Full Tilt Tournaments vs. Ring Games

Poker games come in two main forms, tournaments and ring games. It is a cut and simple concept, yet so many poker players make the mistake of not differentiating the two. Many players play ring games the same way they would a tournament, a formula that will often mean a poor tournament showing. As poker players, we must know how to change gears and change tactics depending on if we are playing in a cash game or tournament. This article is going to show how a poker player’s strategy must differ between their cash game play and their tournament play.

When playing in cash game, let us say a $5-$10 No Limit Hold Em game for example, a poker player will sit with about $2000 on average. The blinds never increase, which means the player’s chip stack is going to hover around 200 big blinds. With stacks this deep, a player can play however he wants. He can be very selective with hands, maybe playing only big pairs or broadway cards, or he can mix it up by playing suited connectors, small pairs and small one-gappers, hands with bigger implied odds. Post-flop, players are able to maneuver and really “play poker”. Check raising with bottom or middle pair is not very uncommon, as well as calling down 3 bets with a small pair. Some cash game players make a lot of money playing cash game poker, but that does not necessarily mean they will be good tournament poker players.

Tournament structure is much different from cash game poker. First, stack sizes generally are NEVER 200 big blinds deep. If they are, since the big blinds will be increasing in fixed time increments, the stacks will not be that deep for long. That means that players cannot afford to be calling with bottom or middle pair, and a check-raise will middle pair may mean the end of their tournament life if they are up against top pair. While in cash games players are freer to splash around and be loose, the goal in a tournament is to survive, and be selective in when to invest in pots. A tournament player knows that since his chips are limited, he must pick particular spots to pick up chips. As well, a tournament player may not want to go all-in with QQ if he knows his opponent has AK, knowing he is a slight favorite to win. In a cash game however, the player would welcome this.

Remember that cash game and tournament strategy is different so you must adjust accordingly.