Cash game poker

Poker Cash Games: Online Cash Game Poker Coaching Guide

Cash game online 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 games are also one of the best ways to learn the game thanks to their simplicity and accessibility.

  • 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.

What is Cash Game Poker?

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

  • Ring Games: Cash game poker is also known as ring game or live-action poker.
  • Real Money: Unlike poker tournaments, the game is played with “real” chips that are worth actual money. 
  • No Official Winner: While tournaments have a declared winner, 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.
  • Good Way to Start: It’s a good setup 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 Setup?

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.

  • Full Ring Games: The traditional way to play cash games is with a full table of nine players. Because more cards are dealt, you'll typically need a stronger hand to win these pots. 
  • 6max Tables: 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 out or busts.
  • Blind Betting: Every game has 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.
  • Typical Buy-In Amount: 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.
  • Buy-In Limits: 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.
  • Busting Out: If a player loses all their chips, they can either leave the game or re-buy.

How are Cash Games Different Than Tournaments?

Cash games are basically pickup games that never end while tournaments have a distinct beginning, middle and end.

  • Tournament Blinds: 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.
  • SNG Blinds: In sit-and-go events, the blinds rise even faster, because these one-table events are designed for a faster resolution and payout. 
  • Cash Game Blinds: In cash games, the blinds stay exactly the same so players are just adapting to the play of opponents.
  • More Variance in Tournaments: 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.
  • Winning Poker Sessions: Meanwhile, in cash games, you’ll just be thinking in terms of winning multiple buy-ins.

What’s the Rake?

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

  • How the Rake Works: 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.
  • How Much is the Rake?: Rake generally ranges from 2.5 percent up to 10 percent 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.
  • Online Poker Rakes: Online poker games in the US poker market are more standard -- most of the sites we recommend have a 5% rake. 
  • No Registration Fees: 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 Makes for a Good Online Poker Cash Game Site?

A lot of factors go into the success of an online poker site's cash games. Here are the factors we consider below. 

  • Player Traffic: Player traffic boosts the variety of stakes, games, level of competition, and multi-tabling ability. It's the key to everything else. 
  • Level of Competition: Does the room draw in enough players to have a good percentage of bad and mediocre players?
  • Range of Stakes: Sites must offer enough stakes that any player can be comfortable with the blind levels. 
  • Range of Games: Most players prefer Texas Hold'em, but it's nice if a site offers Omaha and Omaha Hi-Lo
  • Poker Software: Do you like the desktop and mobile software? Is it easy to learn? Does it handle gameplay well? Does it's offer good visuals and lots of features?
  • Multi-Tabling Ability: Being able to play at multiple tables is important. Make certain a site accommodates your table needs. 
  • Features: While features are frills, general table customization and other visual factors help a site. 
  • Low Rake: Most poker sites these days have the same rake level (5%), but we still rate based on this factor. 

Differences Between Full Ring Games and 6max Tables

The two major types of tables in online poker are: (1) full ring games of 9-player tables and (2) 6max tables, which only have 6 players. 9-player tables have the traditional number of players, while 6max tables represent a smaller and more personal poker game.

If you're trying to decide between the two, here is a comparison between ring games and 6max tables. These are general tendencies, so results may vary. 

Game Speed60 hands per hour85 hands per hour
Starting Hand SelectionTighter: Fewer BlindsLooser: More Blinds, More Skill Uses
DifficultyLower: Play the Situation More Not the PlayerHigher: More Personal Interaction, Reading Players More Important
VarianceLower: Fewer Swings in FortuneHigher: Looser Action with Varying Hand Strengths Played
ProfitabilityBad Players Less Exposed in Full Ring GamesA Consensus Believes 6max is More Profitable (for Good Players)

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 instead of 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 number 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 anyway. 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 reassess 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.

Why Play in Cash Games?

Now that they know what ring games are, players might wonder why they should play cash games. Here's a list of the most obvious reasons you should try this type of online poker first. 

  • Many Players Used to This Style: If you learned in home poker games or local poker clubs, online cash games are the style of play you know. 
  • Good Way for Beginners to Learn Online Poker: Starting at low-stakes tables lets you learn the game against others at your skill level. 
  • Learn to Read Your Opponents: Opponents change less often, so it's a good way to learn to read poker opponents.
  • Skill Plays-Out Over Time: For that reason, skill level tends to be reflected in results more often. Tournaments and SNGs involve more luck.
  • Real Money Used: No pretend money. It's easy to calculate how well you're doing at any given moment. 
  • Convenience: Between any two hands, you can walk away from the game. At any time, you can join a table. Unlike tournaments, no start times are involved. 

Poker Cash Games FAQ

What's a cash game in poker?

A cash game is an open-ended game in which players can buy in and leave the game at any time between hands. Cash games are popular in poker clubs around the country or in home poker games. Online cash games are one of three main ways that card players enjoy poker online. Online poker sites sometimes refer to them as ring games. 

How do you play poker cash game?

In a poker tournament, a player pays an entry fee and is given a set amount of chips. In the most common poker tournaments (freezeouts), a player continues until they no longer have a chip stack. No buy-ins or add-ons are allowed. 

In a poker cash game, players either use cash or spend money to buy chips. If they lose their chip stack, the player can buy more chips and continue. Also, the player can choose to leave the game at any time. Cash games are popular for players who want maximum flexibility. 

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” or ratholing 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 the 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 at an entirely new table).

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

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 player’s left as you’ll always have a chance to raise or re-raise them.

It’s fine if it’s a friendly 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.

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.

One thing to keep in mind — and this is constantly misrepresented in movies and TV — is that you can never lose more than the amount you brought to the table. In online poker, you can't lose more than your deposit. You’re never going to lose your house, horse, car, wedding ring, etc.

Why should I have a larger buy-in in cash game poker?

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

Can you make a living playing poker cash games?

Yes, you can. In fact, some poker pros are best known as cash game specialists. They play high-stakes poker in private poker rooms in the biggest resorts in Las Vegas. The group of players contains other pros, along with high roller amateurs. In these games, a professional can win millions of dollars a year. 

Online poker professionals exist, as well. Called sharks, sneaks, or pros, these players make a living off of other card players. These players enter a ring game full of amateurs, pretend to be a newbie or a calling Sportsbook, and eventually win a bunch of money due to their advanced knowledge and skills. 

Where can I play poker cash games?

You can play poker cash games in (1) online poker rooms, (2) land-based casinos' poker rooms, (3) commercial poker clubs, and (4) home poker games.

The most convenient way to play cash games in online cardrooms. They have a wide range of blinds and buy-ins while offering variants like no limit Texas Hold'em, Omaha, and Omaha Hi-Lo.