Monday, March 05, 2007

Cash vs. Tournament Skill (Continued)

Wow. What a slew of comments on my question from yesterday of the amount of skill required in cash games vs. tournaments. In general, let me start off my own discussion of this question, originally posited by Wes in a comment to my post earlier this week, by saying that I am clearly in the camp that believes that neither form of poker requires "more" skill than the other. Rather, I view the different skills required in each kind of poker as more or less balancing each other out. I think there are a few good arguments on either side of the equation, but IMO most of the arguments people make on this point are not valid ones, and that's what I want to discuss briefly today. As this is still a vacation post I'm not going to go into nearly the detail I would like on most of these points, but generally speaking here are my thoughts on some of the most common arguments I hear in favor of either side of the cash / tournament equation.

First and foremost, I have to chuckle whenever I hear people make the argument that was made several times in yesterday's comments, that the escalating blinds and antes make tournament poker far easier in level of skill than cash games. I laugh at this because, from a purely logical perspective, I think that agrument cuts at least as well in favor of tournaments requiring more skill than it does cash games. Generally speaking, cash games require a consistent set of poker skills, hand in and hand out, without regard to the blinds forcing you to push with 92o. Very true. Nonetheless, if you think about it logically, tournaments require mostly the same set of consistent poker skills, plus they also require you to excel at short stack tournament play , big stack tournament play, and low-M tournament play. So, while I acknowledge that the argument is not quite a simple as I've just laid it out to be, as a general statement I think the blinds-and-antes thing is at least as strongly in favor of tournaments requiring an additional set of skills over and above cash game poker, as it is the other way around. In general I find that argument to be grossly misused by cash game guys in support of their own brand of poker being more of a "skill game".

Secondly, a number of the tournament guys in the comments mentioned that they find cash games much more challenging, and that thus they probably require more skills. While I am in the same boat as far as the perceived level of challenge involved in my donkeyrific cash game play (believe you me), that argument does not hold water from a basic logic perspective. Imagine if you've been playing and studying chess since you were 15 years old, but now you sit down to play checkers for one of the first times in your life and get crushed by your 12-year old brother. Does this mean that checkers requires more skill than chess? No. In fact that's a preposterous conclusion to draw, and yet that's exactly what some of the tournament-focused guys out there do when they say that they do worse in cash games than in tournaments (like I certainly do). Cash games clearly require a different set of skills than tournaments do, but to suggest that, just because you're good at tournaments but have trouble changing gears for cash games, cash games must require more skill, I think it's fair to say that that argument factually is flawed.

And this brings me to another point I saw a few times in the comments and want to refute here. One or two of the bloggers argued that cash needs more skill because you're playing with real money, and that there is a big difference between betting T$ 1000 and betting a thousand dollars of your actual cash on an actual hand. No doubt those two assertions are true abotu cash games vs. poker tournaments, but what is not at all accurate is that what follows logically from this is that cash therefore requires more skill. In fact, I'm not sure what more there even is to say about that argument, other than merely to point out that, purely logically speaking, there is simply no logical link between the whole "real money" point and the level of skill required to play the game. In other words, to use another analogy like the checkers-chess analogy above, if you were playing tournament no-limit holdem for a set buyin amount, and the guy next to you was playing our old kids-game War for actual cash, does that mean that the War game requires more skill than tournament nlh? I'll let you guys answer that one on your own. Suffice it to say, this argument just does not pass even the most basic logic test. And the exact same can be said about an argument that cash requires more skill just because the best cash gamers can make more money on average than the best tournament players can on average. While this may well be true (not sure how you go about proving an assertion like that either, but let's assume it's true because it really doesn't matter for purposes of this discussion), it simply has no factual relevance towards proving or even suggesting that cash requires more skill. Go back and read that War analogy if you don't see why.

Another point made multiple times in the comments yesterday was several people saying that it's easier for a cash game guy to learn to excel in tournaments than it is for a tournament guy to excel in cash games. More than a few people made this point yesterday and have made it several times in the past, and to this point all I can say is "prove it". This is an assertion which, if true, would at least go part of the way towards suggesting that cash game skill is greater than tournament skill. And yet strangely, nobody who makes this claim can actually prove it. It's just a generalization that some people say, and they'll throw in some examples of individuals in the world of poker for whom it is clearly true in practice, but that is a long, long way from an actual proof of anything. All I can say is this, which is a repeat of a point I made in Tuesday's post: there are plenty of poker players -- professionals on tv and poker bloggers alike -- who seem to be much, much better at cash games than at tournaments. And of course there are plenty of players for whom the reverse is true as well. So while this might be a good logical argument in favor of cash game skill if actually true, I just don't see how anyone can actually accept as true the basic premise of this argument in order to make the logical leap on the skill discussion.

Before I run back to the family let me just say that the argument in favor of cash game skill that moves me the most is the point about "more streets = more skill". Felicia has long made this argument, and I think there is some good logic to it. Not flawless, in that I could probably think of many games with more opportunities for betting but which do not carry the same level of skill as no-limit holdem, but I think there is something to the point nonetheless. Now, of course there are in fact the same four streets of betting in nlh whether you are playing cash or playing a poker tournament, but it is probably true that in at least most of the tournaments we tournament guys play in online, there is less turn and river play than in many cash games. To the extent this is true, I think this argument goes some of the way towards the cash vs. tournament skill debate. But my point here is, that argument is really more of a statement just that a game with more streets requires more skill, and not so much that cash games in general require more skill than tournaments. And as a few of the commenters yesterday suggest, in the case of comparing the skill required for a truly deep stacks tournament and a not-so-deep stacks cash game, this line begins to blur quite a bit.

So in all, for me, this is not an easy question to answer, and I am wholly not moved by most of the arguments made in favor of mroe skill required in cash games. I still maintain that it is a very different set of skills needed to excel in both, and I think some of the additional skills required in tournament poker tend to be discounted, if not completely overlooked, by cash game guys when they consider the relative skill requirements of each form of poker. If anyone has additional thoughts on this, or on the analogies or arguments I've made in today's post, I'd love to hear them as always.

I'm going to try to get a post up on Thursday, but that is a travel day for the Hammer Family so I'm not 100% sure I will have the time for a proper post before our flight leaves to return back to the icy Northeast. That said I will definitely be back in my usual timeslot on Friday with another fun poker post for you all, and if I'm really lucky I will get to play in Al's Riverchasers tournament at 9pm ET on Thursday night to get back into the swings of things poker-wise after some much-needed and much-appreciated time off.



Blogger jjok said...

".......and that's what I want to discuss briefly today....."


Cash play takes more skill. And the reason is because.

Just because.

Hope that helps the argument.

11:42 PM  
Blogger Fuel55 said...

Here's a thought:

How often do you double your starting stack vs going broke in a tournament? How often do you do the same in a cash game?

12:27 AM  
Blogger Alan aka RecessRampage said...

In addition to my comment on the previous post (which apparently, I kinda missed the boat), I think that tournaments require you to make reads/notes on other players quicker or make decisions without any information about the player. In other words, in a cash game, aside from a few players, generally, people stay at the table for a while so you have a while to make notes about how certain players play. In a tournament, since the tables are constantly breaking and players being shuffled around, it requires you to recognize a player's style quicker. When a guy goes in, is it because he understands the concept of M or is it because he finally caught a big hand? On a dangerous looking board, is your opponent capable of letting go of an overpair or is he the kind of guy who would go broke with it? I think those are the types of questions that you are confronted with in a situation where you don't have as much information about the opponent in a tournament rather than cash games. Again, I'm on the same boat of I don't think one requires more skill than the other. It's just different set of skills that you need and both requires a lot of practice (I think) and experience.

12:39 AM  
Blogger lucko said...

More or less skill is so subjective.

I will say that I think tournament play is easier to learn than cash game.

Deep stack poker in general creates more aspects to almost every decision. There are many more things that need to be factored into almost every decision.

12:44 AM  
Blogger Wes said...

The reason why cash games are harder is because it requires you to think on multiple levels, on multiple streets. If a guy has 3bet me preflop 3 out of the last 5 times I've opened, do I think he is more or less likely to show up with big range here, or a smaller range of hands here? How does he think I will respond to this?
Do I 4bet with XX with 150 BB stacks? Certainly the arguments for this include that my range is ahead of his now and it is likely to take down the pot preflop. But, how is this person going to adjust to me knowing he has 3bet me preflop before. Does he think that I will adjust to this by 4betting lightly, or does he perceive me as someone who is straightforward and would only do this with a big hand?

Now, lets say that I just call with XX. If he continuation bets, am I going what is my plan of action here? Am I going to semi-bluff with whiffed overs thinking my equity is strong enough against his range to make him fold. Or if I have a weak overpair, do I call down, do I call the flop now and fold to a safe turn thinking that he is more likely to shut down because I am getting frustrated or does he think I am a weak player that cannot make heroic calldowns, or do I push now for value with previous history against this villain since I have shown down bluffs before in this situation?

Let me ask you tourney players this.... when was the last time you thought on this level? When was the last time you had any hard decision by you that was anything other than "I got XX and I think a guy is restealing. Do I call?" Run pokerstove you fucking retard, it isn't difficult.

4:51 AM  
Blogger Wes said...

Oh yeah, I guess I should say that these are the REGULAR decisions a cash game player faces. These are not even the highly difficult ones that a player faces.

4:54 AM  
Blogger Pseudo_Doctor said...

Your right thinking about it after I posted my comment on money in cash/tournement difference I realized that its not a legit argument.

You get 1 free voucher for kicking me in the rear valid till 2007...

6:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think wes and alan make some excellent points Hoy. In tourney play you very rarely get the time to be able to make good reads on other players before you or they are moved, it's more of an instinctual game than Cash games are. Also when in the later stages of tourneys it often becomes a craps shoot situation where players are continually having to push all in with marginal holdings to pick up pots, so they never have to think about playing beyond pre-flop poker. Don't get me wrong tourney poker is a skill in its own, but IMO cash games are the ones that require much more concentration, in-depth analysis and reading skills continuosly from start to finish, where-as once you get beyond a certain level in tourney poker playing through all the streets is not very common and you basically have two main decisions to make... as small stack.... do I push, as a larger stack.... do I call the all-in. I would also say that luck plays a much larger part in tournament games, therefore taking the skill element away slightly.
Overall I say cash games require MORE skills, but I am not taking anything away from tourney players.

6:52 AM  
Blogger Littleacornman said...

Actually I think Raveen was on the right track with his previous comment.Whether it's a skill as such I'm not sure, but you require greater emotional control to play cash games and deal with the swings imo.

7:33 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Great piece! Looking from the perspective of a cash game player late in a tourney one can see why things would seem less skilled, using your stack as a weapon restealing light etc being common. When the cards are turned over and q9 shows down with K6s it certainly *looks* like a donk-fest... easy to miss the levels of thinking that go into such a situation.

Anyway - did a quick write up of this piece over at Plan3t Gong and added you to my 'Blogs of Distinction' list - be great to have a link back when you have a momemt.

Cheers, Mark

5:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm late responding since I to am in Florida vacationing.

What Wes said.

In tournaments the decisions are made mostly pre-flop, occasionally on the flop and rarely on the turn or river. In cash there are a variety of decisions made preflop and then for the most part on every street thereafter.

I also think the cash decisions are way more complex than in tournaments due to more players seeing most flops and more players playing the hand to the turn and river.

One or two simpler decisions versus five or six complex decisions is a huge difference and to me says it all.

It's spades vs bridge or checkers versus chess if you ask me. Tournaments have mass appeal for their fixed buy-in and easy decisions cash is true poker.

Finally, many cash game players can do well in tournaments, not as many tournament players can do well at cash making me think tournament guys are one trick ponies.

5:19 AM  

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