With both online poker and land casino poker, you have to choose between playing a cash game or a tournament. These different poker styles have varying dynamics, so if you’re not sure which one’s best for you here’s a brief analysis to help you decide:
Cash games in poker, also known as ‘ring’ games, are where players use their own money at the table. You decide how much to put into the game, and your wins or losses at the table directly translate into the money you walk away with. You can join and leave poker cash games at any time, as long as there’s space at the table. These games vary in size, depending on how many people want to play, but are mostly held at a single table.
Cash games are flexible, starting and finishing when you choose, and they offer opportunities for deep-stack play. There is no limit to how much money you bring to the table, or take away from it. This means you can play creatively with weaker cards, because you stand a chance of winning much larger pots than your initial stake. Cash games are also useful for choosing who you play against; you can monitor a table before joining it to see the dynamic of the game, and you can easily switch to another table when you want. You can also rebuy when your chips are down, so if you get unlucky you can keep playing and try to win back your money. The danger, of course, is that with bigger pots you stand a chance of losing more, so cash games require a great deal of patience and self-discipline.
Tournaments are poker games set out over a finite amount of time, with fixed buy-ins and prizes for the winning players. Once you've paid the buy-in, you're given a set amount of chips and keep playing until you lose these or knock out all the other players – your reward is dictated by how far in the tournament you progress. Tournaments can be between as few as two players, or as many as thousands.
Tournaments offer two distinct differences to cash games: they limit your losses and they turn the game into an event. Tournaments provide a goal and a sense of competition that further add to the fun of the game. Everyone starts on a level playing field, with the same size of chip-stack, so high rollers do not have an advantage. You also stand to win huge returns on a small investment if you manage to win a tournament with a large field of players. The downside is that tournaments have to end, so the blinds and ante keep increasing, meaning that play can become rather limited when you are small-stacked. Playing styles are not always as creative as in cash games, and if you get unlucky you could quickly find yourself out of the tournament.
The basic divide is that cash games provide flexible and dynamic play, offering instant rewards for creative players, whilst tournaments provide more rigid, event-based play with rigorous competition and fast-paced gaming that can offer large returns on small buy-ins if you can go the distance. If you're still undecided, you can try out both styles online today at partypoker to help you make your choice.