Saturday, May 23, 2015

Should You Play Cash Games, Tournaments or Sit and Gos?

Should You Play Cash Games, Tournaments or Sit and Gos?
When you first start playing online poker you have a choice to make: Should I play cash games, tournaments or sit and gos? They are all poker. There is no difference in the rules. However, they are vastly different formats that each require a completely separate set of strategies for success.

Now I think that most of you probably already know which format I prefer. Of the nearly 500 blog posts on this website roughly all of them are about cash games. But I think there are pros and cons to cash games, tournaments and sit and gos. I am a fan of the other two formats and I have certainly dabbled in both of them to various extents over the years. In this article I am going to go over the good and the bad with each and explain why I ultimately decided to choose cash games.

But before I begin some people might be thinking to themselves why do I have to choose? Why not just play all three or even a combination of two? This is a good question.

I think the answer is pretty straightforward though. If you were to spread your play across several different formats you run the risk of becoming a jack of all trades and a master of none. I think it is better to specialize so that you get really, really good at one rather than being just decent at a bunch of them. This will ultimately be much better for your bottom line as well.

With that said, let's begin!

Cash Games Pros

1. Flexibility. This is one of the biggest reasons that I choose to play cash games. I can come and go when I please. If I feel like playing for 15 minutes then I will play for 15 minutes. If I feel like playing for 8 hours then I will play for 8 hours. Furthermore, I do not have to schedule my sessions around any particular time of the day. There is plenty of action at the cash game tables around the clock and I can jump in and out whenever I want. This just makes planning my life so much easier. It also helps with tilt control. If things are going badly and I feel like my play is suffering then I can simply shut down all of my tables immediately and leave for the day.

2. Steady Profit. Arguably just as important to me is the idea of winning on a regular basis. I generally know what to expect with cash games. Yes, sometimes there are lengthy downswings or heaters but for the most part I know that I will come away with a profit on most days. Even though we should always focus on the long run these frequent wins are good from a psychological perspective. The consistent results (relative to the other two formats) also allows me to be much more confident in where my abilities are.

3. High Profit Ceiling. Even though I am well known as the micro stakes guy and I do not have any real aspirations to take a run at mid stakes or high stakes (at least at the moment) I do believe that cash games have the highest potential profit ceiling out of the three formats. The action in high stakes cash games has dried up quite a bit in recent years but the millionaire club always still has plenty of members.
cash games, tournaments or sit and gos?
The top 5 biggest cash game winners in 2014 according to

Note the ridiculously low volume for all 5 of them as well. That is just over $31 a hand for Jungleman if you are keeping score at home. Punting-peddler actually one upped him by a fair margin making $43 every time he played a hand of poker last year.

I don't believe that the top winners in the other two formats come close to these numbers year in and year out, especially when you consider it from a dollar per hand or hourly perspective. If you want to get really rich, play cash.

Cash Game Cons

1. Competition. I think that cash games are probably the most popular format overall and with that comes more competition. And really what I mean by this is the level of competition. While recreational players are more inclined to spread out their action more evenly across the different formats cash games tend to attract more professional poker players. It's really easy to see why. As I just mentioned the session time flexibility of cash games makes it a lot easier to plan your life and the steady profit creates the kind of cash flow that helps when it comes time to pay the bills.

2. Complexity. This is actually a pro for some, including me. I think cash games are clearly the hardest format to get good at. It is really simple to see why. The stacks are generally a lot deeper and therefore there are more decisions to be made after the flop. Decisions are much more complex on those later streets in particular. There is no quick mathematical calculation for instance that will tell you if your opponent is bluffing, range merging or has the nuts when he makes a big bet on the river. I have great respect for the other two formats and I don't want to sound like I am "dissing" them. But I do think that it is a lot easier for a cash game player to go and have success in tournaments or sit and gos compared to the other way around.

Tournament Pros

1. The Big Win. There is nothing more exciting in all of poker than a tournament final table. And if you have ever won a poker tournament then you will know what a rush it is. This is not to mention how good it is for your bankroll! This is personally why I still play MTTs every now and then. I love the feeling of going deep and having that shot of hitting a big time score.

2. Staking. Getting staked, which means playing fully or partially with somebody else's financial backing and sharing the profit or losses, is a lot easier to get and more accepted in tournaments than in the other two formats. There is a huge and well known staking culture that exists across all limits both live and online. This can be a nice safety net to have given the extreme variance that comes with playing tournaments on a regular basis.

Tournament Cons

1. Chained to Your Chair. This is the number one reason that I could never play MTTs full time. I want to be able to make plans with friends which aren't dependent on how deep I run in a tournament. Also, even more annoying is when you fire up 10 of them, bust quick in 9 but go deep in one. You know full well that you are going to sit there for another 4 hours just to lose a flip and go out in 12th!

2. Extreme Variance. Tournament players regularly go months and months on end without a single significant score. Sometimes they can even go years. This would test my sanity to the point where I might lose confidence in my abilities completely. It takes a very unique type of person to deal with the kind of adversity that tournaments can dish out.

3. Low Profit Ceiling. Even though it sounds counter-intuitive at first considering that there is nothing better for your bankroll that 1st place in a tournament, I think that overall tournaments have the lowest potential profits at least in the online game. Every year you will have one or two guys who run lights out and take down several major MTTs. But then you won't hear about them for years afterwards while variance sorts itself out. I think that there is more consistent potential money to be made in the other two formats.

Sit and Go Pros

1. Reasonable Flexibility. When I talk about sit and gos I mean the 45, 27 and 9 mans. Many years ago Pokerstars came out with 180 mans (and soon after 90 mans as well) and they are still very popular to this day at the lower buyin levels. However, since they can take hours to complete in some cases I classify them as tournaments instead of sit and gos. Traditional sit and gos are usually over in about an hour, sometimes less. So this is why I see sit and gos as more like cash games. They have a reasonable amount of flexibility in the time commitment unlike big multi-table tournaments which can take all day to complete.

2. Rakeback Monsters. Sit and gos (at least on Pokerstars) are rakeback generating machines especially at the mid to high stakes levels. If you look at the list of Supernova Elites each year sit and go players invariably take up much more than their fair share of the spots. Some high stakes sit and go pros regularly achieve Supernova Elite (worth 100k USD) multiple times in the same calendar year. Or if your name happens to be George "Jorj95" Lind then you might just ship SNE in one month! If you are a talented sit and go player capable of putting in big volume then this is the format where you can earn some massive rakeback.

Sit and Go Cons

1. Low Traffic. I think that of the three major formats sit and gos are probably last in terms of the overall number of people playing them. They also tend to attract a bit higher percentage of professionals on average just like with cash games. This means that you will often be forced to play during peak traffic hours and the recreational players will be scarce in numbers.

2. Robotic Nature. One of the biggest reasons why sit and gos never appealed to me nearly as much as cash games is because it feels like I need to memorize a bunch of push/fold charts and ICM calculations in order to succeed. This is one of the reasons that I quit limit hold'em. That game also seemed too robotic and mathematical to me. I don't want to play a game that in some ways feels like it is "solved." I might get some backlash from some sit and go guys on this one but hey, just my (perhaps ignorant) opinion.

The Verdict

With all of the above said, when people ask me if they should play cash games, tournaments or sit and gos my answer is always the same:

Play the format that you enjoy the most!

The same goes for the game type within the formats. For example, should you play full ring or 6max? Ask yourself which one you find more interesting and exciting and play that one. We all began playing poker for fun and I think it should always remain that way. Also, you are always going to be more motivated to get better at something that you enjoy. However, hopefully some of the pros and cons listed above will help guide your decision as well.

If I had to choose all over again I would still choose cash. I personally find it the most challenging of the three main formats of poker and also the most fun. Second place for me is definitely sit and gos. While I find them to be the least interesting the other main reason that I play this game is to make money. There is simply no denying the fact that sit and gos are perfect for high volume grinders who want to chase big time rakeback goals.

Lastly, while I think MTTs are a lot of fun to play they are a distant third for me. Long unpredictable sessions (lengthwise) and insane variance is too much for me to ever consider playing them on a full time or even a part time basis. They will always be just a hobby to me.

I do think that it is a good idea to mix things up from time to time though. I often do this especially when I am in a bad cash game downswing. My distraction of choice has long been the 180 man mini-MTTs on Stars. I have been addicted to them ever since they first came out. If cash is sucking badly for me but I feel like playing poker, then I will just load up a half a dozen of these things and try to donk my way to a final table or two!

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blackrain79 - micro stakes strategy


  1. Other disadvantages to Sit'n'Gos:
    ** Perfect format for colluding players or even colluding bots a single table S'n'G with two colluders gives the pair an absolutely massive edge
    ** The maths nature of the game when the stacks get shallow makes it perfect for bots

    I'm guessing that spin and goes [which are a form of S'n'G] must be a target for the bot makers. If there aren't winning bots at Spin and Goes already there soon will be.

  2. Those questions "Which format should I play?" or "Which one is most profitable?" comes up so damn often. And my answer is the same as yours: Play the format that you enjoy the most!

    FWIW, I have the same leaning towards cash. Tourneys are great once in a while, but I couldn't be a tourney grinder at all. I can't cope with the variance in results or being chained to the chair. Whenever I've fancied a "quick tourney" I always seem to go deep, but when I plan an evening of tourneys, I bust from a load of them quickly and end up with a solitary mincash 4 hours later, where I've almost been hoping to go busto for 3 hours. As well as requiring slightly different skillsets, I think tourneys and cash players have different personality types. As for SNE SnG grinders, those guys are machines!

    1. Haha, exactly. This is actually why I write half of these articles! Because people keep emailing me asking questions like this over and over again. I can now just link to this article rather than spending 5 or 10 minutes typing to them each time :)

  3. I prefer cash games also, but every now and then I play some SnG just for a change (especially after a downswing in the cash games). Lately I've been playing some Spin & Gos but just for fun. To me they're entertaining from time to time, and the idea of a HUGE score for just a couple of minutes it's also appealing ;)

    1. I have started to dabble in these a bit as well. They are certainly addictive as well!

  4. What stakes are those 2014 winners playing at?

    1. Those are all nosebleed players so probably $50/$100 is the minimum blinds you will find them playing.

    2. So technically they could steal the blinds twice a rotation to make that money. Makes me consider upping my playing stakes just to try that.

    3. Haha, "technically" this is true. Since these are all world class players though they probably would not let you get away with that too much :p

    4. technically the only reason to put money in the pot without pocket aces is to steal the blinds.

  5. Great article which I can fully appreciate having been a reasonably successful SnG and MTT player. My main reason wanting to play cash is for the freedom and not been tied to a screen for hours. By the end of my SnG sojourn I was playing up to 16 tables on Stars with an ever decreasing ROI mainly due to the change in the player pool. Over the course of an hour playing 16 tables I'd find maximum 2 errors using SnGWiz but it was so robotic it eventually drove me to antidepressants. Really feel I am now seeing the light with NL cash after never really getting my head round it. Thanks for that!

    1. Thanks Ian! The flexibility with my time has always been a big draw of cash games for me as well.