Cash Games > Tournaments

The World Series of Poker starts this week, noteworthy for being the 50th anniversary year. Lots of attention, friends are going, and all that. One of my friends nearly won a bracelet last year. Another friend did win a bracelet the year before. Several are playing in the Main Event this year.

Yet I’m mostly reminded of all the reasons I prefer cash games to tournament poker. Which is not, by itself, a reason to avoid Las Vegas at this time of year, as the cash game action is extremely good.

A few of the reasons I prefer cash games, in no particular order:

  1. Tournaments always end abruptly. Unless you win, the ending is abrupt and not satisfying. Wait, everything was going fine and now I’m out! If only that last hand had gone differently…
  2. Tournaments are inherently -EV. The economics are horrible. Let’s do some math. At a recent WSOP Circuit stop (at Horseshoe Tunica), the Circuit Main Event had a buy-in of $1,700, and 466 entries. The top 54 cashed (11.5%). If you play in nine of these and cash once, that’s about average. But you would need to finish in 8th place to win enough to cover your nine buy-ins. That’s not only cashing, but being in the top 15% of those who cash (or 1.7% of all entries), a very tall order. Only the tippy top of the pyramid can make a living that way, and many of those only survive with the aid of staking and action swapping arrangements.
  3. In cash games, you never have to ponder silly questions like whether you would ever fold AA pre-flop.
  4. The blinds go up. I happen to like the blinds right where they started, thank you very much.
  5. Most of tournament play – let’s say for events with buy-ins of $1,500 or lower, takes place with shallow stacks. Stacks of 50 BBs or less reduce opportunities for hand reading and creativity on the turn and river betting rounds, where the most interesting decisions are made as the puzzle of each hand fills in. Tournament players often have to move all-in either pre-flop or on the flop, and then hope for the best.
  6. If I make one bad mistake, or suffer one bad beat / cooler / suckout in a tournament, I can be stuck with a short stack prematurely. In a cash game, I can top up my stack to at least 100 big blinds or more immediately.
  7. I don’t like standing in line to use the bathroom. Cash games let me schedule my own breaks.
  8. Once I asked a supervisor for a table change during a tournament. He was not amused. Edges that might be gained via table and seat selection aren’t available in tournaments. Neither is getting away from Mr. Stinky or some supreme A-hole.
  9. In cash games, I can quit while I’m ahead. While I don’t hit-and-run, I also don’t like the fact that after quadrupling my stack early in a tournament, I’m not allowed to book the win and go see a movie.
  10. It is fascinating to me that in low stakes tournaments, say with buy-ins under $100, players tend to be friendly, social and fun. But in larger buy-in tournaments, too many players are anti-social or downright neurotic, wearing dark sunglasses, headphones, hoodies, covering their faces while in a hand, using all sorts of lucky charms as card protectors, obsessed with avoiding giving off physical tells to the point of ripping all joy out of the game.
  11. Tournaments move at a slower pace than cash games, with more and longer tanking necessitating the use of shot clocks and time extension chips.
  12. In cash games, I’m never forced to show my cards after going all-in and I’m clearly beat.

Tournament poker is more compelling on TV however, as it has a discreet ending and unambiguous winner. This year I’m going to stay home and watch.


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