This is a discussion on Reflections on cash games after only playing tourneys... within the online poker forums, in the General Poker section; Warning: long post ahead
TL;DR version: In my view, cash games are the best way to develop overall game, and skills acquired in there can easily
Reflections on cash games after only playing tourneys...
Warning: long post ahead
TL;DR version: In my view, cash games are the best way to develop overall game, and skills acquired in there can easily be adapted to tournament play. Same cannot be said the other way around. If you are looking to figure out which to choose... I'd highly recommend cash games over tournaments if your goal is to improve as an overall poker player.
First, some background. I started playing poker over 10 years ago, started with limit hold'em just to gain experience without risking my whole stack in one game... and also mostly as a cheap way to earn my deposit bonuses. After getting those bonuses, and then winning some freeroll tourneys here and there, I decided to only play microstakes tourneys with the thought being that I can get maximum practice while risking a very little buy-in... and the rewards are multiples of the buy-ins. I also only played SNGs (single table, full ring, regular speed) for a while too and was profitable on the whole. I quit playing after having kids and came back for a couple of weeks out of boredom (I never shut down my account and left all of my money at PStars) but quit shortly after that as I sensed that I was going on tilt after a series of bad beats in some tourneys. I ended up at a +$170 when I quit after taking out my original deposit.
I'm back now, and I decided to branch out and start playing cash games. I've always been intimidated by them as I expected the action to be as crazy and frenetic as the tourneys (in terms of the amount of all-in pushes etc) but as it turns out, it's nowhere close to that (even at the microstakes). After spending a short amount of time playing cash games, I already see my overall game improving and realizing why it's better to be a good cash game player vs. tournament player, and why the wisdom holds that a good cash player has a higher likelihood in succeeding in tourneys than the other way around.
Here are some of my reflections... and would welcome feedback:
(1) Deeper Strategy -- in cash games, you start with 200BBs. In most tourneys I've played, you start with maybe 50BBs (sometimes higher if it's a deep stack tournament). If you play TAG, your stack might often dwindle to the point that you have to start pushing and jamming pots pre-flop or on the flop by the 4th round of blind increases. In playing as many tourneys as I did, I never really developed a strategy beyond the flop. 3bet play, turn and river play experience was minimal at best and that lack of experience hurt me in the times that I became deeper stacked in tournaments and had a deep lack of experience in that area of the game. In many tournaments, I feel that someone will invariably jam the pot pre-flop or on the flop most of the time and if you aren't the one jamming, then you can only call if you have a hand strong enough to show down. Occasionally it does make it to the river before someone jams, but it's more of a rarity.
(2) Timing of bad beats matter greatly in tourneys -- one of the things that bothered me the most in playing tourneys is that it can often take one bad beat (one bad draw) on the turn or river and I can be out of the tournament in a flash (or my stack be so crippled that it would take a lot more work and luck to work it back up again). Bad beats are frustrating in any game, but your sensitivity to one in tournaments is so much higher than in cash games, especially the deeper you go in tournaments. A bad beat in a cash games would only typically cost you a buy-in, and is worth the same now as it is 3 hours from now (if I'm on the same table), but it's much easier to shake off. In a tournament... if a bad beat is what's responsible for kicking you out of a tournament prematurely (and especially after you have invested a fair amount of time into the tourney), it's the last thing you are thinking about until the next time you play... which leads me to my next point
(3) Tilt risk is much higher with tourneys. In cash games, long-term results is what matters. Short-term ones matter less... and your bankroll will show you if you are trending in the right direction. But short-term results (as in... immediate outcome for a hand) matter so much in tourneys that it's much easier to go on tilt in tourneys from a series of bad beats that's costing you tournaments. And it goes up when you've invested like 2-3 hours into play and can come up with nothing because of that. In cash games, I've had a series of bad beats, but I have found them to be much easier to shake off over tourneys. In cash games, a bad beat only costs money. In tourneys, bad beats also cost you time -- a bad beat can erase hours of work and really put you behind the 8-ball.
(4) Poker trackers can help you improve your game a lot more in cash games. If your goal is to improve as a poker player... long-term trends can be identified more easily and accurately in poker trackers (such as PT4 or HM4). Being able to identify leaks in your game can really give you an idea of where and how to improve. In PT4 at least, it's only tracking my main stats (VPIP, PFR, AFq amongst others) but even then... it's not the most accurate since many of my moves in the tourneys are highly dependent on my stack size relative to the blinds... so there's a much wider range in hands I'm willing to push. Or if I am on the bubble with a huge stack, I'd be more prone to push a much wider variety of hands than I would earlier in the tourney (or in my cash game). In cash games, all kinds of crazy stats are tracked (some more important than others) that can help you identify leaks in your overall game. It makes sure your fundamentals are down so that you can make a purposeful adjustment to tourneys when you enter into them.
So for all of those people who are new to the game and contemplating which to enter first... if you want to become a good poker player, start with the cash games. And any profits you make in the cash games is what you should be using to fund your tourneys (and treat those as "special treats"). The bad beats in tourneys will matter a little less if you know you can be consistently making money in cash games, and especially if your cash games is your primary source of poker income.
And for those who say that they can only win in tourneys but never in cash games... what that tells me is that you have likely have some important leaks to fix in your fundamental play, and that your relative success in tourney is due to (1) strong aggressive play and/or (2) a lot of luck. Playing only tournament poker meant that I really didn't have a lot of the fundamental ideas and nuances of the game down so that there are many times that I've encountered situations that were new to me and I really had no playbook ready for them. Highly aggressive play will often reward you, but to get results, luck also has to be on your side. And trying to make that up on the fly is hard, especially when you see the clock tick down so fast waiting for you to make your move.
Sorry for the long read. It's just something I wanted to put out there. Feedback and suggestions welcome.
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September 13th, 2018 6:20 PM
August 12th, 2019, 5:01 PM
Join Date: Mar 2011
Good write up. Agree with you
My HUD stats are varied in tournament play as my VPIP is low but as blinds get higher or as stack size change then I get into pot more often
I still have leaks in my cash game I tend to tilt more in cash games then tournaments myself. I can manage myself in tournaments and get into the money
If I lose in a bad beat or het bluff out and guy shows that really tilts me badly in a cash games
August 12th, 2019, 5:46 PM
Join Date: Jul 2019
Poker at: 888
This is interesting information for thought. Thanks.
I always lose in cash games, but in tournaments I sometimes get to the final table. Cash games are more complicated for me, which is why I prefer tournaments.
August 12th, 2019, 10:45 PM
Join Date: Apr 2019
Online Poker at: Pokerstars.
Game: NL Holdem.
re: Poker & Reflections on cash games after only playing tourneys...
For anyone who plays tournaments, especially freeroll tournaments, which almost always degenerate into all-in-fests, the transition to cash games, especially online, is a real stark difference, in terms of how much more conservative most of the cash game players are. I don't think that the experience of playing tournaments transfers at all to cash games.
August 13th, 2019, 12:36 AM
Join Date: Oct 2008
Of course cash games (especially 100bb and deeper) requires more skills than tournaments. Even if it's not optimal strategy you can go by a chart (Nash for example) then you are between 1-25bb in tournaments. Very little difference between push-fold and optimal play. A monkey can do that.
If you can't win in cash you can't call yourself a winning poker player. A lucky player maybe. but not because of skill.