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Cash Versus Tournament Play

A close look at what distinguishes cash-game play: Its availability, the opportunity to re-buy, the ease of multi-tabling and how you can cut down variance.

As in all poker, decision-making in cash games is always situation dependent. There is never a precise and definitive answer to questions such as "How should I play a pair of threes?" or "Can I call a raise with top pair?" It will always depend on a number of factors.
Therefore there will be no attempt to give definitive answers in these articles to all the questions typically raised during a cash game. Instead the course shows various examples of situations in Texas Hold'em and offers reasoning and analysis as to what will is the best play.

If you apply the key concepts outlined in the Poker Basics course, then practice often at the tables, you will come to recognise similar situations in your own cash games, where the same kind of reasoning and analysis will apply.

And whenever you come across something that doesn't make sense, or that you disagree with, or seems to stray far from what you have learned so far, by all means save the details and discuss it in the forum


This course will build on what has been learned previously and apply it specifically to a cash game environment. There are numerous ways in which cash games are distinguished from tournaments, including:
  • Availability
  • Re-buying
  • The impact of variance
We will look at each in turn.

Cash game availability

At any time during a cash game, you are permitted simply to leave the table and take with you all the money you have at that point. This differs from a tournament, where you are obliged to play it until you have either won the entire game or been knocked out. This allows cash game players a much greater freedom of game selection.

Also if you are playing cash, you don't have to wait for a specific time for games to start (as in a multi-table tournament) or for a certain number of players to register (as in a sit and go). You can just scan the lobby for a game you like and sit down immediately if there is a seat open.

If the table is full, you can register your interest on the waiting list and join the action as soon as a seat becomes free. You post your blinds and away you go.


Losing all your chips in a tournament is a disaster. You are out of the tournament and must leave the table. However, this is simply not true in a cash game, where you always have the chance to re-buy and continue playing (bankroll permitting).

That doesn't mean you should start splashing your chips around without any thought, but it certainly is a comforting fact if you lose to a bad beat or fall on the unlucky side of a marginal play.

It is important to remember in a cash game that "correct play" means there are times you really need to risk all your chips even if you are not certain to win the hand. For instance, you might be playing against a very aggressive maniac player and hold a hand like pocket queens. If he puts you all in pre-flop you are very likely to be a favorite to win, even though it is the nature of poker that you won't win every single time.
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