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Differences between Poker Cash Games, SNGs, and MTTs

Written by Saeid “BnB” Halvaeian

No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em (NLHE) is the most well-recognized and widely-played variant of poker. Online poker sites typically offer three different formats in which to play: cash games, tournaments, and sit-n-gos.

Each format differs greatly from the others. A tight and solid approach might be best for tournaments, but perhaps isn’t the way you should be playing in a cash game. This article will highlight the intricacies that lie within each different game.

Perhaps the biggest fundamental difference between cash games and tournaments is that you can always reload in cash games. Online poker rooms typically let you buy-in for a maximum of 100 big blinds, and if you happen to fall below that number or lose your chips, you are welcome to buy more. In tournaments, however, you pay a certain buy-in and fee and should you lose your chips, you are out of the tournament.

This key difference heavily influences the way each game is played. In cash games, there is an increase in aggression amongst players because they know they can always reload if things go poorly for them. In tournaments however, you will notice a tighter and more solid approach, as players are trying to move up the money ladder and as well as keep their tournament chips.

Knowing this information can help you to play back against your opponents. If you are seated at a cash game, be on the lookout for ultra-aggressive players who overvalue weak hands and play their draws strongly. Wait for a quality hand and trap them. In tournaments, try to putting on the weak-tight players by repeatedly stealing their blinds and antes.

Another important difference between cash games and tournaments are the value of starting hands, particularly suited connectors, gapped suited connectors, and low pocket pair.

In cash games, these cards are the money makers. They are capable of connecting with the board in many different ways, either with sets, straights, or flushes. Since stacks are so deep compared to tournaments, playing these cards become very profitable. If you can hit just right against the correct opponent, the results will be huge.

Suited connectors and low pocket pair go down in value in tournaments, especially later in the tournaments when the blinds become large and the average stack size doesn’t allow for fancy play. It just isn’t profitable to call off a decent percentage of your stack with the hopes of flopping a set or a good draw.

In tournaments, my advice is to be patient and wait for premium hands. Pick your spots, however. For example, if its folded around to you in the cutoff (one before the button) and you have 76s, put pressure on the blinds and raise. You have a playable hand and are in position, as well as the chance that your opponents will fold and you’ll take the blinds. If the situation was reversed, however, and you were facing a raise from late position and held just 76s, fold.

In SNGs and Tournaments, you want to play tight in the early stages, and loosen up as the field begins to narrow down and the blinds begin to increase. Stealing and re-stealing become an important method of accumulating chips.

When I first started playing poker, I played all three formats of poker. I dabbled in cash and realized that I wasn’t very good at it. The same occurred with SNGS. I finally decided to focus on MTTs for a large part of my career. Recently however, tournaments have bored me and I’ve moved back to cash games.

I suggest that you also experiment with all three different games and see which you like best. Tournaments and cash games are two different monsters, each with their own ways of being played. See which one you like best and learn as much as possible as you can about it. Focus in on it and before you know it, you’ll be raking in that dough.