Comparing Cash Games and Tournaments
The Professional has two highly profitable poker skills besides his playing skills. He is very good at choosing when to quit, and at choosing who to play against. That’s why he is so often at his best and getting the best of it.
The Professional determined that tournaments could not be better for his life expectancy than cash games because in a tournament, he is disarmed. He doesn’t get to decide when he quits, or who he plays against. If he were to play tournaments, The Professional would repeatedly find himself playing in tough games, or playing when he feels like crap, or both. And since those are the two main ways that The Professional can jeopardize his bankroll, and therefore his life, it’s a no-brainer for him to stick to cash games.
I have a few reasons of my own for preferring cash games to tournaments. Keep in mind that my priorities are quite a bit different than The Professional’s. His purpose is to avoid death. Mine is merely to avoid discomfort.
When I applied for the job of Professional Poker Player, one of the promises they made me was that I would spend less time in line. And they were right. I can arrange my days and nights so that I do things like shop and eat and drive around at times when other people by and large aren’t. But I think I might have missed the fine print. It turns out there are some unavoidable exceptions. For example, sometimes I have to wait in line to pee. Like at a concert. Or if I play a poker tournament.
Another reason I prefer cash games is that I don’t like it when my bankroll fluctuation is happening yet suspended at the same time. Are you familiar with Schrödinger’s cat? The cat is inside a box that is rigged up to randomly kill the cat, without anyone outside the box knowing when. To find out if the cat is dead or alive at any given moment, we open the box and look inside. Meanwhile, before we open the box, is the cat dead or alive? The official scientific answer is yes-no-maybe-so.
The cat is the value of my bankroll. The box is the tournament. Opening the door of the box and looking at the cat equates to the moment that I bust out of the tournament or win it. At that time, the wave form of possible values for my bankroll collapses down to one reality. Before that, my pending bankroll fluctuation exists in a state of yes-no-maybe-so.
If I make a bad call in a tournament and I lose half my chips, nothing really happens. No money changes hands. The money doesn’t move until I play my last hand of the event (the box is opened) and we find out where I placed (we observe the cat). If I make a bad payoff for half my stack in a cash game, there is no box that sequesters the effect on my bankroll. I pay for my mistake now, in dollars, and I know how many. Likewise, when I pick off a bluff in a cash game, I get paid now. I guess I prefer pay-as-you-go poker.
And the pain equation is way out of whack. If I lose $1,000 playing $20/40 limit hold’em, that’s two racks, which is a common, large-ish loss for me at limit poker. And it hurts. Let’s define X as: the average amount of pain I feel after a two-rack loss at limit hold’em. Now let’s say I enter a $100 buy-in tournament. One hundred dollars is not even enough to get to the river in most $20/40 pots. But when I lose $100 in a tournament, I feel like X. So we have $1,000 = X at $20/40, and $100 = X at tournaments. What’s up with that?
Then there’s the problem with stack aesthetics. It’s impossible to strike fear into hearts when I’m sitting behind a chip stack that is one column wide and barely higher than the padded rail.
Let’s take a more serious look at some of the many fine reasons to play tournaments:
- The glory of the win.
- Playing at a final table is a fantastically wonderful rush.
- A decent payoff can be a bankroll.
- A big payoff can be a life change.
- For players who play poorly, and for players who don’t quit well, tournaments can be a great bargain compared to cash games. They get more playing time per dollar lost, and more poker thrills per dollar lost.
- Beginners get to play against experts.
- Experts get to play against beginners.
- If you love to play tournaments, that’s the only reason you ever need.