Cash games and multi-table tournaments require different styles of play.

But which one requires more skill to be good at?

  • 2
    This question is calling for an opinion and not a good question for a QA site. We generally expect questions to have an answer. This question is soliciting opinions and not constructively.
    – Chad
    Mar 15, 2012 at 13:52
  • 3
    Actually, I think there is a correct answer to this question. Mar 15, 2012 at 14:57
  • I agree. It can be told explicitly which is more difficult in what aspects !
    – kissgyorgy
    Mar 20, 2012 at 20:08

6 Answers 6


Disclaimer: I am a cash game player, so you might consider my opinion to be biased.

Cash games tend to run deeper than tournaments. This in turn leads to more post flop play in cash games than in tournaments, as a general rule.

Post flop play in a deep cash game, even one that is only 100 BBs deep, can be very difficult. Given that we play against players with short stacks as well as deep stacks, we still need to have all the skill sets used in tournament play when playing cash, but cash players need to have additional skills that tournament players generally don't -- they need to be able to play 3 streets of post flop poker.

Therefore, as a general rule -- and I know that I'm opening myself up to a ton of criticism here -- it takes more skill to play cash than it does to play tournaments. There are simply more decisions that are easier to get wrong in cash than in tournaments.

  • While it is true that cash games involve more postflop play, this overlooks the fact that in tournaments, there are a lot of ChipEV vs $EV considerations and many many complications created by differing stack sizes (both for you and your opponents) and by the state of the tournament. Mar 15, 2012 at 16:55
  • Here is where my problem with question is. I Think the same reason you give for cash games requiring more skill are the reasons that Tournament poker requires more skill. The funny thing is we are both right. They require different skills. Some skills that are not really needed much in Cash game are important in Tournament and vice versa.
    – Chad
    Mar 16, 2012 at 19:14

However I would say cash game is more complicated, that's not the point.
The point is, they need different skill sets;

  • in tournament play,
    • you deal with a ton of preflop problems, which is far more easy to learn and doesn't need good logic at all.
    • You just need a lot of work, knowing which stack size you can do what. This is all you need basically. (Sure there are more considerations but the point is to be good at preflop play)
      If you have a big lexical knowledge of range vs range equities, you are good to go.
  • in cash games, you have to deal far more components than preflop play. You have to be good at that too, but beside that
    • you have to have good logic to figure out the opponents hands (most of the time you don't need that in tournament play) to manipulate what they think.
    • "Changing gears" are far more complicated compared to tournament play. In tournament play if you have an agressive image, you just sit back a while and don't push all-in :D
    • you have to have the same skill set than tournament players, if you play against short stacks, which is very common
    • you have to deceive your opponents in order to win more (with other words: you have to balance your ranges).
      In tournaments if you have a big stack, sometimes you just wait for monster hands preflop and the short stack do the job for you; you just call them, you don't need to think all the time how could you trick them, when they need to push everything in order to survive.

Of course there are aspects of tournament play you can't find in cash games, but calling Sit and go tournaments "solved games" is not an accident... I think we will never say that deep cash games are "solved", because it's far more complicated than chess, that have bigger decision trees, and factors that can't even be computed (human factors).

A note that very deep stack tournaments are almost the same as cash games, due to a huge amount of postflop play. (maybe even more complicated)
So when you talk about Phil Ivey being far more superior player than anybody in the world is because he plays deep tournaments all the time, where his edge is much more greater than in "turbo" tournaments.


I would argue that both games take a similar amount of skill in order to achieve expert-level play. However, to achieve average-level play, tournaments require less skill.

The reasoning behind this is, as John Dibling stated, cash games require more postflop play. That complication is forced into the game much more than any of the complications of high-level tournament play, and as such, average-level players must learn more to hold their own in cash games (while in tournaments, they can rely more on comparatively simple preflop decisions).

That said, to play tournaments at the expert level requires balancing a lot of variables that can be mostly (or completely) ignored by play at the average level. There are a huge array of subjects when you start looking at ChipEV vs $EV considerations and many many complications created by differing stack sizes (both for you and your opponents) and by the state of the tournament. Many of these complications have no equivalent in cash games (though expert-level cash play has its own set of complications). Which leads me to the conclusion that moving into the expert level puts the two back onto a fairly even footing.

Further, it's worth noting that tournaments can be more demanding from an endurance perspective, since you do not have the option to leave the table when you are no longer playing your A-game.

  • 1
    In a cash game you can cash out when you feel like. In a tourney you can be a huge chipleader shortly before the cut, and walk away out of the money. You play cash games in sprints but a tourney is a marathon.
    – Chad
    Mar 16, 2012 at 19:16
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    That's true, Chad. Tournaments can definitely be more demanding from an endurance perspective. Mar 16, 2012 at 23:18
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    @Chad, when your livelihood depends upon it, cash games are absolutely, positively about the long-haul. Also, it does take a certain skill set (introspection, discipline) to recognize when you should get up from the table in both ring games and tourneys.
    – Tim Lehner
    Apr 4, 2012 at 16:40

This one is easy. Amateurs win WSOP bracelets often. Amateurs don't sit in cash games with the Phils and take their money.

  • Sure they do. The difference is one amateur taking 10k from a big pro is not a big deal to that pro. They buy back in. It is a big deal to that amateur.
    – Chad
    Apr 4, 2012 at 17:37
  • @TimLehner It would be good if you could give more detailed reasoning to back up your observations. Thanks.
    – Toby Booth
    Apr 5, 2012 at 17:56

Not a direct answer but I would rather be in a tournament against a better player.

A pro can bully an amateur and if the fish wakes up with a hand the pro can just re-buy. In a tournament the pro has more risk.

In a cash game the amateur is more worried about bankroll.

Betting is more dynamic in a cash game as you can take more risk (you can reload).

GTO is not as effective cash in my mind. High stakes yes GTO plays strong cash but I don't think we have many high stakes cash players on this site.

Cash you can sit in and have a bunch of regs that know each other's play.

Against a home game I would way rather play cash. In a casino if you play low stakes to get fish the rake kills you.


I am more successful at cash games than tournament play. Cash games come so easy to me, where as tournament play I find my style isn't suited as well. My strategy in cash games is:

  1. Only call on very good hole cards....ie AA, AK, AQ, AJ or mid to higher suited connectors.
  2. I almost never raise before the flop.
  3. Once I see the flop, I assess the potential for the "nuts" and take it from there.
  4. Once the turn comes, it is usually pretty apparent to me if "go-no-go" and at this point I never ussually do not have a lot invested at this point.
  5. of course if things aren't going my way at this point I am long gone, out of the hand.
  6. If things are going my way I only call a reasonable amount to see the river.
  7. Once the river is showing I know if I have the "nuts" or if I am in a good enough position to take down the pot. This is when I make a call to up the bet or check to induce a big bet from my opponent/s.
  8. if I have the "nuts' of course I am all in, otherwise it's a judgement call.
  • 1
    This seems like a good way to lose a lot of money against players who are paying attention. Nov 23, 2015 at 17:51

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