Cash Game Poker

Cash games are often considered the bread and butter of a professional poker player. These games offer a consistent way to win money if you’re a skilled player, as they don’t have the variance associated with tournament poker.

If you want to make the transition from tournaments to cash games, or if you’re new to poker altogether, you’re in the perfect place, as we’re here to give you everything you need to know about cash game strategy.

A metal briefcase full of cash with money spread around it

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What Is A Cash Game?

A cash game is a poker game where each individual chip is assigned a cash value. There are no prizes awarded in a cash game like in tournaments; to win at a cash game, you only need to leave with more chips than you sat down with! 

Cash games are the simplest form of poker to play; you don’t have to worry about turning up at a specific time or how your stack will be affected by increasing blind levels – you just turn up, sit down, and start playing.

However, unlike in tournaments, there’s no set buy-in that you must bring. You can start with as much or as little as you’d like – as long as it’s within the buy-in range. You can often sit with as little as 40bb or as much as 250bb; the choice is yours.

The thing is, each stake size requires its own strategy to play, and that’s what we’ll be looking at in this article.

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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. 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. 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, which is as deep as you’ll see most tournaments play. 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?

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.

A royal flush poker hand in front of a stack of chips and cash

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.

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. If you’re often buying in for 200bb, then you’re going to need to have more in your bankroll than if you’re going to be buying in for the minimum.

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.

  1. <50bb Stacks

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    Playing under 50bb, you can’t afford to play as many speculative hands, so your focus should be on playing high card hands that are more likely to flop well. Hands like small pairs decrease in value because you don’t get as much value when you flop your set. The same goes for small suited connectors; when you make a strong hand, your stack isn’t deep enough to compensate for the times you miss.

    Focus on playing hands that have strong high card value. Double broadway hands like KQ, QJ, KJ, etc. go up in value, as a hand like top pair is a stronger hand the shorter stacked you are. 

    You’ll find that your 3bets have a lot more leverage when you play a sub-50bb stack. After 3betting, you’ll only have two streets of bets left, so your opponents will have to decide whether their hands are strong enough to be able to face significant action postflop. Also, the value of calling hands like suited connectors and low pairs goes down for them, as they can’t win as much if they manage to flop a big hand. This means that you can 3bet bluff more often and expect to get it through more often than you would if you were deeper stacked.

  2. 100bb Stacks

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    When you have a 100bb stack, you have enough breathing room to start to play speculative hands like low pairs and small suited connectors, but you’re not deep enough to start playing any two in the hopes of making a big hand and cracking aces. Your preflop strategy should be balanced in that you need to play a mix of traditionally strong hands such as AA, KK, AK, AQ, etc., and deceptively strong hands like 22, 54s, 75s, 97s, etc. 

    By being balanced in your preflop strategy, you prevent yourself from being too transparent when you come in for a raise. For example, if you’re playing against a tight player, you know that when they raise, they have one of the traditionally strong hands, like a big ace, two big cards, or a big pair. This means that you can play very well against them on certain board types by overfolding the boards that hit their range and over bluffing the boards that don’t.

    At 100bb deep, you can afford to play more speculative hands against 3bets than you could at 50bb. However, the hands you play will depend on the size of the 3bet you face. If you raise to 2.5bb and your opponent raises to 13bb, speculative hands go down in value because of the significant investment you have to make preflop. However, if the 3bet is only 8bb, you can afford to call more of these hands, as the initial investment isn’t as significant, and you can win a big pot when you hit.

  3. 200bb+ Stacks

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    When you play 200bb deep, you have much more freedom to see flops with speculative hands. While you shouldn’t go crazy and start calling any suited hand or any connected hand “just because you might make a big hand,” you can afford to open up your range.

    Playing speculative hands against tight players is a fantastic situation to be in when you’re this deep. If you open a hand like 64s and face a 3bet from a tight player, you should call pretty much every time. You know they have a strong hand like an overpair or a strong ace, but they have no idea what you have. If you were to make a flush, a straight, or even a hand like two pair on A64, you could win a monster pot from them.

    While the speculative hands go up in value, hands like low Ax, Kx, and Qx go down in value. Hands like one pair, while good, aren’t good enough to get all your money in when playing this deep, so playing a hand like K8s and flopping a K can get you into some dicey situations.

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.

  1. <50bb Stacks

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    When you play postflop with a short stack, you’re going to be all-in more often. It’s a simple fact of your stack size in relation to the pot size that if you make a bet on all three streets, the river bet will be for your stack. Because of how much easier it is to get all in, the hand strength required to go all in is a lot lower than it would be if you’re deep stacked.

    For example, a hand like top pair top kicker is more than enough to get 50bb in with postflop, as your opponents will still call with weaker hands. However, if you had 500bb and got all the money in postflop with top pair top kicker, you’re going to be in bad shape.

    One thing that you can do when you’re short-stacked is leverage your short stack on earlier streets to put your opponent to a tougher decision. For example, if you check-raise the flop from a sub-50bb stack, there’s a very good chance that the turn bet will be all-in or close to it. This means your opponent has to decide on the flop whether they want to play for all of it or not. If you were deeper stacked, your opponent might be able to call the turn and make decisions on the river, but as you’re short-stacked, they don’t have that luxury.

    This means that the value of playing draws aggressively goes up dramatically, as you will get a considerable number of folds by playing your hand this way. Just remember that if you take these lines with your draws, you should also take them with your strong hands.

  2. 100bb Stacks

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    100bb stacks will be the most common stack size you come across, particularly if you play online. This is because 100bb is the maximum amount you can buy in for at the majority of online cash games and thus is the size that people have the most experience with. Not only is it a round number, but it’s a stack size that’s easy to get all-in with by the river after a flop check raise.

    Even from the flop, you should be thinking about whether or not you want to be playing for stacks by the river – whether that’s a value hand you want to get max value with or a bluff that wants to apply maximum pressure. Overbets are becoming more and more common as people realize that in the game of No Limit, there’s no limit on how much you can bet! These overbets allow you to build the pot when you have a value hand and apply huge amounts of pressure to the marginal parts of your opponent’s range.

    As preflop ranges are well-defined for 100bb play, postflop play becomes a game of recognizing when a board is good for you or when it’s good for your opponent. When it’s good for you, you want to make large bets (even overbets) with large parts of your range. This gives you maximum value with your strong hands and also puts your opponent in tricky positions with their marginal hands. However, when the board is better for your opponent, you want to play a more passive strategy, as c-betting a wide range in these positions leaves you extremely vulnerable to check-raises.

    While it’s tempting to just cbet your entire range for a small sizing on every flop, that isn’t going to cut it anymore. You must always think about how the board interacts with you and your opponent’s ranges, where your hand falls within that range, and how you want to play that part of your range.

  3. 200bb+ Stacks

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    When you’re playing deep stacked poker, you need to be wary about playing big pots with marginal hands. Most players aren’t used to playing this deep and are used to playing for stacks with a hand like top pair or a weak two pair. If you do that when you’re 200+bb deep, you’re going to be looking at a set or better the majority of the time.

    Now, that’s not to say that you need to go folding hands like top pair to a single bet; you just need to make sure that you play these hands cautiously – especially in single raised pots. 3bet and 4bet pots are a little more nuanced, as the stack-to-pot ratio is a lot lower, but in single raised pots, you should never go broke with top pair. It’s like they say for 100bb stacks – never go broke in a limped pot – the same applies for 200bb in single raised pots.

    One of the great things about playing this deep is the pressure that you can apply to your opponents. Taking a strong draw or even a complete airball and piling in money against an opponent and putting them to the ultimate test is part of what makes poker such a great game. However, if you want to do this, you’re going to have to learn to pick your spots. It’s not such a great feeling if you do this and they snap you off with the nuts.

    Look for the boards that heavily favor your range over your opponent’s. The boards where you have all the strong hands, but they hardly have any, are the perfect boards to start putting in big bets and applying pressure. You don’t want to do this on boards where your opponent can have a lot of strong hands – because it increases the likelihood they’ll call you! Even when you pick the right spot, sometimes they’re going to have it – that’s just poker – but make sure you stay composed and don’t go on tilt.

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?