Transitioning From Cash Games to Tournaments

transitioning from cash games to tournaments

Most poker players tend to play either cash games or tournaments exclusively and do so throughout their careers. Specializing in one poker format is common as it allows a player to fully develop their skills. While the rules are the same if you play No Limit Hold’em cash game or tournaments, there are some notable differences to the strategy and adjustments you need to make to be profitable.

Good, solid cash game players tend to make the transition to tournaments smoother than the other way around. Cash game players have better hand reading skills than their equivalent tournament counterparts due to playing more hands deep-stacked. Mistakes are costlier the more chips you have, so good cash players make fewer mistakes.

These tips are designed for poker players wanting to transition from cash games to tournaments.

The Importance of Accumulating and Preserving Chips in Tournaments

The first thing you need to be aware of is tournament chip stacks are finite. Your tournament is over once you lose your chips, unless you are playing in a rebuy or re-entry event. Cash game players can simply replenish their stack if they bust, tournament players do not have this privilege.

This makes tournament chips more precious than cash game chips, even if they have no monetary value. Cash games players can sit tight and wait for playable hands because they only pay the small and big blind once an orbit. These blinds remain the same so the cost per round is less.

Tournament players compete against continually rising blinds and then the addition of antes. Sitting tight in tournaments only works for so long because the rising blinds eat into your stack. You need to continually accumulate chips as a tournament player.

Conversely, you also need to preserve your chips as a tournament player. Most do this by not pushing every small edge available to them because it is game over if they bust. For example, think of this simplified situation. You are dealt pocket sixes and your opponent shows you unsuited ace-king before moving all-in. A good player calls this bet every single time. Why? Because sixes are a 55.23% favorite and not many players are good enough to turn down a 5% edge.

In tournaments, you may want to fold and wait for a spot where you have an even larger advantage to commit your entire stack with.

Get Ready For Some Emotional Swings

Cash games should be thought of as one massive, continual session that you rejoin each time you play. Tournaments have a definite beginning, middle, and end, much like a story. Some players prefer the former, others the latter.

Bad beats occur in both formats, but they can be easier t take in cash games. You can reload your stack if you lose to a bad beat in a cash games. Those playing tournaments, especially major live events, may have spent several days grinding it out only to bust out to a bad beat and have to make the long journey home empty-handed.

There will be times in tournaments where you look to be heading towards victory with a big stack only for it all to go wrong in the space of a few hands. That can be difficult to handle.

Tournament players tend to cash in around 20% of the games they play. This means you leave without anything to show for your efforts 80% of the time. Do not play tournaments if you are a sore loser! Many players go their entire careers without winning a tournament, especially online poker players. But there is no better feeling in poker when you eventually get the victory.

You Lose Flexibility Playing Tournaments

Money aside, freedom frequently comes top when professional poker players are asked why they make a living from this game. Cash game players have full control over when they play. They can play a single hand, or 2,000 hands in a session. Sessions can be split up to suit their lifestyle and they can stop whenever they like.

This is not the case for those playing tournaments. You are in the tournament until you win or bust. Some online tournaments last 12-15 hours because of the sheer number of entrants. PokerStars’ biggest WCOOP events take place over two days, which is one hell of a commitment. Think about the WSOP Main Event that takes 10 days from start to finish. Tournaments are time-consuming and you will often find yourself playing for hours on end and by yourself.

It is still poker, at the end of the day. The best advice I can give for switching from cash games to tournaments is to do it slowly. Still play tournaments, just do not play them at the same time as cash games. This is because you open yourself up to making mistakes in each format and that is disheartening.

Matthew Pitt

Matthew Pitt

If it’s something you can play online for real money, chances are Matthew knows a bit about it. He’s been writing about slots, craps and poker for the better part of the last decade. He’s written for PokerNews, PartyPoker and many other respected online gambling websites during the last nine years.

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