Are You a Winning Tournament Player But Lose in Cash Games?

winning tournament poker player but lose at cash games
A common sentiment that I hear these days from poker players is that they are a winning tournament player but lose in cash games. And this is nothing new either. The transition to cash games is difficult for most tournament players.

While it is the same game of poker being played nearly everything else is different. In cash games the stacks are typically much deeper, the blinds always stay the same and you can reload at any time.

This means that you never need to "make something happen" like you might need to in a tournament. This also means that there is far more postflop play involved.

So for all of these reasons a totally different strategy is required in order to beat cash games than for tournaments. In this article I am going to provide some tips for tournament players on making the transition to cash games easier.

Cash Games Are Harder Than Tournaments

As someone who is primarily a cash game player I don't say this to put down tournament players or to make myself sound cool.

The simple truth is that cash games are harder to beat than tournaments. And the reasons why are fairly simple.

First off tournaments tend to attract a lot more fish. A lot of the poker that gets shown on TV for instance is tournament poker and therefore all of their heroes are the famous tourney pros.

Tournaments also allow you to turn a small amount of money into a large amount very quickly, if you get really lucky of course. And any donk can get lucky. We have seen it so many times.

This is great for marketing and drawing in the weaker players with huge guarantees. Cash games can't compete.

By the way, check out my latest video with my top 5 simple tips for winning more poker tournaments!

Secondly, from a structural point of view, in cash games we use the later streets (turn and river) a lot more often than tournament players do because the average stacks are often much deeper.

These two streets in particular are much more complex than preflop and the flop and a skilled player is going to be able to push his edge all the more due to this.

In tournaments on the other hand you have a lot more shallow play especially by the middle to later stages. This means that a lot more hands simply turn into preflop all ins where there is not nearly as much skill involved and there is a much better chance of getting lucky.

Because the blinds do not increase in cash games though, there is never any need to get desperate and shove all your chips in the middle.

This means that the better players will simply take their time and surgically dismantle their weaker opposition. The bad regulars and the fish therefore have far less chance of getting lucky and winning in the long run.

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So Just Play Tournaments Then Right?

So after reading all of this you might be thinking to yourself, why would I waste my time with cash games?

After all there are less fish, it is a harder game to learn and the players are typically quite a bit more skilled. Well there are several reasons why I still prefer cash games which I have discussed before.

Firstly, the biggest reason why I don't play tournaments regularly is because I don't want to be chained to my computer for 8 hours if I make a deep run.

I value my time more than anything else in this world because this truly is the most valuable asset that we have. When playing tournaments I have no clue if I will be sitting down to play for 1 hour or 10.

I will admit that I play tourneys on the weekends for fun sometimes though!

This makes it difficult to plan my life, meet up with friends and do all of the other things that I want to do. In cash games, I simply get up and leave whenever I want to.

Also, as a further impediment, for somebody like me who lives in Asia all of the best tournaments start in the middle of the night. A lot of the best tournaments tend to be on one specific day as well, Sunday. With cash games there is action 7 days a week, at any time.

The other huge reason why I think that cash games are better is because there is much more consistent and expected profit and the potential earnings ceiling is higher as well.

Everybody knows about the outliers who have hit a few big scores in tournaments but the vast majority make next to nothing or lose for years on end.

Cash games on the other hand don't have anywhere near as much variance and so your results are fairly predictable on a month by month basis assuming you play a decent amount.

Also, if reaching the top of the food chain in poker is your goal then there is much more consistent action at high stakes in cash games and therefore your potential profit ceiling is a lot higher.

The last reason why I prefer cash games is that it will simply make you a better poker player. You rarely hear about the cash game player going over to tournaments and having problems but you often hear about the reverse.

Master cash games and you will likely be successful in any other format. Daniel Negreanu even mentions this in his new poker training course.

He believes that getting better at cash games has helped his tournament game significantly. And we all know just how successful Daniel has been in tournaments!

With all of that said, let me now discuss a few of the ways to make your transition from tournaments to cash games easier.

1. Start at Low Stakes

First off, perhaps you have been doing well in tournaments lately or even hit a really big score. Congrats! But it is important not to get too over confident about your abilities because of this.

We have all heard the stories countless times of the tourney player who wins the Sunday Million for instance and then decides to donate it all away in high stakes cash games.

If you are struggling in cash games, or are relatively new to the format, then it is a good idea to start at much lower stakes than you might think. Don't worry about being ridiculously over-rolled.

I would recommend starting at the micros. If you are an experienced poker player then you don't have to start at the very bottom. But I would recommend not starting any higher than 5c/10c, the $10 buyin game.

I know the money might seem very small but if you immediately step into a $1/$2 or $2/$4 game for instance you might be shocked at how difficult some of these games can be today online. It will likely be a very sharp skill level increase from what you are used to in your $10 or $20 tournaments.

Start at stakes much lower than this. If you have success right away then just move up. There is no big rush.

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2. Take Your Time in Cash Games

My second piece of advice for tournament players switching over to cash games is to take a more relaxed approach to the game. Once again there is no big rush to make something happen.

There is no advantage to being the "big stack" in cash games. You can reload at any time. You can also leave and join another table at any time which is a another huge advantage that cash games have that I didn't even mention.

The thing about cash games is that they are much more of a waiting game than tournaments. It is all about finding the fish and then capitalizing in the right spots.

You never need to shove all of your chips in the middle because you are on a short stack or you want to apply pressure around the bubble. There of course is no bubble in cash games.

Cash games require a much more calculated, mathematical approach to the game where you wait for the right opportunities to come to you and you make your decisions purely on your expected value (EV).

By this I mean that your stack size has no bearing on whether you should make a call, bet or raise in a certain situation.

You can always reload at any time in a cash game so your decisions should always be purely based on EV (i.e. will you turn an immediate profit by taking this specific action in this specific hand right now).

This is something that I discuss in Crushing the Microstakes.

The reason why I have some of the highest winnings in online poker history at the lower stakes cash games is because I play a very methodical strategy where I wait for them to make mistakes.

3. Increase Your Bet Sizes

Something else that a lot of tournament players struggle with when transitioning over to cash games is bet sizing. Bet sizing in cash games is different because the average stack size is typically much larger.

For instance, while it often makes sense in a tournament to min 3Bet preflop or CBet 30% of the pot, this is very rarely the right thing to do in a cash game.

In fact if you frequently undersize your bets like this in a cash game, then all you are doing is giving your opponent great mathematical odds to draw out on you.

Remember there is no threat of elimination in a cash game and the stacks are often way deeper. This means that the implied odds to call with a long-shot draw can be huge.

You have to increase the size of your bets in order to get more value with your good hands and not give your opponents the right odds to call.

So in cash games I would suggest always making your preflop 3Bet at least 3 times the original raise.

Postflop I would always make your CBets at least 50% of the pot.

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4. Respect the Turn and the River

As a tournament player you won't have anywhere near as much experience in playing the turn and the river as most cash game players. This is because, due to stack sizes, hands rarely get to this point especially in the middle and later stages of a tournament.

It is really important to respect these two streets though in a cash game. I call them the "big money streets" and this is for a reason.

When you start making big bets (or calling them) on these two streets you are starting to put significant portions of your stack in the middle.

Therefore, you should have a strong belief that you are likely to win the hand either by showing down the best hand or by being able to move your opponent off of theirs with a bluff.

One of the easiest ways to destroy your winrate in cash games is to frequently put lots of money in the middle on the turn and the river and then either lose the hand at showdown or not get there in the first place.

Make sure that you respect the turn and the river in cash games and have a solid plan of action if you intend to play these two streets.

Final Thoughts

I hope that a few of the tips in this article will help some people who are winning tournament players but struggle in cash games. The transition to cash games doesn't need to be so difficult.

However, it is important to go into it with eyes wide open. Cash games are indeed more difficult overall than tournaments for a number of the reasons already listed above.

However, they are definitely worth the challenge because they will make you a better poker player in the end and therefore a better tournament player as well.

Also, cash games provide a much more consistent flow of profit and a higher ceiling for success at the higher stakes.

And with the ease and flexibility that they offer, they are much better suited to the semi-pro or professional online poker player.

Lastly, if you want to know how to start consistently making $1000+ per month in low stakes games, make sure you grab a copy of my free poker cheat sheet.

Let me know in the comments below how you have made the transition from tournaments to cash games. Was it difficult for you at first? Do you have any pointers to make it easier?

winning tournaments lose cash games


  1. What a great post! I really admire you and study hard from you and others to better my skill in 6max cash game.

    If I study hard with right knowledge, right tool in the next 5 years, is this possible that I earn $1000/day by playing poker (6max cash game) ???.

    I look forward to hearing from you and hope to get some advise about my goal.

    With you all the best.

    1. Thanks a lot Trio! I don't like to make predictions on how much somebody can make in this game because there are too many different factors involved. With time and dedication though anything is possible.

  2. I have a full time job but i have a tournament schdule that i follow. I am also a %50 roi winning player (micro, low stakes tournaments). I started 10nl with 25bb/100 upswing in 25-30k hands and later i hit the breke for 5k hands. The issue is in tournaments when i make a bad play with 40bb-30bb-20bb or under effective stacks, i know how to study the spot. I know if i made a big mistake or small mistakes or if it wasnt mistake at all. In cash games in a single raised pot (SPR:15 or sth) i double barrel my KQ on Qxxx and fish minraises the turn and i call down. Or i bet TT on K76 and get minraised and fold. Here i dont know if i did wrong or right? I dont know how to calculate the EV of these plays. Is it just variance or did i make a bad play? What do i do? Not knowing is also gets me tilted. At some point i tried mixing tournaments and cash games at the same session. Cash games always tilted me and ruined my mtt play too. So i returned to MTTs to build a bit of a cash game bakroll.

    1. Hi tolkien,

      I feel your pain! One of the best ways to find out the EV in these situations is to study the raw data. This is why I am such a big proponent of using a program like Pokertracker.

      Many people think of these programs only in terms of the HUD. This is crazy. The best part about these programs is that you can filter for the exact scenarios like the ones you listed above and see the long term results for yourself (assuming you have a big sample of course).

      More here:

      But the other way to learn is just from experience. If you play enough hands you will learn in time that when you double barrel for instance and get raised on the turn that this is almost always the nuts at the micros, fish, reg or otherwise.

      The bottom line is that these are both very different formats. You have to learn how to play deepstacked in order to master cash games and this takes time and study.

    2. Dude thx for the response. Here is what i am concerned about. Lets say i isolated the fish with %20 range. On QJ65 rainbow i double barrel middle pair+ It is around 93 combos. I only go on with twopair+ (i omit straight draws for now) which is around 21 combos. So i fold %78 of the time to fish's turn minraise. Pot is 16. I bet 12 and fish minraises to 24. He is risking 24 to win 28. He needs to succeed less than %50 of the time to make immediate profit. He fold %78 of the time. He could be scratching his balls and can missclik the minraise button. Or he could be tilted. Or he could over value Kx or he might had picked up flush draw to his pair. How do we handle the random nonsense factor in cash games?
      By the way I didnt mean to post this long. I am a bit frustrated nowadays. Sorry about that :)

    3. I wish he replied to you I am facing the same problems nowadays damn most of these strategies I learned by try and error but the fish keeps overturning my hand, damn but the fish sometimes bite you in the nuts

  3. While I agree that both games are vastly different, I disagree that tournaments are easier. If they were so much easier then everyone would be playing them!

    To counter your arguments I'd say tournaments have ICM decisions, constant changing of opponents, different table dynamics, no seat selection, constant blind increases and antes among other things to deal with.

    Anyway, just playing Devils Advocate and loving your site as you can see I've stuck around :)

    1. Thanks for your reply and feedback Ovalman and I am glad that you are liking my site!

  4. Anonymous18 September

    How do you feel about using smaller stake mtts to build up a roll and then moving into slightly higher 6 max games? I beat NL5 for 10bb/100, then moved up to 10NL in July. I'm losing about -1.75bb/100 over 82,000 hands.

    My stats are more solid than most of my opponents.(Could be more aggressive). I study my previous session every time before I play got coaching, table select a lot. I really don't know what to do. Maybe the rake is killing me?

    I was thinking of grinding some 180s for a while (which I know I can beat) and then maybe two tabling 25 or 50NL and seeing how that goes.

    I'm really at a loss as to how my results are so poor when I've worked so hard. At this point I think I need to try a different format for a while. I've been very good about quitting the minute I get tilted but at this point I don't think my mind is in the right place to play cash profitably

    Any insight would be greatly appreciated.

  5. Hi! I've fairly recently started grinding and have been reading a lot of your articles and guides. This post is one of the most helpful so far as I have found that I am significantly better at tournaments and have a winning record there compared to a losing one in cash games. The significance of the turn and the river in cash games is something I hadn't thought about and this article made me realise that they do present the biggest flaw in my game, just as you suggest. Thanks a lot!
    I realise this is an old article so you may never see this...

    1. I am glad this article helped you! Thanks for reading. I would suggest sticking to tournaments if you find that you are getting much better results. There is no point in trying to force anything in poker. Play to your strengths. All the best in 2020.