There are two main formats that poker comes in: cash games and tournaments. Of course, there are also numerous variants of the game such as Texas Hold’em, Omaha, 7 Card Stud, and many more, but all of these can be played in the cash game and the tournament format. It is, therefore, important that you recognize the distinction between the two formats.
The rules for each variation of poker are the same regardless of whether you’re playing in a cash game or a tournament, but there are certain differences in the way the two formats are played. The primary difference is in the way you win or lose money, and there are also some significant differences in the strategies involved. It’s because of these differences that some players prefer tournaments and some prefer cash games.
We aren’t trying to suggest that cash games are better than tournaments, or vice versa, as it ultimately comes down to which you personally want to play. Your preference should probably reflect whichever one you’re better at, but enjoyment should also be a factor you take into consideration too. You may even prefer to spread your play across both formats. Whatever you’re going to decide, you do need to know about how each format works.
On this page, we have explained the basics of cash games and how they work. This is very useful information if you’re a beginner to poker or an experienced player, and you should definitely take the time to read through it. We’ve covered the tournament format on the following page – Poker Tournaments.
The basics of cash games are pretty straightforward. Players first have to buy in for an appropriate amount. There’s typically a minimum and maximum buy in and players have to buy in between those two amounts. The minimum and maximum will be relative to the stakes of the game. They then receive chips based on the amount they have bought in with.
Hands are then played with the blinds fixed at a certain level. In each pot real money is won and lost, as each chip has a monetary value and can be cashed in. This can be compared to tournaments where the chips determine finishing positions and payouts, but aren’t actually worth anything directly.
If a player loses all their chips they can buy in again (providing they have the funds) as many times as they want, as long as a hand isn’t in session. However, players are usually not allowed to remove any of their chips from the table unless they’re leaving the game, which they can choose to do any time they wish. A game will typically keep going for as long as there are at least two players who want to continue.
That’s really all there is to cash games. They are much simpler than tournaments, as there aren’t as many different types to be aware of. Cash games can be played in a few different forms, which we’ll now explain in more detail.
Fixed Limit, No Limit & Other Betting Structures
It’s essential to recognize that the betting structure being used is hugely significant in cash games. The two most commonly used structures are fixed limit and no limit, although there are others. These structures basically determine how much players can bet or raise relative to the blinds and under what circumstances.
The differences between the various betting structures may not seem particularly important, but they really are and it’s a very good idea to be familiar with them.
Full Ring, Shorthanded & Heads Up
Cash games are often referred to as ring games and the two terms are considered to mean the same thing. Technically, though, the term ring game should only be applied when there’s a “full ring,” i.e. every seat at the table is taken, which generally means nine or ten players.
The term shorthanded can technically be used to refer to any game with less than nine or ten players, regardless of how many seats are available, but it’s typically used to refer to a tournament where the maximum number of players is six. An alternative term used in this situation is six-max.
Heads up games are those where just two players are competing against each other and they are more popular than you might expect. All these different types: full ring, six-max, and heads up can all be found at most online poker sites. You’ll usually find a wide selection of tables open at any time, at a variety of different stakes.
It might seem surprising given the fact that the only distinction between these types is the number of players involved, but the strategy for each of them does differ somewhat. Playing against just one player does require a different approach than playing against four or five players, which in turn requires a different approach than playing against eight or nine players.