Ultimate Live Poker Cash Game Guide (2024)

Live Poker Cash Game Strategy

This article was written by blackrain79.com contributor Fran Ferlan.

Playing live cash games can be a daunting experience for beginner poker players. However, live cash games can also be very profitable if you employ the right strategy.

In this article, you will get a comprehensive guide on everything you need to know about live poker cash games.

By following these tips, your experience at the felt will be less stressful and more profitable.

Bear in mind that some of the concepts outlined in this article will apply to other poker formats as well.

With that in mind, let’s get right into it.

1. Basic Poker Etiquette for Live Cash Games

Before getting into the strategy aspect of live cash games, it’s worth mentioning a few poker etiquette rules you should follow to make your cash games experience more enjoyable.

We will also go over some other rules you should be aware of so as to avoid any confusion at the tables.

Here are a few do’s and don’ts for live cash games you should be aware of:

Pay Attention to the Betting Order

You should only make an action (bet, raise, call, or fold) when it is your turn to act. Always pay attention to the betting order to avoid acting out of turn. 

It doesn’t matter if you’re making an inconsequential action like folding. Don’t muck your cards until it’s your turn.

Paying attention to the betting order will also keep the game flowing, and you’ll avoid delays. 

It’s really annoying to wait for a player to act, and the player doesn’t even realize the action is on them. Don’t be that guy.

Bonus tip: you should also wait to check your hole cards when it’s your turn to act. 

This isn’t a hard rule, by any means, but it’s still useful to know. Instead, observe your opponents when they check their hole cards, because this is the best time to pick up on a potential physical tells. 

Don’t String Bet

String betting is the act of calling, betting, or raising, then quickly adding to the betting amount after that.

String betting looks like this:

"I call your twenty dollars…AND I raise another twenty."

Not only is string betting a sign of a recreational poker player, it’s also an illegal move.

In the above example, your raise wouldn’t be valid, and it would be considered that you only made a call.

The reason string betting is frowned upon is because it’s a form of angle shooting. 

Angle shooting in poker means certain actions that aren’t necessarily cheating, but go against the spirit of fair play and gentlemanly conduct. 

It’s also worth mentioning that the line between cheating and angle shooting isn’t always clear cut.

If you’re string betting, you can theoretically gauge your opponent’s reaction before making the “official” bet, so you can adjust your bet size according to your opponent’s reaction, or simply just call instead of raising altogether.

Don’t Hide Your Chips

This is another form of angle shooting you should definitely avoid. 

In live poker, you should always organize your chips in a way that every other player at the table can see the exact amount of chips you have.

This means that you should not hide the bigger denomination chips behind the lower denomination chips so that it appears that you have less chips than you actually do.

Always put your bigger denomination chips at the front of your stack.

The reason why you shouldn’t hide your chips is that it can mislead the other player to make an action they wouldn’t make otherwise.

For example, let’s say your opponent shoves all in thinking that you only have $100 in your stack, but it turns out that you actually have $200 behind. 

Your opponent might not have shoved all-in had they known your actual chip count.

Conversely, if you are not sure how many chips your opponent has in their stack, just ask them! 

Bottom line: the chip count of every player at the table is public information, and should not be concealed in any way.

One Chip Rule

To prevent any confusion, you should always verbalize when you want to make a raise. In this context, you should be familiar with the one chip rule.

One chip rule: 

If you put a single chip in the middle that’s bigger than the current bet size and don’t say anything, this is considered a call, NOT a raise.

For example, a player bets $50 and you put a single $100 chip in the middle without announcing that you are raising. 

Your raise wouldn’t count.

The one chip rule applies to both cash games and tournaments, so it’s best to always announce your intention to raise, as well as the amount you’re raising. 

If you are raising, don’t make a string bet, as was discussed in the previous point.

Be Courteous and Respectful

This one should go without saying, but it’s worth mentioning anyway. Always be respectful towards your fellow players, regardless of the outcome of the game.

Like in other competitive arenas, some trash talking may be inevitable, but remember to keep it civil. 

Now that we got that out of the way, let’s get into the actual live cash game strategy.

Also, make sure to check out Nathan's recent video for the proven cash game formula you absolutely need to know.

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2. Value Bet Relentlessly at Live Poker Cash Games

If you want to win big in poker, you need to win big pots. And the best way to do this is to build up big pots with your strong value hands.

In poker, there are two main reasons why you choose to commit money into the pot. You can either bet for value or bet as a bluff.

When you are bluffing, you are trying to get stronger hands than yours to fold. When you are value betting, you are hoping to get called by weaker hands.

Value Bet Example: 

You make a bet with AJ on a River of J8532

When you have a strong hand, your best bet is to usually value bet relentlessly and build up the pot this way.

A lot of amateur poker players make the mistake of slowplaying their strong hands in the wrong situations.

To slowplay means to play your strong hands passively (check or call) instead of aggressively (bet or raise) in order to conceal your hand strength.

While slowplaying can be a viable strategy in some cases, it usually doesn’t work well in small-stakes cash games.

That’s because players at these games tend to play quite passively themselves, so you can’t rely on them to build up the pot for you.

By the way, check out my other article about when to slowplay for a much more detailed analysis.

The point of slowplaying is to get your opponent to build up the pot, which simply won’t happen if your opponent tends to play passively.

You’re usually better off building up the pot yourself with big value bets.

Some players may object that they don’t want to “scare their opponents off” with big bets, and fair enough.

To this point, it’s worth introducing the concept of elasticity. 

In economics, the price elasticity dictates that the higher price of a product will lower demand, and the lower price of a product will increase demand. 

If the changes in price don’t influence the demand, the product is said to be inelastic.

So how does this relate to poker? 

It’s simple: 

You can view the pot as the product (what you can get) and the price of a call as the price of a product (what you need to pay to get it).

So the bigger the bet you’re facing, the less likely you are to call that bet. This is price elasticity in a nutshell.

But here’s the catch: some players tend to play quite inelastically. 

In other words, they don’t care about the price they’re getting on a call. This means that they will often continue playing the hand regardless of the price.

These players tend to be recreational poker players, aka the fish.

Poker fish are usually quite inelastic, meaning they only care about their hole cards and little else. 

This means that they will continue playing the hand regardless of the price they’re getting on a call.

Conversely, if they don’t like their hand, no amount of slowplaying will compel them to put additional money into the pot.

You can take advantage of their playing tendencies by betting exclusively when you have a strong value hand, and charge them a premium for it.

They will usually be more than happy to pay up.

Knowing how to value bet effectively is crucial in live cash games, because there will usually be quite a lot of recreational poker players around, particularly at the very lowest limits.

Another reason to master the value bet is the fact that strong value hands don’t come around often in no-limit hold’em. 

So when they do, you need to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth with them.

The outcome of your poker sessions will often be determined by just one or two big hands, so it's important to get your money's worth with them.

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3. Make Bigger Iso-Raises Preflop in Live Poker Cash Games

In low stakes cash games, there’s bound to be a lot of recreational players around. This means you are more than likely to encounter quite a lot of limping preflop.

To open-limp means to just pay the big blind instead of open-raising when you are the first player to enter the pot.

To limp behind means to pay the big blind after another player or players have already limped in.

Open-limping is one of the telltale signs of recreational poker players, and should be avoided. 

I won’t get into too much detail why open-limping is such a bad play, as I’ve already covered it extensively in my previous articles.

For example, see my article on the 5 bad poker strategies you absolutely must avoid for a much deeper dive on this.

But here’s a short summary of why you shouldn’t open-limp as a rule.

If you open-limp, you can’t win the pot outright preflop, you are playing the pot without the initiative, you run the risk of getting raised, and you are failing to build up the pot with your strong value hands.

Unlike open-limping, limping behind can be a viable strategy, especially in passive live games.

You can limp behind with some speculative starting hands that prefer to see a cheap flop, like small pocket pairs or suited connectors.

Examples of speculative hands: 




Then, if you manage to hit a strong combination postflop, like a set or stronger, you will often be able to get paid by at least one of other players involved in the pot.

The more players involved in the pot, the better your implied odds.

Implied odds refer to the amount of money you can potentially earn on future streets if your hand improves.

So the more players in the pot, the more likely it is for at least one of them to have a hand that’s strong enough to be willing to give you action.

Bear in mind though, that this is only the case if you have a speculative hand that needs to improve post flop.

If you have a strong value hand, you don’t want too many players involved in the pot with you.

The more players in the pot, the more vulnerable your hand becomes.

For example, let’s say you are dealt pocket Aces, the strongest starting hand in no-limit hold’em. 

Against a single opponent with a random hand, your hand equity is a whopping 85%. But if you are up against 3 opponents, your hand equity falls to only about 64%.

A common problem you are likely to encounter often in live cash games is a large number of multiway pots, i.e. pots with more than two players involved.

So if you get a strong value hand, you will need to “thin the herd” preflop, and ideally play a heads-up pot against a single opponent.

Playing a heads-up pot in position as a preflop aggressor (ideally against a recreational player) is the single most profitable spot to play in no-limit hold’em, period.

And in order to get to that spot, you should increase your isolation-raise size to discourage a lot of multiway pots.

An isolation raise (or an iso-raise for short) is an open-raise when another player (or players) have limped into the pot.

The goal of the iso-raise is to get all the other players to fold, so you can play a heads-up pot against the open-limper (who’s more than likely to be a recreational player).

Another benefit of making a larger iso-raise is that you are building up the pot with your strong value hands. 

This means you are going to have an easier time shipping the rest of the money in post flop, as well.

Live Poker Cash Game Example Hand #1

$1/$2 Cash Game

Effective Stack Size: $200 ♥♦♠♣

You are dealt QQ in the CO (cutoff).

A recreational player open-limps UTG (under the gun). Another player limps behind in MP (middle position).

You: ???

You should iso-raise to at least $12.

Depending on the table dynamics, you can even go as high as $14 or $16.

This is discussed in much more detail by the way in my popular $1/$2 cash game strategy guide for pros.

Let’s break down why a big iso-raise is preferable in this spot.

There are two limpers in front of you, and at least one of them is guaranteed to be a recreational player. 

You don’t want a huge multiway pot in this situation, so you go for a bigger bet to discourage other players from getting involved. 

Also, making a big bet discourages the player on the button to get involved and play in position against you post flop.

This way, you are likely to play a heads-up pot in position against a recreational player.

Your hand strength is excellent, but you still want to avoid a multiway pot. Pocket Queens can be tricky to play if an Ace or a King shows up on the board.

In poker, you never want to allow your opponents to realize their equity against you for cheap.

Finally, by making a bigger iso-raise, you are creating a smaller stack-to-pot ratio (or SPR for short).

SPR is a preflop and flop metric that shows you how committed you are to the pot.

To calculate the SPR, simply divide the effective stack size with the size of the pot.

Let’s calculate the SPR in the example above.

Suppose you open-raise to $12 and you get called by the open-limper. 

The size of the pot would be $29. The effective stack size would be $88 ($100 - $12).

When you divide $88 / $29, you get an SPR of roughly 3.

If the SPR is 3 or less, you are automatically pot committed with a top pair hand or better. 

This means you should be comfortable shipping the rest of your money in the middle post flop.

Bear in mind that SPR is a preflop and flop metric, so it doesn’t change on the turn or river. 

If you are not pot committed on the flop, you do not become pot committed on future streets, regardless of how much money you put in the pot.

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4. Buy in For the Maximum Amount in Live Poker Cash Games

When playing live cash games, you have the option to choose your buy in amount. I would advise to always buy in for the maximum amount. 

Some beginner poker players may not be comfortable with buying in for a full amount because they are afraid of losing all the money in front of them.

But this is the wrong approach right from the start.

When you play poker, you should be comfortable with losing your whole stack at any given moment.

That’s because poker has a short term luck element involved, and sometimes you will lose despite playing perfectly.

If you’re not totally comfortable with this fact, you should either drop down in stakes, or play a different game.

If buying in for a full amount is cost prohibitive to you, you can consider playing poker online, or organizing a home game with your friends.

By the way, I already wrote the ultimate guide on how to beat your friends at poker.

And if you play online poker, you can buy in for as little as $2 in NL2. 

However, bear in mind that there’s quite a big skill difference between online and live poker players.

Online poker players tend to be more technically savvy, and have more than likely studied a bit of advanced poker strategy.

So the skill levels don’t really correlate between live and online poker as far as the stakes go.

For example, if you were to play a $1/$2 cash game at your local casino, you will likely encounter quite a lot of recreational players. 

But if you buy in for $200 at NL200 online, you will go up against semi-professional or professional poker players with very few recreational players in sight.

live poker cash game strategy

For a comparable skill level with your $1/$2 live cash game, you would probably need to play NL5 or NL2 (with $5 and $2 buyins).

This may sound like a trivial amount of money, but if you are a beginner poker player, it is advised to start at the very lowest stakes, and gradually work your way up as you build up your skills and your bankroll.

Anyway, back to the topic of the buyin amount.

There is another reason why you should buy in for a full amount. 

As mentioned, recreational players will often buy in for a smaller amount because they aren’t confident in their playing abilities. This puts a huge target on their back as soon as they sit down at the table.

If you buy in for less than the maximum amount, you are telegraphing to the whole table that you are a recreational player.

Good poker players will always want to have as many chips in front of them as possible, because you can only win as much as you put in the middle.

If you buy in for less than the maximum amount, you are limiting how much money you can potentially win.

You are also limiting your downside, but that’s irrelevant. If you really want to protect your money, your best bet is to not sit down at the poker table in the first place.

Finally there’s another reason why you should buy in for a full amount, and it has to do with the effective stack sizes.

Your overall strategy will be greatly affected by the effective stack size, i.e. the smaller stack size of the players involved in the pot.

In cash games, the standard stack size is 100 big blinds. This is quite different from, say, poker tournaments, where the effective stack sizes are quite smaller.

The effective stack sizes are deeper in cash games, which arguably makes cash games more technically challenging than tournament poker formats.

Bottom line: 

If you want to truly excel at live cash games, you need to become comfortable playing with deep stack sizes, so always buy in for a maximum table amount.

5. Arm Yourself With Patience for Live Poker Cash Games

One final tip to get you prepared for live cash games is to arm yourself with patience. This goes beyond just being patient while waiting for a table seat to open up.

One of the advantages of cash games as opposed to, say, poker tournaments, is the fact that the blind structure always remains the same.

In poker tournaments, the blinds are always increasing, so you don’t have the luxury of waiting around for pocket Aces all day. 

You are often forced to play in a lot of marginal spots, and you have to survive a few “coin flips” to get to the prize money.

In cash games, you don’t have the time pressure to worry about. You can play for as long as you want, without worrying about getting eliminated or “blinded out”. 

You can use this to your advantage by being patient and “picking your spots.” 

This doesn’t mean waiting around for pocket Aces all day, of course. 

It just means that you don’t need to get involved in spots where you don’t have a clear edge of some sort, whether it be better cards, a positional advantage, or a skill advantage over your opponents.

Preferably you want to pick spots with all of these factors working in your favour.

You don’t need to swing at everything. In fact, the more hands you play, the worse your results will be on average.

Of course, the other side of the extreme is playing too few hands and risking becoming too predictable, i.e. becoming too nitty.

A nit is a player who plays only the strongest starting hands and usually plays them very straightforwardly, both preflop and post flop.

But here’s the rub: in low stakes live cash games, you can often get away with being a nit to an extent.

In poker, the best strategy is the one that’s the opposite of what most other players are doing.

In low stakes cash games, players will usually be quite loose and passive. Therefore, the best counter strategy is to use a proven winning strategy like tight and aggressive.

This is also known simply as, TAG.

Don’t worry about becoming too predictable at these stakes. The fact is, most players simply won’t pay any attention to your playing tendencies.

Simply wait for a strong hand, then value bet it relentlessly and count your money.

Here’s the problem with this approach, though. 

In no-limit hold’em, strong value hands don’t come around often.

Pair that with the snail’s pace of live cash games compared to online poker, for example, you get a recipe for boredom.

Unfortunately, there’s no way around this. This can be frustrating at times, especially when you run into a cold deck and seem to get dealt garbage hands for hours on end.

When situations like these arise, avoid the temptation of forcing the action, or playing junk hands you know you shouldn’t be playing just for something to happen.

Winning poker and a bit of boredom usually go hand in hand. 

Winning poker is often more about discipline, rather than skill or luck. These days, anyone can learn a winning poker strategy, but not everyone will follow through with it.

It’s not overly complicated, but it doesn’t make it easy. I often compare it to losing weight. Everyone knows HOW to lose weight. You simply eat less and exercise regularly. 

Same thing with winning at poker. Simply play less hands and value bet them when you think you have the best hand.

But the problem is there’s nothing fun about it. It involves a lot of folding and a lot of waiting.

You came all the way to the casino, only to sit around there for hours on end and not play. 

Sounds bleak, but again, this guide is about becoming a winning poker player, not about how to have fun. You don’t really need a guide for that.

Bottom line: playing poker for fun and playing poker to win are not the same thing.

If you want to have fun, you can play just about any hand that’s dealt to you. You just can’t expect to win any money that way.

In order to win, you need to risk a bit of boredom. 

However, this doesn’t mean you should zone out when you’re not involved in the hand. In fact this is the best time to observe your opponents, try to figure out their betting patterns and physical tells.

Check out Nathan’s recent video on the 5 super easy ways to spot the fish at your poker table right away.

The Ultimate Live Poker Cash Game Guide for New Players - Summary

Playing live poker cash games can be a bit daunting to new players.

But you don’t have to spend years studying advanced poker strategy in order to achieve big success in these games. 

Here’s a summary of everything you need to know to crush live cash games at your local casino.

1. Respect the poker etiquette

Aside from knowing the basic rules of the game, you should be familiar with the basic poker etiquette to avoid any confusion or conflict with the other players. 

If you’re not sure about a certain rule, don’t be afraid to ask, and always be respectful and courteous to other players.

2. Value bet relentlessly

In low stakes cash games, you’re bound to encounter a number of recreational players. The best strategy to use against them is to keep it simple, and value bet your strong hands. 

If you have a strong hand, don’t be afraid to build up the pot with it as soon as possible.

3. Make bigger isolation raises preflop

There’s likely to be a lot of limping in low stakes cash games, so you’ll want to make bigger isolation raises preflop in order to avoid a lot of multiway pots. 

Ideally, you want to play a pot as a preflop aggressor, in position, against a single (recreational) player, as this is statistically the most profitable spot in no-limit hold’em, period.

4. Buy in for a maximum amount

Buying in for a minimum amount is a telltale sign of a recreational poker player, and it automatically puts a target on your back. 

Good poker players will always want to have as many chips in front of them as possible, because you can only win as much as you put in the pot.

5. Be patient

Strong value hands don’t come around often in no-limit hold’em, so it’s important to remain patient, and not get involved in marginal spots that can cost you money over the long run. 

It might be boring to keep folding your hands, but remember that winning poker is often more about discipline than anything else, particularly at the lower stakes.

Lastly, if you want to know the complete strategy I use to make $2000+ per month in live poker cash games, grab a copy of my free poker cheat sheet.

Live poker cash game strategy