MTTs vs Cash Games

MTTs Or Cash games —
Which Should I Play?

There are two kinds of no-limit hold 'em — cash games and tournaments. While the rules are basically the same, there are subtle differences between the two formats. As a result, the style of play you may find success with in cash games may not work so well in multi-table tournaments (MTT), and vice versa.

MTT players must master a series of different playing styles, based on the stage of the tournament and the size of the field, while cash games players can use essentially the same style of play regardless of the stakes.

Blinds escalate on a set schedule for tournament players, which puts more importance on consistently winning hands. Blinds are steady for cash players, who can afford to be patient and wait for the monster hand to show up. Here is a look at a few of the key differences between cash games and MTTs to help you choose which is right for you.

Style of Play

The style of play for cash game players is probably closest to what you would find in the middle stages of an MTT, when blinds are creeping up, effective stack sizes are dwindling and chip counts vary greatly.

Tournaments

In the opening levels of an MTT, players can expand their range and chase draws as long as they are able to keep pots small. Once the blinds go up and effective stack sizes start to shrink, tournament players have to tighten up. Opening ranges narrow, and position and blind stealing become more important.

Cash game

For cash game players, position is important the second you sit down. You want to be really tight in early position, a little less so in the middle and late positions. Cash game players try not to waste money pre-flop by limping with weaker hands and hoping to catch a miracle flop.

Two Big Differences

tournaments

Early hands tend to have multiple players willing to see the flop

Early in a tournament, when blinds are smaller and there are no antes, it makes little sense to defend your blinds, especially because early hands tend to have multiple players willing to see the flop. It's really just not worth it to call a min-raise with 9-4 off and four other players in the hand, even though the pot odds are great. There are so many things that can go wrong after the flop when playing bad cards out of position that the risk vs. reward calculation is just not worth it. Defending blinds becomes critically important in the latter stages of a tournament, when almost every hand is decided by pre-flop aggression.

Cash game

Blind defense is more important from the jump

For cash games, blind defense is more important from the jump. You don't want players to think they can roll over you every time you're in either the small or big blind. When you suspect someone is trying to steal your blinds, the best time to respond is pre-flop. Give them a taste of their own medicine and re-raise, then fire out with a continuation bet as you will most likely be first to act after the flop. Defending blinds is not for the faint of heart, but it is definitely a skill needed in cash games and the latter stages of tournaments.

Defending Your Blinds

icon_blinds

Early in a tournament, when blinds are smaller and there are no antes, it makes little sense to defend your blinds, especially because early hands tend to have multiple players willing to see the flop. It's really just not worth it to call a min-raise with 9-4 off and four other players in the hand, even though the pot odds are great. There are so many things that can go wrong after the flop when playing bad cards out of position that the risk vs. reward calculation is just not worth it. Defending blinds becomes critically important in the latter stages of a tournament, when almost every hand is decided by pre-flop aggression.

For cash games, blind defense is more important from the jump. You don't want players to think they can roll over you every time you're in either the small or big blind. When you suspect someone is trying to steal your blinds, the best time to respond is pre-flop. Give them a taste of their own medicine and re-raise, then fire out with a continuation bet as you will most likely be first to act after the flop. Defending blinds is not for the faint of heart, but it is definitely a skill needed in cash games and the latter stages of tournaments.

Bankroll Management

Managing your bankroll is THE MOST important consideration for all poker players, regardless of whether you consider yourself a cash or a tournament specialist. Settle on an amount that you are comfortable spending each month, and then deposit that amount into a poker account - no more. Setting strict bankroll guidelines and then adhering to them is crucial to allow yourself time to develop as a poker player. You are more than likely going to lose your first few deposits, but as long as you are not losing more than you can afford, it's okay.

Bankroll

Limit

Buy-in

$80

.05/.10NL

$20

You also need to set limits on what stakes you will play. A good rule of thumb for cash players is to have at least 20 buy-ins (some players prefer as many as 40-50). That means if you are going to play .05/.10NL and the minimum buy-in for the table is $4, then you would ideally have $80 in your account. If your account dips to less than $80, then drop to $.02/$.05 until you have built your bankroll back up. You also need to decide how many buy-ins you are willing to lose in any one session before you call it quits (i.e. set a stop-loss amount).

The amount you buy in for in a cash game is also important. Be sure to give yourself enough to play your game. For online tables, investing the maximum allowed at the table is your best strategy. Don't short buy, or you'll wind up in defense mode and not play your normal game.

Bankroll

Buy-in

< $100

< 3%

$100 – $200

5% ($5–$10)

> $100

10% $20

For multi-table tournaments, a sliding scale is probably in order. If your bankroll is less than $100, try to restrict the entry fees to less than 3% of your bankroll. That means going for tournaments that are $3 or less. If your bankroll is between $100 and $200 you can probably extend this to 5%, meaning you could play tourneys in the $5-$10 range. If your bankroll is over $200, then you can step up to some larger buy-ins (up to 10 percent of your bankroll, or $20).

Online sites generally pay about the top 15 percent of players in a tournament which means that, on average, you would cash once in about every six or seven tournaments you play. Tournament players can go through long stretches without cashing, so your bankroll must be able to withstand these dry spells.

For cash games and tournaments, the higher entry fees or blinds, the stiffer the competition. Play the lower limits until you are consistently turning a profit before you even think about moving up to a higher limit.

MTTs vs. Cash Games — What Are The Differences?

Want a quick summary of the differences between MTTs and cash games?

We've got you covered. Here you can see the different strategies you'll need to master both

Strategy

Cash

MTT

Defending blinds

Important

Not as important early, very important late

Position

Important

Importance grows as blinds increase and effective stack sizes decrease

Bankroll management

Bankroll should be least 20 buy-ins for level you play

Sliding scale. As bankroll increases, percentage allotted to buy-ins can also increase

Advantage

Can always re-buy
if knocked out

Potential paydays are huge

Style of play

Tight, emphasizing position
and strength of hands

Loose early, super tight
in latter stages.