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Tournament vs. Cash Play Part 2
This is part two of two exploring the differences between tournament and cash game play. Part one talked mostly about money; this article focuses on the play.
Chips Are Your Children
In my opinion, the most important difference between cash game and tourney play is the value of a single chip. Cash game play, and theory, allows you to be very liberal with your chips.
A lot of the concepts of a cash game are formulated under the assumption that you have the option and means to refill and reload your stack. Take implied odds as an example:
In a cash game, it can be greatly profitable to put money into a pot playing a hand with a very low probability of winning. If you have a 15% chance at winning the hand, but are likely to receive hundreds of times your investment back when it hits, then it can be the right move to play it.
The majority of the time you are going to miss and lose the pot. In a tournament, not having the ability to refill your stack makes this play a poor decision. Every chip represents your tournament life. The fewer chips you have, the less chance you have of survival.
For the reasons previously stated, to be successful in tournaments will require you to be considerably more conservative with your chips than you may be in a cash game. Don't get me wrong and think I'm preaching a weak-tight style.
The constant pressures of raising blinds make a weak-tight style a guaranteed way to get blinded away to tournament death. The classic style of being tight-aggressive is still king in the majority of tournaments.
To put it into perspective, if you were able to steal the blinds once every orbit, and never play another hand, you would be guaranteed to make it to heads-up. As you can see from that example, the concept of losing less vs. winning more is even more valuable in a tourney than in cash games.
Some people will call me a nit for this, but I'll stand by it. You should almost never go looking for a coin flip in a cash game. The whole reason we play poker, and not roulette, is to allow ourselves to put in our money when the odds are in our favor.
Cash games continue for an indefinite time period. You can always find a better spot to put your money in than a coin flip. The only times I will condone taking coin flips is when you are using them as a tool to manipulate table image.
If the other players on the table believe you're willing to take a coin flip at any time, they will be less likely to try and make large moves against you pre-flop.
In a tournament, you will be forced to take multiple coin flips on your road to the final table. The "standard" style of play in a tournament is to adjust your aggression and hand requirements along with the ratio of your stack to the total sum of the blinds.
In this scenario, you can afford to be super-tight in the early stages of a tourney and hope for large hands to find you. If those hands don't find you, you'll eventually be forced to find a hand to push pre-flop with.
As many other players will be in the same boat, you'll commonly find someone willing to make a call.
A few top tourney players like to play "backwards." Michael Mizrachi's style is to try and take coin flips in the early stages of a tourney. If he loses the flip, he finishes the same as he would have if he lost the flip in the later stages.
If he wins the flip, he can get himself into a situation where he will have enough chips to not be in "push or fold" mode at the same time as most of the field. If you can afford to be tight when the majority of the field is playing "push or fold," you can wait for the right spots to pick off players and pick up stacks.
There is no right way to play a tournament. Professionals have proved the "standard" or "backward" styles can both be greatly successful.
The final difference between the two types of games is playing on the bubble. The bubble of a tournament is when you have one person (or a small few in a very large tournament) left to bust before the remaining players make the money.
In a tournament large enough for the majority of the field to fear getting knocked out before the money, the dynamics of the tournament change completely when entering the bubble and again when the bubble bursts.
It is common for the majority of the field to completely "rock up" on the bubble. Almost no player will be willing to take a coin flip during the bubble, unless they will face elimination as a result of not taking the flip.
For this reason, this is where the seasoned pros will seriously pad their own chip stacks. If none of the players on your table are willing to call any large bets, you should be able to pick up multiple blinds every orbit until the bubble bursts.
In the end, the most important thing to remember is that poker is supposed to be fun. It's a game, and you should have a good time playing it. As a beginner, you may find yourself having much more fun in tournaments than in cash games.
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