Thursday, August 02, 2007

Cash vs. Tournaments...Again

Today I'm going to refocus on a popular topic here at the blog, and a topic that has been percolating in my head for some time as I have started to focus over the past four months or so on cash games almost every single night I sit down to the virtual (or live) poker tables. On Wednesday I caught Don's latest post on how he looked over his stats for July and noticed a huge leak in his poker play over that time -- tournaments. Don went on to write a great post that captures the frustration and madness that is regular tournament poker play. There is just nothing else to say about it -- playing poker tournaments, especially if you play them with any serious regularity, is an incredible, unbelievable grind that requires the absolute utmost control of mind to withstand the inevitable bad beats in horrible spots, plus even the streaks of bad beats or late-game eliminations that invariably occur due to the randomness of variance. I have spent the better part of the last two years focusing almost exclusively on online multi-table tournaments, and I have had a number of nice scores to show for it. But if I recounted some of the bad stories from that time focusing on mtts, and I bet I could make most of you puke in your shorts.

Stories like bad beat eliminations in 14 consecutive mtts. That's actually what got me to really start writing this blog to begin with. Times when I lost with AA to KK allin preflop in 3 or 4 tournaments in a single week. Remember that, my longtime readers?! God that was death. Or how about when I went so long without even being able to double up one time in an mtt last summer, so bad that I ended up focusing on HORSE and other cash game play for the first time in my foray into online poker for a period of repeated months? I've gone so long in between big scores as an mtt player that I bet I've lost more money in one streak than most of you out there have lost in your online poker careers. Being a tournament poker guy is a tough thing to do, and as Don points out in his post, that's why there are so few people who consistently profit from them.

Then early this morning I read Chad's latest post, and I have to say it really resonated with me. Chad presents sort of the opposite view from Don, arguing why tournament poker is very profitable for some people, and why many others continue to chase the elusive big score even knowing the longass odds they are clearly up against. I think the reason I loved this post so much is that I have had enough of a taste of the good life in mtts to want to keep taking shots and keep coming back for more. I'm no Chad, not by a longshot, but I've won just enough in live and online tournaments and satellites to have the feeling, that bravado, that every time I go into a tournament -- in any poker game and against any competition, mind you -- I know I have what it takes to win. That's right, to win the whole thing. I've done it before. When I won the Party 40k more than a year ago now, I finished first out of 2,323 players. How many people can say they did that? When I won the $11 Rebuy Madness on pokerstars about 11 months ago, I beat out 1500-some players and more than 4500 total buyins to take down the 15k first prize. I've won and scored big in plenty of other tournaments along the way, enough for me to have the beginnings of the feeling I can tell Chad has every time he sits down at a poker table and hears "Shuffle up and deal!"

Chad makes lots of great points in his post. For example, he is certainly 100% correct that of all the people who decry tournament poker and say how it's impossible to profit over the long term, nary a single one of 'em has ever won a big tournament. I mean first-place, big cash payout, the whole shebang. Not one of 'em. Because once you've won it once, it's like finally seeing that optical illusion that you never were able to see previously -- you can't help but see the thing again and again every time you try from then on. Once you break the seal so to speak and win a large tournament, you see things in a different light, a light that only big mtt winners can ever see. You just never hear a guy who recently won out over 2000 other poker players saying that tournament poker is losing poker. He's been there once, and now he thinks he can get there again.

Chad also hits on what I think are the two big points to be made about why poker tournaments are so popular even today. First and foremost, because of the tournament aspect, poker tournaments are simply more "fun" than cash games. They just are. The prizes available at the end are much larger than anything you could win in a night of cash play, and with the freezeout aspect and the increasing blinds, it just adds several layers of complexity and randomness that cannot even be approached by anything at a cash game table.

And secondly, Chad makes the very good point that most of us are not playing for a living, like Don is. As a play-to-make-your-nut-every-month strategy, cash games are probably where it's at. I know very, very few people -- KOD included in some months -- who could successfully rely on poker tournament winnings every month to make their monthly living expenses and maybe have some extra change left over to go out to the movies or take a vacation once in a while. I do know of a few guys -- mostly some of the widly successful guys I run into on a nightly basis in the largest buyin mtt's regularly available on full tilt (i.e., the $163 buyin 55k at 8pm ET, the $300 buyin Avatar Race at 9pm ET Tuesdays and Thursdays, etc.), but really we're talking about a small handful of people out of the entire population of the online poker scene. If you're playing for a living, tournament poker is not going to be where you punch your ticket unless you are one of the few and the proud. Which I and pretty much anyone who plays with our group on a regular basis are not.

Guys like me, we have day jobs and other sources of income. I'm not using poker as a means to make my nut, and as a result, I actually enrich my life by playing mtts on a nightly basis. I like it. Maybe that makes me sick and demented, and of course on its worst nights it's all I can do to stop from smashing my laptop repeatedly over the head of your family pet, but as a general statement I play poker tournaments because I love them, not because I know I will make a steady monthly profit. Who knows how long I would have continued with my focus if I had not started winning some big scores? We'll never know, because I did. I don't win tournaments as big or as often as Chad does -- there can only be one K.O.D. -- but I've won, say, more than $1000 probably twenty times now and I have to tell you, every one of those has utterly kicked ass. Better than any cash game run I've ever experienced. Those are the things that keep me coming back for more. For more suckouts, more recockurivers, more abuse.

And one more quick item -- after several months now of playing cash game poker almost every single night at one or more tables, I am ready to make a proclamation. Tournaments require more skill than cash games. I knew this already several months ago when this topic last came up on the blog here, but back then even though I already knew I was right, I did not have the cash games experience to be taken credibly. Well now I do. I've been a winning player at every limit up to and including 2-4 nlh on full tilt over four months. If not for three horrific suckouts at 3-6 and 5-10 nlh (two flush-over-flushes and one QQ < AK allin preflop), I would be up several grand at those levels as well. I know how to play cash and I have played it enough now to be able to make this statement confidently.

Cash games require less skill than tournaments. I said it a few months ago here, and I say it again now. The bottom line is that there is a really different skill set to win tournaments than to win cash games. Chad makes that point in his post as well. That's what it comes down to, really. Yes, deep stack cash can present some postflop challenges that are typically not present in the latter stages of mtts. But in some ways that is like comparing apples to oranges. In the early stages of mtts, you typically are playing fairly deepstack poker, and thus many of the same challenges and strategies present themselves there as in ds no-limit cash games. But the later stages of mtts, and just play vs the escalating blinds generally, add multiple entire layers of complexity to tournament poker that is simply never present in cash games. At this point -- and make no mistake I do not consider myself a great cash game player and in relative terms I am still much better in tournaments than in cash -- but I've played enough of each and succeeded enough at each to be able to make my own determination, and to me it's a no-brainer. Both types of poker are very difficult to really excel at on a consistent, grinding basis, but if you need to try one form of poker to try to make your monthly nut, cash games will always be the easier choice.

Tournament skill > cash game skill. Don't forget it.

Now also don't forget about the BBT Re-Freeroll rescheduled for Thursday night at 10pm ET on full tilt. No registration, no password required. Just all 56 players who qualified for the Freeroll through the Battle of the Blogger Tournaments, now battling it out this evening for a $2500 prize pool thanks to the efforts of Al and the recognition on the part of full tilt that the poker blogging community, as a group, can do wonders for full tilt that far exceed any few hundy or even several hundred dollars they can give back to us as a showing of good faith. Tonight I plan to play tight-aggro, the only way I really know how, and I will try to get back to the quick start that I was off to last week when we first tried to run the Freeroll before the full tilt server debacle began. That, and my other big plans for the night are to try to play in that 9:50pm ET $10 rebuy satellite into FTOPS Event #1 in no-limit holdem. See you at the Freeroll where I plan to bust out of the tournament all you donkeys who eliminated me from any BBT event with donkeyplay of your own.

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Blogger Poker Brian said...

Man, what an article to read after my horrible cash game expierience last night.

I'm like you, I have a job im at 9 hours a day so when I come home I want to enter a MTT or a few SnGs to relax. So like you, I'm not grinding a living off of cash games.

Doyle says you can't be good at both limit & no limit because its 2 different mindsets. I'm not debating the validity of that statement, but I think MTTs and CGs are different monsters, like you stated. In a cash game I'm looking to make the most money while losing the least that I can. Usually this means I'm shooting diamonds out my ass with my play. In tourneys I dont want to be the guy that gets blinded to death (its akin to drowning in my mindset)so I go for broke.

11:52 PM  
Blogger pokerpeaker said...

I think tournament play requires more skill preflop. Stealing, re-stealing, reading hands, reading tendencies.

I disagree with you that tournament play requires more skill than cash game play. I remember a pro saying on "High Stakes Poker." "It's the best TV poker because you're actually seeing them play. It's not one guy has a pair of 8s and the other guy has A-K and you just run the cards."

Cash games require a whole lot more post-flop play and therefore requie much more skill in that regard.

A-K is much harder to play in a cash game. So are large PPs. Pre-flop cash it's easier because nothing is forcing you to put money in the pot. The blinds aren't forcing you to take a chance. You don't need to re-steal or even steal. But you do need to bluff post-flop.

I also think MTTs are more fun but are less profitable for me, and with the twins, I can't play them right now, so I play cash games.

12:47 AM  
Blogger Julius_Goat said...

My two cents?

Tournaments require more skill in playing the trying to control the narrative thread. It's a game of push-me/pull-you, everybody trying to balance on slippery logs while trying to make everybody else fall off with dodges, feints and pushes. The furthest you can fall is to the water below.

Cash games require focus on the individual situation. Hand-by-hand, card-by-card, what is the situation in front of me. You aren't necessarily trying to knock anybody off their log while staying on your own. You are trying to climb a slippery incline, and you measure your efforts by how far you've climbed or how far you've slipped. There is no bottom or top. You can climb or slip an infinite distance, regardless of how the other climbers perform.

Am I saying that cash games don't have a narrative thread, or MTTs don't require hand-by-hand situational skill?

I am not.

But I am saying this: I'm hungry.

1:20 AM  
Blogger Drizztdj said...

Tourneys and Cash games are so different they shouldn't be compared.

Think of it as comparing an expert NL Hold Em' player to an expert Stud 8 player (while many of us play different poker variations, we have a favorite):

Both are playing poker.

Both can make expert decisions on different streets.

Both are consistant winners.

But you really can't compare the two since they play vastly different variations of poker with different skill sets.

1:48 AM  
Blogger Chad C said...

Pokerpeaker, nobody can say cash is harder that tournaments. Unless you are playing $10-$20 NLHE with no cap I don't want to hear that. How often in say a $2/$5 game are you making decisions for all your chips that are comparative money wise to say the final table of the $55K on Full Tilt? I've never seen anyone in a $2/$5 game drag a $20,000.00 pot! That's what 1st place is in that tournament......

3:04 AM  
Blogger Blinders said...

Tournament skill > cash game skill. Don't forget it.

LOL. I will say it requires more skill to win the same amount/hour at MTTs as it does at CASH. That I do not dispute. Why not use your extra skill to extract more money from the cash tables than you would at MTTs. I would say MTT players are dumber than cash game players, becuase they are not choosing to maximize value.

Also, you can't lump all MTT players and say they have more skill. Most of the truely skillfull players are also smart, and chose cash games as a result. This tends to put the most highly skilled players at high stakes cash games and not in tourneys. Who won the last two 50k horse events at the WSOP? Cash game specialists.

And winning an MTT does not really "break the seal" to where it is easier to win more. Win Moneymaker or Gold win another biggie I might believe this, but I am not holding my breath.

All this from a guy who is now lifetime profitable at all forms of poker.

5:32 AM  
Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

I feel for you, Blinders. I love ya but I really feel for you.

Poor guy.

7:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's no factual basis to the statement "Tournament skill > cash game skill. Don't forget it."

It is like comparing apples and oranges for the most part.

Hoyazo: how many cash game hands have you played this year? I'm under the impression you haven't played a large sample (100K+ hands), so I'm not sure why you are claiming you have newfound cash game credibility.

I tend to agree with something Barry Greenstein said: "Tournaments are like a lottery with an element of skill."

5:42 PM  
Blogger Craig Cunningham said...

Just to throw in a different perspective on this: if you had to play only MTT's or cash games to earn your keep, which would you choose? To the point of winning a tournament, I asked Greg Raymer, Katja Thater, and Bernard "ElkY" Grsopellier this, and all three were universal in their view that cash games were where you played to earn money.

Can players play MTT's regularly? Absolutely no question they can, and there are many great MTT players around as well as a few bloggers (like Hoy for example) who have become very good MTT players.

I haven't spoken to Don about this, but I would suggest that bankroll management in the context of buy-in's is a component of this which few have talked about that I saw alot of this summer. For example, I had no business playing in a $2k event, using 20% of my bankroll, but I just wanted to do that. It would have been better to be playing $200 buy-in events for me if I were doing this for a living. You could see much of this at the WSOP. Put aside all the fish taking their shot. There were many, many very solid players who lol-donkamented away >$15k on buy-in's when they didn't have the bankroll to support that.

I've met very few pure MTT'ers who only do that. Probably the one I spoke to the most about it was Doug Carli, who travels around the circuit with his wife. He had five WSOP cashes this year, four in '06, and a zillion in between.

6:35 PM  
Blogger pokerpeaker said...

Chad, you should know by now that skill level does not necessarily compute to the money you play for. And I'm sorry, but all the "all in" shoving you do would get you stacked in a cash game all the time. You're a much better player than me so that's all I'll say, but the all in makes cash games much harder than tournaments.

Plus I do kinda agree with others that they are really different animals and this is a pointless debate.

4:49 AM  
Blogger lucko said...

The biggest consistant winners in poker year after year are not tournament players. Doesn't mean there isn't a lot of money and it doesn't mean they aren't profitable. I have had about 5 5 figure scores and have definitely made more in MTTs than cash so far, but I am hoping that will change in 2007 & 2008.

2:56 AM  

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