It is a question that every professional poker player eventually asks themselves. The short answer is that it each option has its own benefits, which can also depend on the individual, and what they want to achieve. The long answer is a bit trickier to lay out.
The Basic Differences
First, it would be prudent to lay out the basic differences between cash games and tournaments.
In cash games:
- Players can join or leave a game at any point.
- Players can rebuy chips at any point.
- The blind levels are static.
In tournament games:
- Players must register to play.
- Players must attend all games and play until they are out of chips.
- Rebuys are not permitted, unless otherwise specified in the tournament rules.
- The blind levels gradually increase.
These few differences have a wide impact on a number of factors for poker players, particularly in terms of the style and strategy they employ.
The Time Factor
Tournaments generally require a poker player to follow a specific set schedule according to however the tournament is set up. Cash games, on the other hand, allow players to show up and play as many hands as they like before leaving.
It all depends on the player here, how much time they have for poker, and more specifically, what they are using that time for.
Typically, one can crunch a lot more cash games into a given period of time, than one could in a tournament. If playing solely to make money, this could be beneficial. If still learning to be professional poker player however, the structure, pace, and environment of tournaments can be a great educational basis.
Otherwise, they simply have different time factors to them, and poker players generally must adjust their schedules, and strategies, accordingly.
The Skill Factor
Though tournaments, depending on their size and calibre, do often attract the best players, there is also usually a variance in skill-level, with most tournaments allowing anyone with enough money to buy in.
Cash games can range from a bunch of average Joes, to the elite, exclusive to all but the very best.
Both have a number of advantages, as before, depending on your own goals and level of skill.
Tournaments can provide a greater variance and exposure to different players of varying skill-level. Cash games, with typically less players overall, can provide more consistency and quality of skill.
The Fun Factor
Tournaments, with their publicity and spectatorship, can be very exciting and memorable experiences. They can also potentially be an opportunity for a lot of fun.
Cash games, depending on the individual and the games, are generally far more subdued and private. However, if one doesn’t particularly enjoy big crowds and being in the public eye, there’s no loss here.
With the above in mind, it’s clear to see why many professional poker players choose to play cash games when it comes to earning money, and tournaments for competition and exposure.
We can also see that there is no particular right or wrong answer though. It just depends on what you’re after.