Should I Play Cash Games or Tournaments?

Let us help you choose whether to play cash games or tournaments at the poker table

“Should I play cash games or tournaments” is one of the most common questions asked by new poker players. You will have asked it yourself, I know I have.

Players tend to have already decided on their variant of choice – it is usually No-Limit Hold’em – but cannot make their minds up whether to jump into the tournament arena or sit down at a cash game table. The answer to the question that started this article, like most things poker-related, is it depends.

Both cash games and tournaments have pros and cons. Just like when you are buying a new car, you need to weigh up all options before parting with your money. There is no point looking to purchase a Mustang if you need seven seats for all the children. Likewise, tournament poker probably is not for you if you have the attention span of a goldfish because they last several hours.

These are some pros and cons to consider if you are deciding to play cash games or tournaments.

Cash Games Pros

Flexibility is a major plus point to choosing cash games over tournament poker. Cash game players can start playing when they want and leave when they have had enough. They can play a single hand and quit the table if they wish.

Being able to dictate their own schedule is a major factor in poker players opting for cash games over any other format. Look at an online poker cash game lobby and you will see games running 24/7.

This leads us onto table selection. Cash game players have more control over the table they are seated at. They can position themselves to the left of the weakest players – the optimal position – or completely avoid tables with solid players seated at them. Being able to do this has a major influence over potential win rates where tournament players are randomly seated and only get to move seats if they bust or the table breaks.

There is a saying that cash is king and this is true in poker. Tournament players may have the occasional big win to boost their bankrolls, but cash games players win more consistently. A winning cash game player will still endure losing streaks, yet nothing compared to a tournament player. Even the best tournament players run the risk of having a losing year at the tables if Lady Luck is not shining on them.

Cash Game Cons

You pay a lot of rake as a cash game player. Tournament grinders are raked once on their buy-in. Cash games are raked almost every time there is a flop. It is almost like the rake is an additional tax on winnings. Check out our Americas Cardroom review, Bovada Poker review and Ignition Poker review offer loyalty programs linked to the rake you generate. Be sure to check out the best offer for you if you play a lot of cash game poker.

The potential for large losses is another thing to consider if you have not decided whether to play cash games or tournaments. Tournament players can only lose the money the invested in the buy-in, but cash game players can lose their entire bankrolls if they are not careful. Avoid cash games if you are prone to going on full-blown monkey tilt!

Cash game players tend to be stronger poker players than their tournament counterparts. Stacks are deeper more often in cash games and this leads to a more analytical approach. It is rare to find weak players when you move up the stakes in cash games, yet there are terrible tournament players at all levels.

Tournament Poker Pros

Fame and big wins are two of the biggest pros for tournament players. Tournaments are the staple of any poker-related TV show and are what attracts the attention of recreational players. How many times in the last month have you read about a cash game grinder having another profitable week? Compare that to the number of articles you have seen talking about someone winning a tournament.

Tournament players tend to be weaker overall than cash game players. Recreational players are drawn to tournaments by the potential big payout, often 100 times their buy-in, and some treat tournaments simply as an experience. This is especially true at the World Series of Poker where hundreds of God awful poker players buy into the $10,000 Main Event. Playing a $10,000 cash game would see you playing against some elite opponents, your gran would have a shot in the WSOP Main Event!

Tournament Poker Cons

Time is a precious commodity that often seems in short supply and poker tournaments will drain all your available time. The biggest online poker tournaments take up to 15 hours to crown their champion. Some major live tournaments are spread over several days. It’s a hard slog and every minute spent playing the tournament was for nothing if you bust before the payouts.

You will also need a much larger bankroll to play poker tournaments regularly. Cash games players can get away with 35-40 buy-ins. Tournament players need a minimum of 100 buy-ins and even that is not likely to be enough. At least double that figure and you are somewhere near.

Also, the swings in tournament poker can be immense, soul-destroying even. Losing for months on end despite playing perfect poker can shatter your self-confidence. Your wallet may recover, your mental state may not.

There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to choosing cash games or tournaments. Just give each format a try online for a few days or week before giving the other a go. The one you enjoy the most should be the one that you dedicate your attention to.

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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