AngusD switched from pro chess to poker two decades ago and has been professionally involved in the game on numerous levels since the very beginning of online poker, including playing as a poker ambassador both online and at major festivals around the globe. He has written much about the game over the years, and brings to YPD a wealth of experience in all aspects of the poker industry. Meanwhile, his many years on the pro chess circuit (he’s an International Master and prolific author) afford him an interesting perspective on the psychology of poker.

· Published 03.09.2021 · last updated 03.09.2021

In the old days of online poker there were two distinct groups of players who quite noticeably chose either Cash games or Tournaments (for the sake of argument we’ll lump in Sit & Go and similar games and formats into the latter). People would tend to stick with one or the other to the point that it was almost like two tribes, each believing that their chosen was the more appropriate or even ‘superior’ option. Tournament fans preferred to stay away from the ‘sameness’ of Cash games, which they perceived as comparatively limiting, while Cash game regulars saw the higher variance of tournaments, the hours that can be invested for no ultimate reward and the changing dynamic brought about by increasing blinds and so on as too much of a gamble.

We could describe these quite contrasting opinions as online poker’s version of ‘chalk and cheese’, despite everyone playing the same game. It’s not so different today for many, but the lines have been blurred and the walls between Cash games and Tournaments have come down considerably. It’s much more normal nowadays for people to more readily cross over. Some might go from being exclusively Cash game specialists to playing occasional tournaments – perhaps concentrating on Freezeouts to begin with, trying out Rebuys and maybe preferring the latter. Tournaments with longer Blind Levels, for instance, are going to better suit those who are used to the blinds staying the same throughout a session than a Hyper blinds format. Meanwhile, those who have for a long time devoted their online poker sessions to grinding away at the Cash tables for a modest profit could be forgiven for wanting to let their hair down every now and then, and welcome the thrill of (at least initially) being out of their comfort zone by jumping into a tournament.

The meteoric rise in popularity of the Bounty/Knockout format has also made tournaments a more attractive prospect. Now it’s possible to eliminate opponents via a couple of crucial hands, knock out a few short stacks (such as those who have just lost an all-in but have a handful of chips remaining) but crash and burn after just a few levels, literally hours before the money and, thanks to picking up bounties along the way, still make a profit on the tournament!

If reading this has whet the appetite of Cash game players, with tournaments a potentially interesting new option, then before thinking about the adjustments that need to be made it’s necessary to think about which tournaments to play. First, it’s imperative that we feel right when playing, so a fundamental ‘do’ is to play only in tournaments that we can afford. Or, perhaps more significantly, paying too much to play is a serious poker ‘don’t’ that runs the risk of putting ourselves under pressure, most commonly when we’re approaching the money. Crucially, any level of doubt or urgency is likely to elicit debilitating tendencies such as the inability to take risks (e.g. shoving/calling all-in) and lead to generally sub-optimal play.

In terms of format, there’s a whole smorgasbord of options available, with tournaments running around the clock, every day of the year. A sensible start would be with Freezeout tournaments where the investment is fixed (like sitting down with a specific stack at a Cash game). There’s no rush to become a world-beater, and at least this approach means avoiding forking out multiple rebuys, the dynamics of the rebuy format being difficult to get used to for inexperienced players.

It’s also a good idea to play in satellite tournaments. As well as the chance of qualifying for events that our bankroll wouldn’t justify, these provide good training grounds for understanding the cadence of tournaments, how play develops as we approach the business end of proceedings.

Online poker is a rewarding game and we deserve to get the most out of it, so those players who until now have not considered tournaments might well find their horizons broadening for the better if they give them a try!

Have fun at the tables!

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