Poker Cash Games vs Tournaments

The classic game of poker has become more and more popular in recent decades.

Partly this is due to the introduction of televised poker tournaments showing the game to a wider audience.

Equally important though is the rise in the number of online poker sites, which has made it more accessible to play all over the world. Nobody is tied to physical casinos or poker rooms anymore.

The early 2000s saw a poker boom after Chris Moneymaker, an amateur player, won the 2003 WSOP Main Event after qualifying through an online satellite tournament. It inspired a wave of new players to take up poker – everyone believed they could achieve similar success.

Cash Poker

Blackjack Cards

There’s still plenty of poker played for cash in the classic way. Players use real money chips to bet and the aim is to win chips from other players.

In a no-limit game, there is no maximum bet. Players can bet any amount of their chips at any time during their turn.

Fixed-limit games are different. These have predetermined betting limits for each round.

For example, in a $1/$2 fixed-limit game, the small bet is $1, and the big bet is $2. Players can only bet or raise by these fixed amounts.

A hand of cash poker typically consists of betting rounds.

In the most common variant, Texas Hold’em, there are four betting rounds: pre-flop, flop, turn, and river. During each round, players can check, bet, fold, call, or raise, depending on their hand.

As players bet and raise, chips accumulate in the center of the table, forming the ‘pot.’ The winner of the hand receives the pot.

Success in cash games relies on effective bankroll management. Players need to manage their funds wisely to avoid losing all of them in a single session.

Cash games also provide opportunities for skillful players to win money consistently over time by making savvy decisions and capitalizing on opponents’ mistakes.

Poker tournaments


Players can compete in a different style of poker – with a fixed price to buy-in to try to win a share of a fixed prize pool. 

In this tournament play, all start with the same number of chips, which have no cash value and cannot be exchanged for real money. The goal is simply to accumulate chips from opponents.

Tournaments are played with increasing ‘blind’ levels. Blinds are forced bets that rotate clockwise around the table.

As a tournament progresses, blinds increase at predetermined intervals. This puts pressure on players to create a sense of urgency.

When a player loses all their chips, they are ‘busted’ from the tournament and are out of contention. The remaining players continue until one player has all the chips and wins the tournament.

In most tournaments, the prize pool is distributed among the top finishers, not just the winner. Payouts are typically structured so that the top finishers receive larger prizes, with the winner receiving the largest.

Poker tournaments offer a thrilling and competitive environment where players have a chance to win substantial prizes for a relatively small buy-in.

Success in tournaments requires skill, strategy, and adaptability, as players must adjust to changing blind levels and varying opponents.

Which is best for me?

A poker variance calculator can help you to work out which game is best for you. Different players have varying preferences when it comes to poker formats. Whether you prefer cash games over tournaments depends on your playing style, goals and personality.

Cash game players tend to be more risk-averse. You can always buy more chips if you lose and can leave at any time.

Cash games reward consistent, skillful play over the long term. The emphasis is on making correct decisions rather than accumulating chips quickly.

You can join and leave a cash game whenever you please, making them more suitable for players with unpredictable schedules or limited time.

You can choose the stakes that match your bankroll and comfort level, whereas tournaments often have fixed buy-ins.

Cash game players need to be patient and disciplined, as they might go through long stretches without winning significant pots. Those who are comfortable with a patient approach and can withstand periods of breakeven or losing play may prefer cash games.

Tournaments meanwhile can be high-pressure environments with constant threats of elimination. Cash games offer a more relaxed pace.

But many players prefer those thrills of tournament play. A modest buy-in can lead to a very big win.

It’s a more competitive atmosphere and demands adaptable strategies. Many enjoy that challenge.

Cash games can continue indefinitely, tournaments have a fixed structure and timetable.

Tournaments offer a chance to play with a new diverse group of players and to perform in front of audiences. You might even end up famous.

In the end, whether you prefer cash or tournament poker it comes down to tastes, personalities and moods. After all, many players actually love BOTH types of poker.

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