What is a Cash Game in Poker?

Cash games can be played with varying stakes, and the buy-ins typically have minimum and maximum limits based on the game’s rules and the specific venue where it’s being played. They provide a more flexible and straightforward option for poker play compared to the structured nature of tournaments.

On this page, you will learn:

  • The structure & unique features of cash games
  • Insightful tips for playing live and online cash games
  • Preflop and postflop strategies
  • Stake selection
  • The importance of maintaining discipline, avoiding tilt, and having a solid grasp of cash game strategy.

After reading this  guide, you’ll be well-equipped with the knowledge and strategies needed to navigate and succeed in the dynamic world of cash game poker.

What Makes A Cash Game Different?

There are several differences between cash games and tournament poker, all of which will impact how you approach the game. Let’s take a look at what those are.

Real Cash

Cash game chips represent real money. Every bet and call you make has a real-world impact on your wallet. It’s not like a tournament where you pay a set amount at the start, and that’s all you risk; you’re risking your money with every decision you make in a cash game.

For some people, this is hard to adjust to, and when pots get big, it’s easy to get overawed by the money and not think about the hand. The best way to adjust to this is to think of the hand in terms of chips – or even better, big blinds. It’s much easier to remain analytical if you’re thinking of what to do against a 150bb bet instead of a $750 bet.

Flexibility

One of the great things about playing cash games is that you’re free to come and go as you please. There’s no minimum or maximum playing time, so you can play sessions that are as long or as short as you like. For example, in tournaments you can be locked into playing for 8 hours+, whereas cash games allow you to pick up and leave after 10 minutes if you want! This makes it a lot easier to play your A-game because as soon as you feel your focus start to slip, you can get up, take a break, reset, and sit back down when you’re ready to play again.

Despite this flexibility, not enough people take advantage of it. People will choose to play for hours and hours at a time without taking any breaks. It’s incredibly hard to play long sessions without losing focus and discipline, so whenever you feel your level start to dip, stand up and take a break. Players will talk themselves into staying because “the game is so good I can’t afford to take a break.” Just remember that there will always be another game, and playing in a good game when you’ve lost focus won’t be as profitable as playing in an average game while fully focused.

Consistent Blind Levels

Contrary to tournament poker, the blind levels never increase in a cash game – unless the whole table agrees to increase the stakes. There are also no antes in a cash game, so you’re punished less for folding a lot of hands. In tournaments, the increasing blind levels necessitate the need for aggressiveness; after a couple of hours, the blind levels can more than halve your effective stack size, whereas cash games don’t have this problem. The combination of these two things means that you can afford to sit around and wait for good hands. Now, this doesn’t mean you can fold everything but aces, but you’re not forced into playing weak hands just to get chips to survive.

As the blind levels stay constant, you have more control over your stack size. You can play as shallow or as deep as you like (as long as it complies with the table minimum and maximum), and you’re not forced into playing short-stack poker if you don’t want to. You’re free to add on as often as you’d like during a cash game to keep yourself at a certain stack level. The only thing you’re not allowed to do in a cash game is to take chips off your stack. This is known as “going south,” and it is against the rules in every casino/poker site.

Deep Stacks

Cash games will frequently play deeper stacked than tournaments, and the stacks stay deep because of the consistent blind levels. Most people tend to buy into a cash game for 100bb, whereas the average tournament stack size is around 10-20bb, especially in the latter stages.. When you play deep stacked, you have to be more conservative with the hands you get it in with. You can’t shove A5s over a raise when you’re 100bb deep, but it’s a perfectly fine thing to do with 20bb in a tournament.

You also need to be aware of how deep stacks affect postflop play. The deeper you are, the more likely it is you’re going to see all three streets. When you get to the latter stages of a tournament, you often don’t have enough chips to make bets on all three streets, so river play isn’t as significant. However, in cash games, the river is the most important street in the game, as that’s where the decisions for the most money are made.

Should You Play Live or Online?

Man playing texas hold'em with an ace and king of hearts

Live cash games are almost always softer than online games of the same stakes. In fact, most people say that if you can beat the lowest stakes online games, you can easily beat the lowest stakes live games – even though they’re 10 or 20x the stake level! For example, a player who’s put in 100,000 hands at $0.05/$0.10 and made money would have no problem beating a live $1/$2 game. 

You might think, why would anyone play online if they can make 20x the money playing live? Well, live cash games are a lot more limiting than online games. Not only do you have to be within a reasonable distance of a casino, but these games also don’t run 24/7 as they do online (depending on where you live). Some people aren’t able to consistently get to a live game, but they can always open their computer, log onto their favorite poker site, and load up a couple of tables of cash games. 

Another reason why people choose to play online is that they just don’t have the bankroll for playing live games. Not everyone can afford to go to the casino and lose $500 in a night if things go badly. Read to play? Check out our favorite online poker spots here.

Picking Your Cash Game Stakes

Picking the right stake level is important whether you’re playing live or online. If you choose stakes that are too low, you’ll crush the games, but you won’t make much money doing so; pick stakes that are too high, and you’ll be the one getting crushed. A big influence in the stakes you play should be the size of your bankroll. It doesn’t matter if you can crush 5/10, but if you only have $1000 to play, you’re gonna go broke before you can make any profit.

A good rule of thumb is to have at least 30 buyins for the stake level you want to play. For example, if you want to play $0.05/$0.10 online, you should have a bankroll of at least $300. However, this rule doesn’t apply as much as to live poker, where the games are much softer. You can often get away with having 10-15 buyins for live games, but a lot of it depends on how deep the game plays. For example, when I play cash games, I often buy in for 200bb, which means that I need to have more in my bankroll than if was buying in for the minimum.

If you’re not sure where to start, I’d recommend starting at the lowest stakes you can find. Beginners will benefit from testing the waters at the lowest stakes, as it isn’t as costly when you make mistakes! If you have a little experience with poker, I’d still recommend playing low stakes, particularly when playing online. Games are very tough these days, and players who can beat their local $1/$2 game will struggle to beat $0.05/$0.10 online until they understand the differences in how the games play.

Only once you’ve gotten comfortable playing the game would we recommend picking your stake level based on your bankroll size.

Preflop Strategy

Preflop is arguably the most important street in poker. It’s the foundation upon which the rest of your poker strategy is built – start off with a faulty foundation, and the rest of your strategy will end up crumbling around you.

Before you play a cash game, you should decide how deep you want to play. Most online games will have a buy-in range of 40-100bb, whereas live games will have a buy-in range from 20-250bb, depending on the casino. Your preflop strategy should vary depending on not only your stack size but the stack size of your opponents. It doesn’t matter if you’re sitting at the table with 200bb or even 2000bb; if your opponent in the hand only has 50bb, then that’s the effective stack size.

It pays to learn the proper strategy for each stack size so you can be prepared for every opponent you might face.

Postflop Strategy

Now that we’ve laid out a plan for your preflop strategy, you need a strong postflop strategy to match. Again, each stack size will have a different optimal way of playing. You should be playing postflop with a 200bb stack far different than a 50bb stack. The bigger your stack, the stronger your hand should be to play for it all, and subsequently, the shorter your stack, the lighter you can stack off.

People like playing short because they can get all in more often without it being too much of a mistake. Still, people also like playing deep stacked because it allows them to put max pressure on their opponents with huge bets on the turn and river. There’s no “right” way to play; you should choose a stack level you feel most comfortable with.

Cash Game Poker Tips

The two games of live cash and online cash are so different that we feel it’s best to have two separate sets of tips – one for the online players and one for the live players.

Live Cash Games

  • Tax the limpers – You’ll find in live poker that players like to limp. They like to try and see cheap flops with bad hands in the hopes of hitting it big. When you have a good hand, you need to tax the limpers by making a significant raise. We suggest making it 3x the BB, plus an extra BB for every limper in the hand.
  • Play a tight-aggressive style – Many live poker players will play a loose passive style of poker. They’ll play a lot of bad hands and won’t play them aggressively. The best way to counter this is to play a tight-aggressive style that punishes these players for playing these bad hands.
  • Don’t get sucked into playing bad hands – One thing that’s easy to do when playing live poker is to think to yourself, “everyone else is making hands with trash, so I’m gonna do the same thing!” This is dangerous thinking that’s only going to lose you money. If you feel yourself start to think these thoughts, then take a break until you’re ready to come back and play disciplined.
  • You don’t need to bluff – A mistake that many online players will make when they transition to live poker is that they think they need to bluff at the same frequencies. Most live players are loose-passive calling stations, so bluffing into them is lighting money on fire. The only reason we have bluffs in our range is to get people to call when we have value hands, but if our opponents are going to call no matter what, there’s no need to bluff!
  • Expect the unexpected – You’ll see some crazy hands when you play live poker. I can’t begin to tell you how many wacky hands I’ve seen turn up in 3/4bet pots over the years, so don’t be surprised if your aces get cracked by 92o. Just smile, reload, and wait to get it back.
  • Fold to continued aggression – As most players are loose-passive, continued aggression from them is a sign of extreme strength. These players don’t run bluffs very often, so a triple barrel is almost certainly the nuts or close to it. Save yourself the money and just fold in these situations.

Online Cash Games

  • Play a fundamentally sound game – When you play online, you need to play a fundamentally sound game; otherwise, the regulars will pick your game apart. You can’t go too wild trying to exploit the recreational players, or you will get exploited.
  • Be prepared to face re-raises – Online poker is a lot more aggressive than live poker. 3bets are a rare occurrence when you play live, and 4bets are almost always KK+. However, online poker has a lot more 3betting and 4betting, so be prepared to defend against these re-raises.
  • Take advantage of recreational players – The best way to make money in online poker is to target recreational players. These players are going to make up the majority of your win rate, so make sure you play as many hands against these players as possible.
  • Bluff more often – While there are certainly plenty of recreational players online, you can’t rely solely on the calling stations to make your money. You need to be able to bluff in appropriate spots, so look for situations where the board heavily favors your range or sports where your opponent will often have a weak hand.
  • All-ins from early position are the nuts – Whenever you see an all-in for 100bb or more from early position, it’s almost always KK+. Online players are very positionally aware, so you won’t see many people going all in with a hand as bad as TT from early position, so make sure you have a very strong hand before you call.

Here’s a final tip that applies to every form of poker:

DON’T TILT! – While tilting in any poker game is bad, it’s particularly dangerous in a cash game. In these games, you’re free to reload and keep playing as often as you like, so if you’re not careful, you can end up losing a significant portion of your bankroll in a single session.

Summary

Many people think a cash game is poker in its purest form, as you risk your money with each bet you make. Every decision you make will either make you richer or poorer, and the dangers of tilt are at their greatest. It takes a lot of mettle to sit down in a cash game, but despite its intensity, it’s still a very fun format to play. After reading this article, you should have a solid grasp of cash game strategy. If you’re interested in reading more in-depth strategy articles, why not check out our poker strategy page?

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Jordan conroy

Author
Jordan Conroy, a respected name in the online poker arena, has cultivated his authority through years of dedicated play and content creation. Since 2020, he has earned a stellar reputation for his in-depth analysis of poker theory and his ability to keep a finger on the pulse of the latest developments in the poker world. Jordan's dedication to staying at the forefront of poker knowledge allows him to consistently deliver top-quality content that resonates with both novice players and seasoned professionals. Beyond his poker expertise, he brings a diverse perspective, closely following other competitive domains like soccer, snooker, and Formula 1, enriching his insights and providing a comprehensive understanding of the gaming landscape.
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