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The Beginners Guide Series: What are Cash Games?

Poker is a popular game for many reasons. First, it is relatively easy to learn how to play. While the basic rules can be learned in just a few minutes, there are endless game variations that players of all skill levels can enjoy. It is also a social game you can enjoy with friends and family. Unlike many other games, poker encourages players to interact with one another, making it a great way to spend time with friends and loved ones. Poker is a game of strategy that requires players to think carefully about each action to maximize their chances of winning while minimizing their chances of losing. Poker is an excellent option whether you are looking for a fun way to pass the time or a challenging test of your mental prowess.

The variety of ways to play and the strategic depth of poker is one of its greatest strengths, but this is also what can make the game understandably intimidating for beginning players. Choosing the best poker variant between Texas Hold’em and Omaha, the best game type between cash games and tournaments, and the best in-game strategy like the ‘LAG’ or ‘TAG’ playstyles are just some of the many choices beginners need to make. If you don’t know much about poker, you may be confused about where to start. 

Generally, beginners should start by learning Texas Hold’em because of its straightforward rules and strategic depth. As for tournaments or cash games, an explanation of the differences will help you make the right choice as a beginner. And that is exactly what we plan to do with this article. We will explain what a cash game is, how they work, and the pros and cons versus other poker formats.

What is a Cash Game?

For many poker players, cash games are the format to which they are first introduced. In a cash game, players buy-in for a set amount of money, which is exchanged for an equivalent value of poker chips. The poker chips are then used to make bets throughout the game. The buy-ins have minimum and maximum limits based on the game’s stakes and where you’re playing. In a cash game, the value of each chip is directly tied to the money used to buy them, making it easy for players to track how much they are winning or losing. Cash games can be played with as few as two players, making them a great way to get started in poker. They are much simpler than tournaments, as they occur at just one table and do not have complex structures, unlike a typical multi-table tournament.

Aggression in Cash Games 

Cash games are divided into two main types: 6-max and full-ring. Full-ring cash games can have up to ten or eleven players, while 6-max cash games will have no more than six players. The added players change many of the game dynamics and one of the most prevalent changes is the level of aggression. In full-ring games, you should play far more conservatively. The added number of players can lead to more multiway pots, which are inherently more volatile since there is greater potential for a monster hand. That means it can be best to wait for a strong hand instead of trying to bluff. Confidence, real or fake, can assist with your success in the hands you play. 

Conversely, in 6-max cash games, you can be far more aggressive than in a full-ring game. The blinds rotate often with the lower player count, so anybody who tries to play too conservatively will slowly watch their bankroll disappear. That makes 6-max games perfect for experienced players looking to grind earnings or players that enjoy quick and thrilling games. In contrast, full-ring games can be better for beginners trying to learn the basics of poker or players that prefer to sit back and play conservatively or interact with the other players at the poker table.

Position in a Cash Game

Position is another one of the many altered dynamics between 6-max and full-ring cash games. In every form of poker, position is critical to understand. Where you sit at the table determines when you act relative to the other players. Acting last gives you a massive informational advantage since you can see the actions of your opponents which will affect your decision. In 6-max, position arguably matters less since there are fewer players, meaning the advantages/disadvantages of position are less pronounced. Still, 6-max rewards exploitative play, and since players are more likely to be aggressive, being in position is critical to punish your opponents when they miss the flop. 

Cash Games vs Tournaments Payouts

In a poker tournament, the reward structure is far more inconsistent than cash games. In a tournament, players are slowly eliminated as the game plays, slowly losing their chips as the blinds increase over time. The prize pool is also top-heavy, with the lion’s share of the money going to the small handful of players, usually the top 10%, who survive long enough. That means that even the best players can suffer hefty droughts and downswings. In a cash game, the blinds remain constant, so there is no pressure to take a risk and gamble big to stay in the game. As a result, cash games are much more stable and consistent than tournaments, especially if you’re good enough to win consistently. This is why poker regulars often prefer cash games as a reliable source of income. 

Cash games also have the benefits of being simpler and easier to access, particularly when you play online poker. For one, you don’t need to sign up in advance – you can just buy in and start playing. You don’t need to clear your schedule, as you can join and leave the game any time you want. In a tournament, you have to schedule a block of time since you never know whether you’ll be playing for ten minutes or ten hours. Cash games also have a more straightforward format than tournaments, which can be less confusing for beginners or casual players.

Cash Game Disadvantages vs. Tournaments

The primary disadvantage of cash games versus tournaments is the level of competition. Many players who participate in cash games do so as a vocation and are extremely skilled and knowledgeable about the game. As a result, entrants into medium or high-stakes cash games will often find themselves at a disadvantage. On the other hand, tournament play tends to be more relaxed, particularly in the early levels. You often encounter casual players trying out tournaments after watching professional poker players. Another potential disadvantage of cash games is how monotonous they can become. It’s hard to imagine a game as thrilling as poker becoming boring, but if you play too many cash games, it can get repetitive. Tournaments can keep you on the edge of your seat, fearing elimination, and there’s nothing quite like the ridiculously high stakes at a tournament’s final table.