Tournament Strategy and Cash Game Strategy

Poker strategy

The difference between poker cash games and poker tournaments.

Texas Hold’em poker is a complicated game, and when you go from cash games to tournaments or vice versa, it becomes more so. There are many really good players in one sphere who struggle in the other. You might think it’s all poker and you just play the same in tournaments and cash games. However, in some respects they are two completely different games and therefore the strategy used on the different tables varies.

poker winning handsIn either game you will play poker for real money, however in a poker cash game you are playing with chips which represent money, dollar for dollar. Every chip you lose is costing you actual money, so you need to think about every hand carefully because it has an actual dollar value.

Poker tournaments are different. Because the blinds go up on a regular basis you are forced to play to stay in the game, and of course the whole idea is to win all the chips, ultimately, in the tournament, which means you must be involved in more pots, making more bets and risking it more often. And you can’t buy back in either, once you are out, you are out. Your poker life is on the line with every all-in. To win, you need a poker tournament strategy whether you are in a club game or a major poker tournament.

Poker StrategyTournament Strategy

Tournament poker is a game with a lot going on. There are however two basic strategies to playing. The first is naked aggression, trying to aggressively win chips from the first hand. This is a dangerous game to play but can result in a healthy bullying chip stack early in the game, or you can be out the door in the early blind levels. It is quite likely you will experience wild swings in chip counts during this type of play. If, however you can play aggressively and with intuition and experience and an understanding of the other players hand ranges, you will end up with that big chip stack.

The other way to play in tournaments is to stick to the advice given to beginners on this site, but which plenty of professionals also use, which is to only play premium hands, or any other hands only in position, and to play small stake poker. With a tactic like this you are not going to land a fortune in chips early on like the aggressive player, you will slowly build a stack with a lot less risk. It’s a good strategy for staying out of trouble, especially in the early stages of a tournament when blinds are low, but betting is proportionally high, and the crazy players are still behaving like they can win the tournament in the first half hour. If you do lose a hand at this stage, it shouldn’t cost you too much in chips. This is a solid way to play, and can pay off, and is a lot less stressful as you avoid the wild swings of the aggressive player – but it also has its pitfalls. If you are not prepared to raise with good hands, or fold too often and don’t take any chances, or take a couple and lose, eventually you start losing out to the increasing blind levels. But the table will not have much respect for you either, noting that you fold almost everything in every position. Raising is itself intimidating, but essential if you want to keep the other players guessing about your hand strength. If you are too passive, eventually you may have to decide at which point you are going to risk the all-in to stay in the game.

Poker StrategyAggressive pre-flop play.

In general, a level of aggression when you have a good pre-flop hand or hit the flop serves you well in a tournament. As the blinds go up in a tournament a lot of players will tighten up, because the cost of being in a hand is higher proportionally to the chip stack compared to the beginning. For instance, you might have 400 or 500 big blinds at the start of a tournament, but even if you win some hands, with the rising blind levels you might be down to 50 or 60 before long. To take advantage of this, depending on the play of the table, you can get much more aggressive pre-flop, ideally in position.  Your opponents may not even believe you have a good hand but are not prepared to take a risk and lose chips at this stage.


Poker StrategyTexas Hold’em Cash Game tips.

No limit hold’em cash games have a load of strategies all their own. Your money is on the table; the chips represent actual cash, which they don’t in tournaments. If you lose it all you can just buy back in if you have the money. However, its real money on the line so you don’t want to be buying back in if you can avoid it. After all the point of cash games is to make money.

Poker StrategyTight Texas Hold’em poker strategy.

The classic play in cash games is to play super tight, be prepared to sit at the table all day or night, or both, and build your stack with premium hands when they turn up.  This is like the tight play in a poker tournament, you rarely raise and only put big chips in the pot when you have the nuts, or close. Like tournaments this means you will put your stack at less risk and put yourself under less stress – but it does require the patience to stay a long time if you do want to win a lot of money on the cash tables.

Following on from this is tight-aggressive play which is and advanced no limit holdem tournament strategy. Players using this style slightly widen their starting hand range to include suited connectors ten and above, but also be more aggressive once they are in the hand, being prepared to raise with their cards and following up on pre-flop play with betting and raising post-flop. This lets the other players at the table know you are capable of being an action player and you will get more table respect for it, and when you have won a few hands in this way there is more room for you to successfully C-bet and semi-bluff.

Poker StrategyAggressive play in poker cash games.

If you are an aggressive player, your starting range widens out significantly. If you have position, any two cards will do to raise with and see the flop. It can be tough to play someone who uses this Hold’em cash game strategy, because you don’t know whether they have a good hand, or they are trying to push you off the hand by raising with weaker cards. It’s a good play until you come up against who does have a hand and follows you to the river. Suddenly your chip stack loses height. Another issue with this style of play is that eventually players work you out, and then when you have a big starting hand and raise, they don’t believe you and call you off with a dubious hand, and win. But that is a feature of this type of play, big rewards at times and costly at others.

how to play Texas holdemSometimes you come up against a super aggressive player who plays almost every hand and always raises, often pushing all the other players off the hand before it begins. In this way they build their stack by stealing blinds and chips off limpers. Not only that, they are not afraid to risk their entire stack heads up if they have an ace or even high suited connectors, or if they are really crazy mid-range connectors. This can be a good Hold’em cash game strategy because they know that in a heads-up situation, despite what the percentages might be, they will have a chance with any two cards of winning the hand even if they start as underdogs. If they get a caller for their all-in jam, and win, they are chipped up and can dominate the table even more. Its an exciting way to play and can reap big rewards, however it can be a super roller coaster and these players can be back at the tellers’ window for another stack of chips. If don’t like facing this type of player, you better hope they end up on another table, but if you see them as an opportunity, hope they come back.

All of that aside, a smart way to play a cash game is regard it as a bit of a grind and try to see flops cheaply. Every game is different but if your cards turn into a good hand you should be able to capitalise with a big chip win. It’s a good poker strategy for avoiding trouble and is a top Texas hold’em cash game tip. And if you miss completely on the flop, but there is a bettor or raiser, you can get out without too much damage. If you do hit with your high value cards, that is when a bit more aggression pays off. If you do decide to take on an aggressive pre-flop approach, what it does do is get chips in the pot so if you do end up with the best hand or can pull of a bluff you win a decent pile of chips.

Poker StrategyThe Secret to Winning Texas Hold’em Poker.

The way you play a game is dependent on many variables. AS you can see there are many advanced live poker tournament strategies. Everyone has a poker strategy play that they are comfortable with, from passive to aggressive, and have a different approach to the result from the point of view of cash winnings and kudos. To some both mean nothing and to some they mean everything. On top of that there is the mix of people on the table. To do well in either the cash game or tournament play you need to work out the combinations of all of the above for each player, then their hand range, and adapt your game accordingly. Having one live poker tournament strategy to play with isn’t enough, you need to be flexible. To do well at poker you need to understand your opponent and their style of play and your own play. When you can work with those two things you will become a champion. Good luck.