Cash Games vs. Tournaments – What Should You Play?

A common question that you see asked in forums by newer players is advice for what game they should play. Should they play cash games or should they play tournaments (or sit and goes)?

It’s a reasonable question, but not an easy one to answer. At the end of the day, the game you should play is the one that you enjoy the most. If you’re a professional player the game you should play is the one you’re most profitable at; the game that you can play and generate the highest hourly rate. It’s really as simple as that.

But you came here for specific answers, didn’t you?

Well, there isn’t a one size fits all answer, but what I can do is compare cash games to tournaments over a few different factors and give you my opinion on the type of game that is better. Then it’ll be up to you to decide which factor is most important to you.

Note: I’m going to separate sit and goes from tournaments in my comparisons because, even though they are similar, they’re different enough that you’ll want to choose one or the other to start.

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Cash Game, Tournament and Sit and Go Comparisons

Here are 4 factors that I thought were worth comparing cash games, tournaments and sit and goes over.

1. Building  Your Poker Bankroll

In regards to building your bankroll, tournaments beat cash games hands down. The primary reason is that with tournaments, the only money you stand to lose is your buy-in. In a live tournament your bankroll can last quite a while since you can only play one table at a time, whereas online you can play several at once. Even with that said, I still choose tournaments over cash games because playing cash games you can lose full stacks of your money at any given time, and then you can reload and try again.

If you wanted to break tournaments down further, sit and goes are better for your bankroll than larger MTTs. If you’re a SNG player going more than 10 or 15 games without a cash isn’t common, but it’s more than common with MTTs. In fact, with MTTs you can go a long time without making money at all.

So, for building a bankroll I think that sit and goes are the best way to go.

2. Overall Earnings Ceiling

We all see it on ESPN; guys and girls competing for millions of dollars playing the WPT or the WSOP Main Event. The winner of those tournaments usually make $250k to $1 million dollars, if not as much as $5-$10 (for the main event). So you’d think that you can win more money playing tournaments.

That’s not the case though.

Cash games have the highest ceiling for the amount of money that you can make. You can make hundreds, if not thousands of dollars per day playing sit and goes and tournaments.

You can make that in one hand playing cash.

Keep in mind, too, that when you see tournament players make that much money after one tournament, that they lost or min-cashed 10s of tournaments before they cashed big (or won) that one tournament.

3. Convenience

Cash games are more convenient than tournaments, hands down. That would have to be one of my biggest gripes at being a sit and go player.

With sit and goes you need to set aside so much time to play them, usually 30-60 minutes at the very least, and as much as 2.5 hours for the 90 to 180 man sit and goes. That’s a lot of time to block out of your day.

Tournaments are worse. Tournaments can take hours, if not days to complete.

Cash games are simple. You can come and go as you please. If you need to go to the bathroom, run to the store or take care of an emergency, all you need to do is hit the sit out button (or get up from the table) and leave.

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4. Skill and Strategy Improvement

As much as I hate to admit it, tournaments have nothing on cash games when it comes to skill and strategy development. In other words, improving as a poker player overall.

Now, don’t get me wrong. You need to understand certain strategies such as push/fold and when to pass on slightly +EV spots for bigger +EV spots in the future. And comparing tournament strategy to cash game strategy is comparing apples to oranges. They really are two different games.

But overall, if you want to be a great, well rounded poker player, cash games are the way to go. In cash games you get the opportunity to play with the same players over and over again, learning how to develop reads and when to use them. You can learn how to take advantage of thin +EV spots and play with deep stacks. Cash games are just more complex.