BLOG – Cash games or tournaments? The age-old question

BLOG – Cash games or tournaments? The age-old question

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

If you had asked me this time last year what I thought of tournament poker you would have gotten a very different answer: “waste of time,” I would have said derisively. “Too much luck, not enough chips.”

Two of those three statements remain true – there is far too much luck in a poker tournament, where one single 4 per cent, two card shot hitting on the river can ruin hours or even days of solid poker and send you home empty-handed; there are not enough chips towards the latter stages and especially in an average pub or casino tournament with 15 or 20 minute blind levels – fine online, less than a full orbit of the table live.

A waste of time, though? Players such as Sorel Mizzi, Chris Moorman and Phil Hellmuth would certainly argue that point, and they’d be correct. Tournaments, despite the fact that you can go more than thirty events without a cash in a typical downswing, can be very lucrative if you’re prepared to tolerate the cons.

The main disadvantages of playing tournaments for a living over cash games are firstly the higher variance and secondly the fact that your time is not your own. If I start six-tabling the cash games at 4pm and I want to go to the pub at 8pm, I can. I’ll just sit out, cash out and sign out... later in the night, I will pass out. However, if I’ve signed up for a load of $10 and $20 180-mans at PokerStars, I can’t leave at 7.30pm to go to the pub – I’m still in four events and in two I’ve cashed. If I make the final table or win, it’s a good result but I’ve been a slave to time.

However, in my first year of Uni I was a regular at a Wednesday night £11 freezeout in Twickenham. The buy-in got you 5,000 chips at 25/50 with 20 minute blind levels and the first prize was usually around £200 for the 55-60 man tournament. I played each week and sometimes I busted within an hour, sometimes I finished 8th or another position just outside the five-place payout structure, sometimes I cashed. I won it twice and finished in the top three four times overall. I’d say if I had to estimate that I played the game 25-30 times and made a profit of around £300. I wish I could have afforded a decent buy-in for the crazy and juicy £0.25/£0.50 cash game that saw three- and four-figure pots.

So I made a few hundred quid over what amounts to over eight months of playing a tournament a week. Not the best winrate, but do you know what? It was fun. After playing over 12 tables of small stakes online and grinding out a profit by waiting for premium hands and perfect bluff spots, it was refreshing to have social interaction while I played. Also, there is nothing like the thrill of being all-in for your tournament life deep in the final stages of a big event.

It’s largely, I think, because I’ve become desensitised to money in cash games – if I lose $150, which is around £100, it’s not a ton. If I lost £100 from my wallet I’d be devastated; at the poker tables it’s just less than eight buy-ins. Pretty bad downswing but I’ve had worse.
In a tournament, you can’t be desensitised to chips – they’re all you have. Re-buys notwithstanding.

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