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Poker Strategy for Cash Games & Tournaments

If you have been playing poker for a while now, you must be aware of the two types of poker games: tournaments and cash games. Most poker players dabble in a bit of both while deciding on one format.


Below, are the differences between the two and how it should affect your playing choice.


1. Variance

Let's say you have a pocket Kings pre flop. You raise, your opponent re-raises you, you decide to go all in, villain calls, shows Aces and wins the pot. The worst thing that happened to you here is that you lost a big pot. This is variance - getting unlucky in key spots in tournaments hurts much more than it does in cash games. A big mistake in a tournament can cost you the tournament life whereas in cash game, just a bit of money. 


2. Justice or Lack Thereof

If a bad player busts you out of a tournament, you can do nothing about it. Justice of playing bad isn't served immediately. So it isn't uncommon that a bad player is running deep in a tournament. Whereas in a cash game, even if the bad player gives you a bad beat, you can always reload and outplay him in the same session. This lack of or delayed justice in tournaments brings us to the next point.


3. The Mental Game

For a good poker player, having a strong mental game is very important. It is said that in poker, a good player will always win in the long run. This 'long run' can be longer in tournaments than in cash games. And a strong mentality is required to navigate those rough times. Patience becomes a key virtue.


4. Return on Investment (ROI)

The high variance nature of tournaments also makes it the format with higher returns of investment. For example you are playing a tournament of Rs. 10k buyin. Usually such a tournament will have a guaranteed prize pool of Rs. 20 Lac with the first price being around Rs. 5 lac. Say you win the tournament, the return thus becomes 5lac/10k or 50x!

Where cash games give you a regular monthly income, tournaments present the chances of giving you life changing money.


The choice of what game to play depends upon your risk appetite, your skill in each format, bankroll and the stage of your poker journey. 


Poker Cash Games Strategy


A poker cash game is a game where in poker players buy in, and play with real cash. They can enter and exit the game as they please. Cash games do not have a time limit. 


Now, read the strategies below to up your cash games and win real money. 


  • Choose a table that suits your game - Finding a good table is extremely essential. In cash games, you have to be careful not to choose a table where random betting is going on. However, the best part is that you can always leave a table and sit on another. Exit a table where you are losing, and you are bound to win.


  • Bankroll management is the key - If you are sitting at stakes which are only 20-30 BB, you will lose out on your money really quickly to players who are 3 betting each time they have strong hands. You will be forced to fold a lot of times, and you will lose a big chunk of your buy-in in the process. So, choose your stakes as per your buy in, and sit at a table where you can strong play your opponents.


  • Position is key. Use it to your advantage - In poker, position is extremely important. Generally, the button (dealer) opens up good hands around 30-40% of the time. And the further away from the button you are, you will have to play extremely tight. Poker is a game that allows you to choose your battles. So choose wisely.


  • Avoid over bluffing - It is always safe to bluff if your cards are not being opened. However, showing your cards, and finding bluffs more than a few times will lead the other players to judge your game. In cash games, it is essential to keep your cards unopened as much as you can. Over-bluffing is a tell, and tells are toxic in poker, and much more in cash games.


  • Play aggressively - There is nothing stopping you from playing aggressively in cash games. Playing meekly will allow the other players to bluff and take the pot. Aggressive play will lead the other players to play under pressure, and that is the best position you can place them in.


  • Exploit the game of the weak players - As is the case in cash games, you can exit the table at any time and sit at another. So, use that to your advantage and you will get to know the entire table’s hands if you pay keen attention to their game, and therefore the game of the other players vis-a-vis the weak players.


However, there are some basic tips and tricks that we thought you should know before sitting at a cash table. 


  • Avoid betting or raising with hands that are not strong enough.
  • Bet and 3-bet when you have a strong hand.
  • Draws are good hands to bluff with, be it straight or flush or full house. 
  • Value bet on strong hands. These will get you your desired pot.
  • When there’s a multi-way pot... check. Play safe, and save your buy-in.
  • Put extreme pressure when you’re heads-up.
  • Take care of your tilt. Stop playing if you cannot get over it.


Now that you are aware of the strategies to play at cash tables and tips and tricks to win the pot and win the maximum pot, let’s see you put these into action, and win some money at poker. 


Poker Tournament Strategy


Poker tournament is a format of poker wherein poker players compete to win from a consolidated prize pool by paying a buy-in fee. They are then given a set number of chips to play with, and each player goes through different rounds to win from the prize pool. Poker tournaments can be timed or untimed. 


Poker tournament strategies differ a lot from cash games.  Everyone starts with the same stack, unlike cash games where people can bring stacks of different sizes to the same table. Also, tournaments are all about survival. Once your stack of chips is gone, so are you. These strategies will help your survive the different phases of a tournament. 


1) Steal the blinds

The blinds are worth a lot when starting out. A lot of players will fold in the first few rounds of the tournament. But the rest of the players will go all-in. What matters in the first few hands is getting an edge over the rest of the players by stealing the blinds. 


2) Be patient with your moves

As discussed earlier, a lot of people go all-in in the first few rounds. Others will make stupid moves to get a chip lead early on. Be strong. Those who survive the first few rounds with a sizeable amount of chips with them, wade through to the money. 


3) Take the table when shorthanded

Being short-handed in poker means playing with lesser players than a table allows, i.e. 8-9. This is when the game becomes a lot more interesting, and you can force people to make mistakes which they wouldn’t. The urge to make random moves is much higher when a few people have left. 


4) Heads Up? Go all out!

Heads-up raises your odds of winning much higher. A single face card can do more damage to an opponent in a heads-up, than when starting a tournament. Try bluffing, 3-bets, 4-bets and the like. But realize that the other player also plays as well, and thus he has beaten the rest of the tourney players. So, be wary of his play.


5) Hold yourself tight on the bubble.

It’s the bubble that bursts the bubbles of a lot of players. The bubble means that stage in a tournament when upon the removal of one or two players from the tournament, the rest of the players go in-the-money. This is when players start getting erratic with their moves. 


So, now that you’re a little more aware of how to go about a poker tournament we think you’re ready to hit the tables. 


Poker Freeroll Tournaments


Poker Freeroll Tournaments


Freeroll Tournaments are those poker tournaments where a player can play poker without putting in any money. Freeroll tournaments may be timed or untimed, but they are, as the name suggests, free to enter and play. These tournaments allow you to hone your poker skills without investing any money at all. 9stacks has hourly freerolls, and if you have the time, you should play freeroll tournaments, learn poker as much as you can, and then opt for bigger buy-in tournaments. 


Here are the best strategies to master freeroll tournaments, and win the maximum amount of money. You can always use this money to play other tournaments which involve some buy-in. 


  • Play tight at the beginning.

A freeroll tournament is a tournament where you have invested a total of Rs. 0. This allows a lot of players to squander their chips while at the beginning of the game itself. if you are playing to win, play tight. If you let the others lose out their chips, you can play with your chips, and win big later, with fewer players in the action.


  • Avoid all-ins while starting the tournament.

This is one of the most common sightings in freeroll tournaments. A lot of players go all-in in the first round of a freeroll tournament. The reason behind this is that they either play to win big, or to get out.. So, avoid going all-in, and play with the rest, who are also playing for doubling their chips or getting out.


  • Avoid bluffing too much.

The players you are playing against are all unknown players. You don’t know how they play. Bluffing against them may cost you. So, avoid bluffing too much, and stick to the basics.


  • Get more aggressive during the middle stages.

Do not get too aggressive, but do not play meekly during the middle stages of a freeroll tournament. Put a little pressure on the players, so that only those who are playing seriously will play further, and you can win more.


  • Pressurize the opponents towards the bubble.

The only players that remain towards the end, i.e. towards the bubble are the serious players, and players who have either a hefty chipstack, or those that are struggling with their chips. By putting a lot of pressure on the players, you will force them to make errors, and the ones who are left with a lesser chipstack will go all-in, and hopefully lose their stack. 


So, now that you are wiser vis-a-vis freeroll tournaments, why not play a few hands in freeroll tournament and win some money even when you haven’t invested any of yours to play. 

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Author

Sakshi Misra

A social media strategist and an avid poker enthusiast, she loves taking risks and so is naturally aggressive on the poker table.