People always seem to assume I play tournaments for a living when I tell them I play poker professionally. “When will I see you on TV?” they often ask. Then I have to sit and explain to them that I play cash games.

If you are new to poker, you may be asking yourself, “So what’s the difference?”. There is a huge difference between cash games and tournaments. I have never attempted to play tournaments full-time. There is a lot of variance in poker but especially in tournament poker. I’m not at a point in my poker career where I can stomach that level of variance. The main reason variance is so high is because of the increase in blinds. Because of the constant increasing in blinds you are forced to put your chips in at times you would never consider doing so in a cash game.

Some people say there is less skill required in tournaments because most often you have to work with a shrinking stack, I disagree. I believe one needs more skill to be a successful tournament player, playing events where buy-ins are anywhere from $1,500 to $10,000 or above, than a mid-stakes cash game player. On the flip side, I would say there is more skill required to beat mid-stakes cash games than lower buy-in tournaments in the $60 to $500 range. When playing higher buy-in tournaments you start off with deeper stacks and they play more like a deepstack cash game. You need all the skills of a cash game player and then some to survive in these tournaments which often run for multiple days.

Once stacks decrease as blinds go up you need to understand how to play your stack but also how to play against your opponents stacks. Mental stamina is very important here. When I play a cash game I may play a 2-hour session or a 10-hour session depending on how I’m feeling. I do not have that luxury in a tournament. If I am feeling tired in a tournament I can’t just take my winnings and leave, I have to fight through any fatigue and continue on.

I would recommend playing 90% cash and 10% tournaments until your able to play $1,000 buy-in tournaments or higher. If you are one of the lucky ones to succeed at this level, I would then recommend you keep 12 month’s worth of expenses paid while owning no debt, not including your home. I recommend maintaining a bankroll of about 125-175 buy-ins  for the average NL tournament. I would then split my time 50/50 between cash & tournaments until I won a major tournament at which point I would then transition over to tournaments about 90% of the time and play cash about  10%.

Next week we will take a look how exercise and nutrition play a factor in your overall poker game.

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