Lucille Cailly
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Basic differences between cash game and tournament play

In cash games, every hand you play is most of the time 100bb deep or more and what you’re looking for are EV+ opportunities (spots that will win money in the long run).


What you have to acknowledge while in a cash game hand:
• Metagame between you and your opponent(s)
• Your hand
• Your opponent’s range
• Pot and implied odds

What you have to acknowledge while in a tournament hand:
• Payout structure
• Your edge compared to your opponents
• The effect playing a hand a certain way has on the rest of your tournament


In cash games, you usually know the other players quite well and you try as much as possible to play the weaker ones (even though it’s always interesting to play with stronger players to get better). The metagame between players is really developed. It may be harder to manipulate your image against those players who know you well. There is comparatively very much less element of surprise when compared to the newness of opponents faced in MTTs.

During MTTs, your opponents will base their first impression of you over appearance, the way you act at the table (chip tricks, timings, tells, etc.). They will quickly categorize you as a young online aggressive player, an old guy with a very conservative style, an online qualified scared money player, or a nitty woman that can’t play well.

You need to be aware of the image you project and play the opposite style (as long as they don’t notice). A lot of great players who are known to be maniacs are actually way tighter than they’re presupposed to be. Their best asset is being able to change speeds rather than being super agro all the time. They can play really tight at the beginning of a tournament because they know their maniac image still precedes them. Those players have a style almost not exploitable at all. They try to control the pots size and grind chips through set ups and hero calls (due to strong reading ability of their opponents) and know they might get paid when they otherwise shouldn’t. When everyone think you’re a maniac, your opponents will often put you on a bluff.

Tournament strategy requires not being exploitable, playing low variance, and avoiding large pots in marginal situations during the beginning of the tournament. Cash games on the other hand make it substantially harder to determine an opponent’s range (because you’re typically effective 100bb+) versus tournament shortstacks. During tournaments, you are less likely to know the players really well, play tight (but not super tight), with hands that have decent equity. This is typically the most reasonable way to proceed. You’ll expend or tighten your range through the tournament depending on the evolution of your image. This means you will rarely call 3 bets, check/raise flops, overbet, or even barrel as much as in cash games. You will try to play mostly in position and be the initiator of the hands you get in.

On the other hand, if you look closely at big shorthanded online cash games, you’ll see that aggressiveness is omnipresent. Most of the hands are at least 3bet pre flop and streets are often check raise reraised etc. Obviously that style is very high variance and you can endure several buy in swings in a short time. In MTTs, you get one chance: you need to think about survival.


Let’s look at 2 similar hands played – one, in a survival strategy (215$ SH online tournament) and the other, a perspective of creating profit over the long run (Online medium stake SH CG):

The player on the small blind is quite weak and calling station. The big blind is a decent player.

We have 100b effective chips.
We raise 8♠ 9♠ at the cut off to 3BB
Both the SB and the BB call.
Flop 10♠ 7♥ 4♠ 

Both blinds check.
We cbet 6bb
SB calls and BB raises to 20bb

For this scenario, a cash game, we’d be more than happy to commit our stack on the flop. With our hand, we’ll have almost 40% equity against a set (and there are not only sets in his range). It’d be +EV and profitable in the long run.

In MTTs, it’s different. As we said earlier, our opponent is a decent player and he’ll often have a set (in tournaments). At the beginning of a tournament, doubling up does not guarantee a deep run. Busting on the other hand would obviously be really bad, especially at a pretty weak table where it’s possible to chip up without too much variance. It’s likely strategically best to just call and play our outs on the turn. If I don’t hit, I can give up if my opponent barrels on the turn and the bet is too big compared to stack sizes and odds. Obviously, it’s still + EV to go all in on the flop in MTTs, but it’s still more profitable to wait for better spots, especially at an easy table, where we’d likely have later opportunities to engage our chips with better equity.

Lucille "SoMuchB" Cailly

wow totally freaking awesome post Lucille

funny thing > I was talking about the difference between cash and tournament yesertday with friends in a pub... your exaplanations are much better than mine respect, I send the article to my guys A♥ 

thanks you're our Q♥

Oh thank you! Happy I could help

fantastic article, i thought I knew a lot but apparently I still have a lot to learn, makes you humble. Thanks a lot Lucille

repost btw

@BernyBooboo why u no repost man? If u like u repost