As a professional poker
player, I often find myself in social situations or at family functions, faced with the sometimes annoying questions like “How much is
first prize when you play?” or the dreaded “Have we ever seen you on TV?” After fighting the urge to roll my eyes and start ranting to
these obvious tournament hounds, I try to keep my composure and respond that I am, in fact, a cash game player. This usually catches
them off guard and they look at me like I am from Mars (and I end up looking at them like they are idiots). If you don’t know much about
poker cash games, let me save you some embarrassment for the next time you encounter a professional player.
We’ve all seen poker tournaments on television, and this is for good reason. Tournaments (especially when shrewdly edited) are exciting,
complete with lots of all-ins preflop and thrilling suck outs on the river. They are fun to watch and there is always an eventual
winner, which makes watching televised tournaments similar to watching a sporting event. Now, don’t get me wrong: I have the upmost
respect for tournaments players – they endure heartbreak and stress on a regular basis and many of them are amazingly skillful. However,
cash game players tend to shun tournaments a little, and I am no exception. It’s my opinion that cash game players are the true unsung
heroes of the poker world. We grind and grind for hours every day and never, ever, expect to receive the fame and glory of a successful
tournament player. Some of the best cash game players in the world are complete unknowns to most people, but they are some of the
hardest working and most brilliant minds in poker. That being said, most cash game players couldn’t care less about the fame and glory.
We play poker exclusively for money.
So back to our question at hand for those who are new to poker: what exactly ARE cash games anyway? Cash games (also known as “ring
games”) are played with chips that represent real money. You can sit down in a cash game (either online or in a brick and mortar casino)
and play for as long as you like, and you have the option to pick up and exchange these chips for money (or “cash out”) at any time.
Unlike tournaments, the blinds and/or antes do not increase in a cash game. The structure of the game remains constant and does not
change at any time during play. If a player loses chips in a cash game, they have the option to buy more chips and continue playing.
There is no eventual “1st-place winner” in a cash game: each individual player is simply attempting to accumulate as many chips as
possible for themselves, so that when they decide to cash out, they will have more money in their pocket. Poker cash games can be found
in any online or brick and mortar casino and there are usually a wide variety of games being spread.
Now that you understand what a cash game is, and how it is different than playing a tournament, you may be wondering what the pros and
cons of choosing this route are. We’ve already discussed that poker cash games will probably never offer you the fame and immediate fortune
that a huge tournament score might. Being on television while playing a cash game is virtually unheard of (unless you are a big name
professional who has likely already made a name for yourself in the tournament world). Everyone at a cocktail party will ask you about
tournaments, expecting to hear stories of how you busted Phil Ivey at the World Series of Poker or how you made a World Poker Tour final
table. If you chose to focus on cash games, you will have no stories like these in your back pocket, and will be forced to explain what
a cash game is (much to their disappointment). But here’s the thing: if you are a tournament player, it is very likely that you won’t
have any of these stories to share either.
Tournaments offer big dreams, but more likely than not, these dreams go unrealized. If you
ask anyone who has played poker for a significant amount of time, they will surely tell you that winning a tournament is no easy task.
Because there is a sizeable amount of luck required in tournaments, big scores are usually few and far between. Cash games, however, are
a different story. Because they require less gambling (due to the constant structure), winning consistent money is a strong possibility
for a good player. In contrast, a good tournament player can go weeks, months or even years without making any profit. In addition, if
becoming a famous tournament poker player is your goal, it should be noted that televised tournaments often require sizeable buy-ins and
are sometimes $10,000 just to enter. It’s easy to see that making a sizeable profit by exclusively playing tournaments can be difficult.
Poker cash games require less money and time, but (in my opinion) more skill.
There are several things to keep in mind if you want to excel in cash game poker. If you are used to playing in tournaments, you will
definitely have to make some adjustments. Cash games can occasionally be boring and sometimes require you to fold hand after hand if
your cards get cold. Keeping your focus and remaining disciplined are keys to become a successful player. Remember that the constant
structure of a cash game will allow you the time to be patient and selectively choose your spots. It’s no secret that most tournament
players are cash game donkeys (of course there are many exceptions to this rule) because they have such a hard time changing gears. If
you try to play a cash game with the same type of strategy you use in a tournament, you will likely lose all your chips quickly. As
someone who plays mostly poker cash games but occasionally heads to the tourney room, I always recommend that studious players stock their
bookshelves with reading material on both types of poker and treat them as two separate games. Playing poker ring games online is a
great way to learn the ins and outs of cash games. Remember that tournaments are fun and fast paced (especially if you have some gamble in
you), but if you are interested in making consistent money and really putting your skills to the test, cash game poker is a great choice.