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Cash Game Poker

Cash game poker

Cash game poker is the oldest and arguably most popular format of the game. It’s poker distilled to its purest form with just cards, chips and blinds that never change. Cash game poker chips are worth real money, unlike tournament poker chips. You can cash those chips out at any time. You don’t have to worry about being eliminated from a cash game because you can always buy back in. Cash games are also one of the best ways to learn the game thanks to their simplicity and accessibility.

What is Cash Game Poker?

Cash games are the poker equivalent of pick-up sports. Players can come and go as they chose with no time commitment necessary. You could play for 30 minutes or 24 hours if you wanted.

Cash game poker, which is also known as ring game or live action poker, lives up to its name as the game is played with “real” chips that are worth actual money. This is in contrast to how a poker tournament is played with tournament chips that have no cash value.

Unlike tournaments no one “wins” cash games outright and the game continues until enough players decide to stop playing. The players who win the most cash are the informal winners although it’s not really something that’s officially tracked.

It’s a good set-up for learning the game because new players get to play a large number of hands without worrying about bigger stakes or blinds going up.

What’s the Standard Cash Game Set Up?

In a standard cash game players buy chips and are randomly positioned at a poker table. Cash games generally take place with either six or nine players to a table.

Six-handed play is considered more action-packed than nine-handed play but both are popular. There’s always a chance you’ll momentarily play with fewer players if someone sits our or busts.

Every game has a stakes, which are represented by the blinds (forced bets for each round). One of the most popular stakes for No-Limit Hold’em in real-life card rooms is $1 small blind and $2 big blind. The blinds always stay the same in cash games.

The standard buy-in for a $1/$2 game is $200 (which equals 100 big blinds). That gives players plenty of room to make plays and survive a few bad beats. Players are also allowed to buy in for less than 100 big blinds although there is a minimum buy-in generally. There’s also a limit to how much a player can buy in for.

If a player loses all their chips they can either leave the game or re-buy.

Are Cash Games Expensive?

Not if you don’t want them to be. Cash games start at just $.01/$.02 online, which means you could make even $50 last for an extremely long time.

On the other hand there are enormous games like $200/$400 where high-stakes pros and billionaires clash and pots are worth hundreds of thousands.

If you’re worried about going broke then you could utilize a simple strategy that poker pros have been using for years: Bankroll management.

The idea behind bankroll management is that your bankroll (funds for playing poker) dictate what games you can play. If you’ve only got $50 online than you can stick to $.01/$.02 where you’ve got 25 buy-ins. If you have $100 you can try $.02/$05 where you’d still have 20 buy-ins.

Having a large number of buy-ins helps players avoid going on downswings where they lose their entire bankroll.

One thing to keep in mind — and this is constantly mis-represented in movies and TV — is that you can never lose more than the amount you bought to the table. You’re never going to lose your house, horse, car, wedding ring, etc.

Can I Cash Out Half My Chips While Playing?

Not while you’re still at the table. This is colloquially referred to as “going south” and it’s generally not permitted.

This is to keep players from taking advantage of their current position at the table and being able to shove their short-stack against opponents without risk of losing their entire stack.

If a player ever feels uncomfortable about how many chips they have at a table they should simply leave the table (with their chips of course), take five minutes to cash out some of their chips and then buy in for a smaller amount at which point they will be given a new seat (potentially an entirely new table).

The reality, however, is that good players want to always have the most chips they can possibly have at a table in order to maximize their winnings.

How are Cash Games Different Than Tournaments?

Cash games are basically a pick-up game that never ends while tournaments have a distinct beginning, middle and end.

In tournaments the blinds are always increasing while in cash games they stay exactly the same. The rising blinds force tournament players to change their strategy as time goes on. Near the end players may be forced to go all-in because their entire starting stack has been reduced to a few big blinds.

Meanwhile in cash games the blinds stay exactly the same so players are just adapting to the play of opponents.

It’s easy to turn a quick profit in a cash game while it’s more common to make nothing in tournaments but every now and then you’ll make a huge score. Meanwhile in cash games you’ll just be thinking in terms of winning multiple buy-ins.

Can I Pick My Seat in a Cash Game?

No. Players are randomly assigned seats to protect newer/weaker players from card sharks. There’s actually a strategic advantage to being on a players’ left as you’ll always have a chance to raise or re-raise them.

It’s fine if it’s a friendly a home game but in general seating should always be randomized. One easy way to do it at home is to simply draw high cards from a deck for seating positions.

Online this is all taken care of and you’ll always be instantly assigned a random seat.

Can I Leave Immediately After Doubling Up?

Technically there are no rules against sitting at a table, doubling up on the first hand and then leaving with a huge profit. It is, however, considered extremely poor etiquette to do so.

The idea is that players should give their opponents at least a little bit of a chance to win some of their money back.

There are no hard and fast rules on this subject but people tend to really dislike when players do this. It’s sometimes referred to as a “Hit and run”.

If you’re really worried about losing your huge stack then you could always tighten up and only play premium hands like kings and aces.

What’s the Rake?

Casinos need to be able to make money from poker in order to spread the game for poker fans.

Casinos generally take their cut from cash games in the form of something called the rake. Generally the dealer takes a small percentage of each pot that goes to a flop.

Rake generally ranges from 2.5% up to 10% of the pot depending on where you play. The rake is much cheaper online because all the dealing is handled by software and there are no physical spaces to be maintained.

Tournaments are different from cash games in this regard and instead have something called a registration fee, which is a certain amount tagged onto the buy-in. It’s always paid upfront.

What Are Some Good Tips for Cash Games?

There’s a nearly endless amount of resources dedicated to cash game poker strategy including books, videos and Twitch streams. Much of it is free and it’s worth devoting some time to it when you get the chance.

In the meantime here are some quick and dirty tips that may help you improve your game if you're just getting started:

1. Play Good Hands

This seems obvious but when you’re just starting out at poker you don’t have to be running crazy bluffs all the time. Either a pocket pair or a combination of two face cards (ace, king, queen, jack) is a good starting point. This will help you get an idea about relative hand strength.

Another way of putting this is: get ready to fold a lot more than you might expect.

2. Observe Other Players

You don’t have to worry about putting players on exact hands like they do in the movies but you should try and keep track of how your opponents are playing.

Statistically if someone is raising all the time then there’s a good chance they have marginal cards. Meanwhile if someone only plays once every hundred hands then there’s a good chance they have something decent when they finally enter a pot.

3. try to bet more and call less

This one feels unnatural to new players but there are some benefits to betting over calling.

Generally new players are unsure of how strong their hand actually is so they opt for the safer play (calling) so they can limit their losses.

The problem with calling all the time is that you can never win outright by calling. A surprising amount of hands will fold when facing a raise so you could be missing out on a lot of potential profit. This is obviously situational but a good concept to keep in mind.

4. Bet If You Have a Good Hand

This one seems obvious but many players attempt to get tricky and trap their opponents by checking. The problem is that you want to be building a pot not keeping it small. Your pair of aces isn’t going to do you much good if you get to the river and there are only five big blinds in the pot.

Worried about players with weak hands folding too early? There's a good chance they were going to fold anyways. Meanwhile you really, really don't want to miss out on getting extra value from players who have moderately strong hands (that you have beat). This strategy also protects you from allowing opponents to get lucky and hit a card on the turn or river for free.

5. Don’t Get Too Attached to Strong Hands

Sometimes the deck runs dry and you don’t get good cards for long periods of time.

In these situations it can be very difficult to let hands like pocket jacks or pocket queens go when the flop brings an ace or a king.

Try to avoid getting attached to good hands and re-assess your situation whenever possible. You can never win a hand by folding but sometimes you can save such a large amount of money that it’s essentially the same as winning a giant pot.

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