Cash Games vs Tournaments
By: Simon Gates
In these threads we touched on the non-strategic differences between cash games and tournaments, specifically in No Limit Hold ‘em. Beyond the points outlined there, certain parts of tournament play are a completely different monster than cash play.
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To start off: Preflop PlayDue to the inability rebuy after going broke in tournaments, the play in early stages generally tends to be a little on the cautious side. Note there is a difference between cautious and tight or passive. When I say play is more cautious, I'm referring to the fact that you will rarely ever see a top player getting in K,K preflop for 150 big blinds, whereas in cash games, it would be a standard play.
A very common strategy among top players is called "small ball." Pre flop raise sizes range from 2-3 big blinds as opposed to the 3-4 big blinds in cash games. Keeping the pots small before the flop help to keep them small throughout the entirety of the hand so you are less likely to go completely broke with a non-nut hand. Cash games on the other hand are usually played with around 100 big blinds (online) or sometimes 400 or 500 (mostly live) where pre flop raise sizes are often much bigger.
When playing a $1-$2 NLHE with $1,000 effective stacks, a $7 raise wouldn't really accomplish a whole lot. If you're trying to put yourself in position to gain the most money off your opponents mistakes, a better raise size would be closer to $20.Playing a Midsize StackIn a cash game, the minimum buy in for a standard cash game is 20 big blinds. Suppose the same $1-$2 NLHE game with a $40 stack in front of you. An average player raises to $7 in middle position and you're next to act. Now, if you have a playable hand (whatever your range may be) you're most optimal course of action is going to be to reraise.
With a 100 big blind stack the standard reraise size is usually going to be to $24 leaving behind $76 to play with. However, with a 40 big blind stack, a re reraise to $24 is going to leave you with $16. If your opponent were to call the reraise, the pot would be $51 before the flop. Once the flop comes out, he's not going to be folding many hands unless he completely misses the flop, giving you virtually no fold equity with your last $16. Essentially, your opponent is going to be able to play perfectly after the flop, and you will give him no chance to make a mistake. Instead, if you three bet his $7 open to your full $40, your opponent is going to have a much different decision.
Even if you do have a wide shoving range, he will have to call $33 to win $50, which will fold out most of his opening range. You on the other hand are risking $40 with the upper echelon of your range to pick up the $10 in the pot. If you do get called, there is a stronger than average chance you will have the best hand.Compare this to a tournament when you have 20 big blinds.
If an opponent opens to 2.5 big blinds to 500 at the 100-200 level, and you find yourself with a hand like 5,5 here an all in raise would not be optimal. Being unable to reload, the original raiser would have a more cut and dry decision to make. Either call with hands that beat you, or are going to be coin flips against you, or fold hands that he is unsure of. In this case, a flat call may be the best option, or a fold depending on the player's tendencies. With a flat call, you're going to see a flop relatively chip, at which point you will be the one with the fit or fold decision, leaving your opponent the opportunity to make the bigger mistake.