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Cash Games Vs. Poker Tournaments

Switching From Cash Games to Tournament Poker

There are several differences be it large and noticeable or small and subtle when comparing poker cash games to poker tournaments and sit n go's. Cash games are generally played with blinds that stay the same throughout the whole session with players playing with as much money as they can afford to bring. If they go broke, they can just simply buy back in for the minimum and at any time, a player may get up, take their chips, and leave the table.

Tournaments and sit n go's are a little bit different. Generally, for any one specific tournament or sit n go, all players will pay the same amount to buy-in which in return, they will all be given the same pre-determined amount of chips to start with. Tournaments and sit n go's have blinds or levels which are on timers with the amount of blinds that are required to pay increasing as the levels move up. For example, in a common online sit n go, players will sign up to a $5+$.50 sit n go that starts with 6 players with 1,500 in chips. All levels are 10 minutes long with the first level having blinds of $10/$20 and increasing as they much to the second level, third level, and so forth.

Tournaments and sit n go's also have "prize pools" which is the total amount of money divided amongst the top 10% to 30% of the field that has signed up and is on a sliding scale with the majority of the winnings going to first place.
So with all of these differences, is it possible to be a winning player in both cash games and tournaments/sit n go's? Well, sure, it is possible and there are many winning players that do both on a regular basis. But these players have a solid understanding of the many differences that there are and so of course they are properly prepared. To help cash players transits smoothly into tournament and/or sit n go players, here are some things to keep in mind.

Bankroll Needed For Cash Games Vs. Tournaments

A common rule of thumb for a cash game player's bankroll is to have about 300 to 500 times the amount of the big blind in the stakes they wish to play. For example, if you were to play in a $.50/$1 ring game it would be suggested to have a very minimum of $300 with preference as high as $500. This is to manage the swings that a player may face to avoid going broke since they are playing with their own money.

When making the transition to playing tournaments and sit n go's, a player is going to want to have at least 40 times the amount of the buy-in for the game they wish to play. So if you would like to buy into a $5 sit n go, it would be advised that you have at least a $200 bankroll. What players need to be prepared for is the fact that the variance in sit n go's and tournaments are much higher than those in a cash game are simply because if you do not place in the top 10% to 30%, you do not make any of that money back. It is very common for players to go through several games before cashing.

Blinds Never Change

In cash games, the blinds generally stay put. They do not change every so often, which allows player to pick and choose the hands they want to play as well as how often. The only thing cash players have to be concerned about are the blinds that come around every orbit, but since they do not get any higher, players do not have to worry nearly as much about the blinds consuming their stack.  

In tournaments and sit n go's, the blinds will range anywhere from 3 minutes to 30 minutes or more depending on the game with the dollar amount of the blinds increasing each level. The lower the blind lengths the more luck that is involved with the higher-level lengths allowing for more skill. The blind amounts also increase each level requiring players to play so that the as the blinds go up, their stack is not consumed. It is important for cash players to keep in mind that although being tight is ok for the first few rounds, they will have to implement some sort of strategy to stay alive if they have yet to accumulate chips. Also, as blinds go up, they become more attractive to steal which helps many players stay alive to make it into the money.

Starting Hands Vary Between Cash Games vs. Tournament Poker

In cash games, players tend to rely more on implied odds when choosing hands to play. So often times players do not have to be concerned with strict starting hand requirements and can often play suited cards, connectors, and pairs with the mindset that they will be paid off should they hit. Of course this is just a generalization and many factors are still considered, but not nearly to the extent as tournaments and sit n go's.

In tourneys and sit n go's, starting hand requirements are very important as no one wants to bust out before making it into the money. So most times, overall play is fairly tight and straight forward without too many outrageous bluffs. As the field narrows and the blinds increase, most players will open their hand ranges as the blinds become more valuable to steal and each player that is knocked out is one-step closer to making it into the money. Implied odds play a small factor in these games but are often outweighed by the fact that everyone is trying to make the money.

Walking Away

As mentioned above, players in cash games can get up and walk away at any time with the money that is in front of them. On the other hand, in sit n go's and tourneys, players can play for hours only to bubble (miss the money by one player) and walk away with absolutely nothing. Much of the strategy that is used in tournaments and sit n go's revolve around the idea of getting to the money first, and then switching gears if needed. Once the bubble has burst and everyone has made their money back, many players will loosen up and get more aggressive.

Switching to Tournaments and Sit n Go's

Although it is possible to be successful at both cash games and tournaments and sit n go's, a player will first have to understand the differences in game structure, bankroll, variance, and strategy. Once a player has a grasp on these concepts they can get to changing their style of play in cash games to better adapt to tourneys/sit n go's to ensure that their transition is a smooth one. 

If you enjoy playing sit n go tournaments, check out our list of the top SnG poker sites