion into other formats. Many known MTT professionals are actually successful cash game players who expanded into MTTs as a side income. They use cash games to make a living and ride out the MTT variance (which is the largest problem in MTTs).
For a different take on things you can check out what Justin Buchanan thinks here: https://www.cardschat.com/blog/aces-full-of-it-cash-games-vs-tournament-play/