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Guide to Poker Cash Games

Cash games have been around for a long time. Doyle Brunson talked about the cash games he played in when he was first getting started with poker.

Back then cash games were illegal in many, if not most states. All games were underground. They were dangerous, too. If you wanted to rob a joint, wouldn’t it make sense to rob a poker game where everyone brought hundreds or thousands of dollars?

And that’s exactly what happened.

Brunson talked about a few of the nasty situations he’s been in where a gun’s been pulled on him, and he, and everyone else, were robbed.

Thankfully, things aren’t like that anymore.

Cash games are still illegal in areas, sure. But poker is more mainstream now. The odds of you being stuck up and robbed are slim. Besides, you can play cash games online, too. Choose the right poker site and the odds of you being robbed are darn near zero.

In fact, you can make money. If you’re good you can make A LOT of money. But let’s start at the beginning.

What the Heck is a Cash Game?

A cash game is also called a ring game. The general idea is you play poker with 1-9 other players for chips that represent exactly what they say they do. In other words, a $1 chip = $1 in real money.

This is unlike tournaments where you buy in for various amounts and receive different stack sizes. For example, in one tourney you can buy in for $50 and receive a 1,500 chip stack. But you can buy into another tournament for $500 and also receive a 1,500 stack.

What that means – and what the biggest difference between tournaments and cash games is – is that in a cash game, you look for – and exploit – all positive edges.

For example, a 51 to 49 edge. If you’re a 51% favorite, putting money in here will make you a profit in the long run. This is the idea in cash games. Not so much in tournaments.

Now, that doesn’t mean you have to or should. Taking thin edges like that lead to lots of variance. But it’s important to understand this fundamental difference between ring games and MTTs, and how it affects your strategy.

Anyway, let’s get back to basics.

When you want to play in a cash game you’ll need to buy in for somewhere between the min and max amount. For example, say you sit down to play 3/6 holdem. The buy-in may be anywhere from $300 to $600. And every hand will have blinds, bets and raises of at least (the minimum of) $3 or $6. And the blinds will never go up or down (unlike a tournament where the blinds go up every timed level).

(This depends on the game and betting limit/format, too.)

With cash games you can sit down to play whenever you want, although there may be a waiting list. This is especially the case in a live room, or if a game looks particularly soft online. This is unlike a tournament where it usually starts when all the seats fill (SNG) or at a scheduled time (MTT).

And, unlike a tourney, you don’t have to wait to bust until you leave. You can leave at any time. But there are a few rules and/or bits of etiquette you should keep in mind:

  • When you win a hand you can’t (or shouldn’t) pull your profits off the table.
  • You can leave – even come back and buy in for the minimum. But usually there’s a set amount of time you’ll have to wait before they’ll let you buy back in again.

That’s the general idea behind cash games and how they work. From there the options are endless.

What Types of Cash Games Can You Play?

You might be wondering – what types of games can I play? The answer might overwhelm you.

You can play any game you want. Seriously. You can play holdem, omaha, stud, razz, HORSE and other mixed games, pineapple, draw poker, and more.

You have all sorts of variations and betting limits, too. That includes no limit, pot limit, limit, spread, capped, antes, straddles, and more.

Then you have different table sizes. This includes full ring (9-10), shorthanded (<6) and heads-up (2).

Stakes vary too, but you’ll find there’s something for everyone. You can play for free online, if you have no desire or money to play for real. If you’re willing to risk a little, you can play for as little as .01/.02. Depending on the table 40-100 big blinds for the buy-in is normal. Which means you can get in on a game for as little as .50-2.00.

But if you have deeper pockets and nerves of steel, fixed limit games often peak online at 1,000/2,000. You can find no limit games a little higher than that.

Note: Stakes are often abbreviated as 2nl or 25nl or 100nl. This is the same as saying .01/.02, .10/.25 or .50/1.00 no limit poker. For other games they might be listed as 1/2, 3/6, 4/8, and so on.

Stakes won’t start that low offline. Games offline will start at 1/2 (if you can find it), and more often starting at 2/4 or 3/6.

Some of the biggest live games happen in the Big Game inside Bobby’s Room at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. The limits there are as high as 4,000/8,000 and are as high as 100,000 per hand. The buy-in is as low as 20,000. The norm is 200-300,000.

They often play a rotation of games that change every 8-10 hands. This includes games like:

  • Texas hold ’em (limit and no limit)
  • Seven-card stud (straight high, eight or better Hi/Lo, Hi/Lo without qualifiers, limit)
  • Omaha (straight high, eight or better Hi/Lo, limit and pot limit)
  • Deuce-to-seven triple draw (limit)
  • Deuce-to-seven single draw (no limit)
  • Ace-to-Five triple draw (limit)
  • Ace-to-Five single draw (no limit)
  • Razz (limit)

The bottom line – if you want to play cash games, you’ll have no problem finding a game, variation, stake or buy-in that works for you. You just need to know where to look.

Choosing an Online Cash Game

Let’s talk a second about finding a cash game.

First, the room. What do you look for?

Obviously, you want to make sure the poker site is legit. That they’re licensed, regulated and don’t have any baggage. That no one’s complained about them scamming players.

From there player traffic is the number one thing we look for. And that some of the traffic is to the games and stakes you like to play.

And looks can be deceiving.

A lot of these 2nd and 3rd tier rooms will have a bit of traffic, but they’ll only be around 1-2 different games (usually holdem, maybe omaha) and stakes. So, make sure you research this before you sign up anywhere.

Next, depending on how serious you are (recreational vs. professional), we’d suggest finding a room with a VIP program. And if you’re playing for fun, you’ll want to stick to sites like Bovada or Bodog. They don’t allow players to multi-table more than 4 tables, use software, data-mine, and they have anonymous tables.

The point is they discourage pros from joining, which makes it an easier and more friendly environment for everyone else.

That’s how we’d find a poker site to join if we planned to play mostly cash games.

But what about choosing a table to join?

That’s a little harder to do. We think this advice we found sums it up pretty well. This forum poster suggests to look for tables with the:

  1. Largest average pot size
  2. Largest % of players in the pot
  3. All players (ideally) w at least 100bb in their stacks (i.e., everyone is playing at least $2 at $0.01/$0.02)
  4. Full tables

Let us breakdown what this means for you:

  1. Largest average pot size means the game isn’t tight. There’s action. In tight games lots of people fold and you’re often just picking up and swapping blinds. In the tighter games the only people that make money is the poker room (because you still pay rake).
  2. This is similar to the last point. When you look for the largest % of players in the pot, you’re looking for loose and action oriented games. Most loose players are bad – they play too many hands post flop and take hands too far after the flop. This can be easy money for good players.
  3. You want players with 100 big blinds (the max/standard at normal tables) for a couple reasons. Some players like to “short stack” which means to buy in short and open-shove. This is tough to play against because you’re often running/flipping hands for (effective) stacks. Second, players with full stacks means there’s more money for you to win if/when you get a big hand.
  4. This can mean a few things. But, for one thing, it means there will be enough action (compared to tables with 1 or 3 players). And there’s more money to win.

Stick to this and finding a good cash game table to join should be no problem.

Conclusion: What Are You Waiting For?

If you’re interested in playing poker, cash games are a great way to go. We have friends that swear by them. They won’t touch a tournament.

We don’t think we’d go that far. We like tournaments – they, too, can be a great way to make money, build a bankroll, and just become an all-around better player. But there are some benefits to cash games that are harder to come by in a tournament.

For starters, being able to set your own hours is huge. When we played tournaments you were stuck until you busted.

But with a cash game? You leave when you want.

There’s (arguably) less variance for cash game players. Especially when you consider tournament field sizes. While you’ll definitely experience ups and downs, going days or weeks, let alone months, without a positive session is unlikely to happen.

One other thing (of many) that stick out for me about cash games – you really have the chance to learn how to play poker post flop. There’s so much to it from learning about ranges and reading hands. It’s hard to get this experience in tournaments.

Anyway, there’s really no reason not to get into cash games. Your biggest choice – and you have lots of them – is deciding the type of game, variation and stakes you’re going to play. And then just getting started.

So, what are you waiting for?

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