Poker Tournaments or Cash Games: What to Play?

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BetMGM Jan 01, 2024, 11:34 AM

When you first step into the world of online poker, especially if you’ll be playing for money, there are a few choices you will need to make. Aside from the fundamental choices like picking a poker variant and deciding which strategies to learn and implement, you’ll need to consider which poker format you’d like to focus on – cash games or tournaments. 

When it comes to cash game vs. tournament poker, each option has its pros and cons, but the best choice between the two is ultimately up to your personal preference. The choice you make, however, impacts your poker experience, so it’s best to make sure you’re well-informed about what you can expect from each game type. This guide will dive into how playing tournament poker compares to playing cash games to help ensure you’re making an informed decision. 

What Are Poker Cash Games?

Close-up of a man looking at his poker hand with three stacks of casino chips in front of him.

Poker, like all classic casino table games, has moved into the digital era, offering greater convenience and more flexibility to players who can take part in an online game from any location and at any time, day or night. Cash games are the standard games of poker that you would play online for real money. 

Poker cash games are available as a normal casino table game and in the live dealer casino games format. In a live dealer game, players are connected to a game with a real-life dealer in a studio setting designed to look like a poker table game in a brick-and-mortar casino. It’s the closest you can get to the experience of playing poker at a physical casino but from the comfort of your own home.

So, how do cash games work in poker? In online poker cash games, players simply exchange their money for chips and can choose between the minimum and maximum buy-in limits on offer. Unlike tournaments, where you buy a set number of chips and compete until they’re gone, cash games offer a more fluid experience. Players can buy in or opt out of the game at any point, exchanging their chips for real money whenever they’re ready.

How Do Poker Tournaments Work?

If you’re new to the world of poker, the word “tournament” can seem intimidating. Still, tournament poker is actually one of the most popular formats of the game, even for beginners. Poker tournaments involve competing against other players for a prize pool that has been offered by the casino website. Play takes place at several tables, and players purchase a buy-in to participate. You’re out of the game once you’ve lost all your chips. Players continue to be eliminated from the tournament until there is an eventual winner or winners. In tournaments, all players will start with the same number of chips and the goal is to last as long as you can and win as many chips from the other players as you can. Payouts from the prize pool will be awarded to the top finishers at the end of the tournament. 

So, which should you play: poker cash games, or tournaments? Here’s how to choose between the two formats depending on what you want from your gambling experience.

Learn the Game

If you’re a beginner and want to ease into the game, the straightforward gameplay in tournaments is a great place to start – as long as you know you might lose. It’s easier for a novice to pick up the workings of a tournament than the machinations of a cash game.

As a tournament progresses through several levels you’ll see that blinds increase and fewer hands are played. As you approach “the river” or a winner comes out on top, the stack sizes of most players will have thinned out, and this will help you make straightforward decisions.

Cash games, on the other hand, can attract players with more significant stacks that allow them to try other moves, which could place a beginner without an effective cash game strategy at a disadvantage.

Broaden Your Poker Skills

If you’re a regular player and want to widen your poker skills, live poker cash games will give you plenty of opportunities to develop your technique. This format offers more scope for analytical play because when you aren’t concerned with pay jumps and blind level increases, you can concentrate on your deep-stack post-flop game and manipulate your opponents.

Play for the Fun of It

If you’re a recreational player who plays purely for fun, tournaments attract the type of player who appreciates these events more for their entertainment value than the profits that might be had. Also, remember that the variance and crazy swings in tournament play are easier to handle, financially and mentally, when you’re in it for kicks instead of trying to win hard cash. This is why playing online poker tournaments like the Daily $10K attracts more recreational players than cash games do.

A Tight Budget

If you’re on a tight budget, cash games suit every pocket because you aren’t tied to a particular buy-in value, as you’d be at tournaments. Cash games offer a wide range of buy-in levels with a minimum and maximum betting limit, with stakes typically grouped as micro, low, medium, and high. Players can quit a game whenever they choose and convert their chips to cash. Tournaments, conversely, end with a winner in possession of all the chips, and players are rewarded according to their finishing position.

Tournaments typically demand large bankrolls, and because the downswings can sometimes be significant, you’ll need a pocket that’s deep enough to absorb the inevitable losses that come with the territory.

Limited Play Time

Something all casino game enthusiasts love about playing online is the convenience and flexibility it provides. Cash games are a clear favorite over tournaments when it comes to playing anywhere and at any time. These games are as simple as opting in and out whenever you want to, without affecting your cash-out. And because cash games are available around the clock, it’s up to you to decide when you want to participate. Tournaments, on the other hand, have no time limit (they’ll keep going until there’s a winner), and you can only leave when it’s over without potentially being disqualified and forfeiting your chips.

Smaller, Action-Packed Games

When you play poker online, you can take part in cash games that feature smaller tables (often a maximum of six players). These “six-max cash games” allow gamblers to play more hands and play them more aggressively since, as the blinds come around far more quickly, players can’t wait around for premium cards. It’s a hard and fast poker style with a growing fan base. If you enjoy action-packed games, jump into a Sit & Go Tournament to try some fast-play poker.

A Chance at the Big Money

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One of the enduring attractions of poker tournaments is the chance to win big. It doesn’t happen often, but finishing in the top spot (or top three spots) will increase your buy-in significantly. It’s pretty much impossible to get the same result when participating in a few cash game sessions. Of course, there’s also the fame that accompanies winning a major poker tournament. But if you prefer the chance at smaller, steadier wins, cash games are the way to go.

Get Your Fill of Online Poker Tournaments and Exciting Cash Games at BetMGM

BetMGM has made it easy to enjoy both formats of the game. It’s easy to register and play casino games that offer a wide variety and authentic experiences, whether you choose a game of Texas Hold’em poker online, the Omaha variations, or even Spins and FastForward. BetMGM also hosts daily and monthly tournaments, plus a number of live dealer poker games, so you have the full gamut of options at your disposal.

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Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.