Cash Games vs MTTs: The Best Choice for Beginners

Bethany Jones
by Bethany Jones  |  Reviewer and Columnist

MTTs Vs Cash Games for Beginner Poker Players

When you start out on the journey of learning how to play and excel at poker, you’re going to face plenty of challenges and decisions – but I’ve found that one of the first difficult choices to make is deciding between whether you should focus on cash games or Multi-Table Tournaments (MTTs).

It’s not just about your preference; it also involves understanding the nuances that can significantly impact your poker experience and trajectory towards success. It’s a decision that lays the foundation of your playing style and strategy, so I would say it’s a critical first step in the world of poker.

Knowing the distinctions and benefits of each format can equip you with the knowledge to make an informed decision tailored to your goals and skills. So, I’ll be providing a comprehensive comparison between cash games and MTTs, focusing on their structure, pace, potential profitability, and learning curve for beginners.

Whether you’re looking to build a steady bankroll or seek the thrill of large tournaments, understanding these key differences will guide you towards making the best choice for your poker career.

Overview of Poker Cash Games

Cash games, often referred to as ring games or live action games, are the bread and butter of the poker world. In these games, the chips you have in front of you represent real money, dollar for dollar.

Unlike tournaments, you don’t have to be one of the last people standing at the end to get paid. You can join a cash game at any time, and leave whenever you want, converting your chips back into cold, hard cash at the table.

With a consistent blind structure, it doesn’t cost you any more money to play over time, so it’s more predictable and steady in terms of bet sizing.

Benefits of Playing Cash Games

As a new player, I enjoyed playing cash games because they gave me a lot more flexibility and I definitely found them to be more consistent.

Easy to Join and Leave

One of my favourite aspects of playing cash games (both as a beginner player and now) is the flexibility they offer. You’re not tied to a table for hours on end. If you’re just a casual player, it’s unlikely that you have the time set aside to play through an entire tournament.

If you’ve got only 15 minutes to spare, that’s enough time to sit in, play a few hands, and leave with your winnings. It makes balancing poker with your daily life activities much easier.

Consistent Stakes

The blinds in cash games remain constant, so the game’s pace and the betting structure don’t change. This stability is great for beginners who are still getting accustomed to the game’s dynamics without the added pressure of escalating blinds.

Less Variance

In cash games, the variance is generally lower compared to tournaments. Since you can choose when to walk away, you can cut losses or pocket winnings at any time, giving you more control over your bankroll.

poker cash games
Cash games provide an excellent platform for beginners to learn and practice poker strategies. With the option to play small stakes, beginners can gain valuable experience without risking a significant portion of their bankroll.

Common Challenges in Cash Games

  1. Deeper Stack Play: Unlike tournament poker, where stacks can become shallow, cash games often feature deeper stacks, which introduces a complex array of post-flop play and decisions. This depth of play demands a solid understanding of various strategies and can be challenging for newcomers.
  2. Competition Level: Cash games tend to attract more seasoned players, including professionals, especially at higher stakes. This higher level of competition can make winning consistently more challenging but also provides a great learning environment.
  3. Bankroll Management: Proper bankroll management is crucial in cash games. Playing at stakes higher than you can afford is a common pitfall that can lead to significant losses. It’s essential to choose games that align with your skill level and financial capabilities.
  4. Emotional Control: The flexible nature of cash games means that you might face rapid fluctuations in your stack. Managing your emotions during these swings is vital to making rational decisions and avoiding tilt.

In conclusion, cash games offer a flexible and potentially lucrative option for beginner poker players looking to get their feet wet in the poker world. By understanding the defining characteristics, benefits, and common challenges of cash games, you can make an informed decision on whether this format suits your playing style and goals. Remember, the key to success in any poker game is continuous learning, practice, and strategic bankroll management.

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Overview of MTTs

I would say that MTTs are a more exciting format. While they can take a while to play before you see any real-money profit, the way an MTT is structured to provide a more dynamic experience.  Unlike cash games, these tournaments involve numerous tables with typically 9 to 10 players each, all vying for a spot at the final table.

These tournaments are scheduled to start at specific times, and as players are knocked out, the remaining players are often consolidated onto fewer tables until one winner remains. This structure makes MTTs a thrilling experience with the potential for large payouts.

Benefits of Playing MTTs

If you’re leaning towards focusing your bankroll on MTT buy-ins, these are some of the reasons why I personally was a fan of playing in them at the start of my poker journey:

Potential for Huge Payouts

MTTs are known for their significant prize pools. Obviously, the allure of turning a small buy-in into a massive win is a huge draw – even if it takes a few hours in a row to get there.

Variety of Opponents

I found that lower level MTTs tend to have a wider range of players with different styles than your average 1c/2c game online. If you’d like to dive in head first, and get to know all sorts of player archetypes, tournaments provide that opportunity.

Strategic Depth

As the tournament progresses, players get knocked out and blinds increase so the dynamics quickly change. This means you can gain experience in a variety of poker situations, from playing a deep stack to handling the pressure of the bubble.

Exhilarating Experience

The structure of MTTs, with increasing blinds and the elimination of players leading to a final table, is really just a lot of fun.

Common Challenges in MTTs

Of course, tournaments aren’t all fun and games. A lot of the things that make MTTs great are also what can deter players from wanting to get involved early on in their careers:

Varying Skill Levels

Players in MTTs are more likely to encounter different types of players than they are when playing in ring games. Opponents range from beginners to seasoned professionals, which makes tournaments a lot more unpredictable and difficult to navigate for newer players.

Long Duration

MTTs can last for many hours, requiring a substantial time commitment and mental endurance. When I first started playing, I just simply didn’t have the time to play in tournaments.

acr poker lobby
The variance in MTTs can be high, so you might see big swings in your bankroll, depending on your success across different tournaments and how much you’re spending on buy-ins.

Strategic Adjustments

You’ve got to adapt your strategy throughout the different stages of the tournament, which can be fun to break up the monotony of playing poker for hours on end. However, this also requires a deep understanding of stack sizes, opponent tendencies, and optimal game theory for varying situations – so, it might be a little too complex for complete beginners.

Comparing Cash Games and MTTs

When you’re stepping into the world of beginner poker, deciding to focus more on cash games and Multi-Table Tournaments (MTTs) can significantly shape your poker journey. Each format offers distinct advantages and challenges, making it crucial to understand their differences.

Let’s take a look at the different aspects of each type of poker competition in direct comparison with each other so you can see exactly what you can gain from either one:

Cash GamesMulti-Table Tournaments (MTTs)
Flexibility and Time CommitmentHighly Flexible: You can join or leave a game at any moment, fitting poker into your schedule seamlessly.High Time Commitment: Requires scheduled start times and can last from a few hours to an entire day.
Profit PotentialSteady Earnings: Offers the chance for steady but smaller profit margins per session.Substantial Payouts: Potential for significant cash prizes from a single deep run, with top-heavy payout structures.
Level of CompetitionStiff Competition: Attracts seasoned players, including professionals, making it challenging but valuable for learning.Varied Competition: Includes a mix of novices to pros, with skill levels increasing significantly in later stages.
Variance and Bankroll ManagementLower Variance: Offers more predictable bankroll management, allowing you to secure profits or minimize losses effectively.Higher Variance: Significant bankroll swings are common, requiring conservative bankroll management strategies.

Recommendations for Beginners – How to Decide

Now that we’ve looked at each option, it’s time to make a decision. But how exactly? I can’t tell you which one to pick but I can give you advice on the criteria you should consider when deciding where to focus your play:

Personal Preferences

Your decision should largely hinge on your personal preferences and lifestyle. If you find yourself with limited time due to a full-time job or other commitments, cash games offer the flexibility to play for short periods without compromising your performance. On the other hand, if you’re a night owl with more energy during the late hours, MTTs could be more suited to your natural rhythm.

It’s also important to consider your tolerance for variance and how you handle the psychological aspects of the game. If the thought of large swings in your bankroll makes you uneasy, the steadier nature of cash games might be more appealing. Conversely, if you’re seeking the thrill of potentially winning big from a single event, despite the higher variance, then MTTs could be your calling.

Learning and Growth Opportunities

For those looking to build a solid foundation in poker in a low pressure environment, I would advise starting with cash games. Steadily, you can master post-flop play over time and develop a deep understanding of game dynamics. This is a lot easier to do than it is in tournaments, where there’s always the mounting pressure of escalating blinds.

If the excitement of tournaments captivates you more, I would think about beginning with Sit & Go’s (SnGs) or small field MTTs. These formats can offer a gentler introduction to tournament play, so you aren’t thrust in the deep end when it comes to learning about final table dynamics and short-handed play.

Starting with Freerolls and Low Stakes

For absolute beginners, starting with freerolls is a risk-free way to gain experience and potentially build a bankroll without any upfront investment. Freerolls can provide a practical understanding of the game’s mechanics and introduce you to the tournament structure without the stress of losing money.

Once you feel comfortable and ready to invest a small amount, transitioning to micro stakes can accelerate things. At this level, the competition remains soft, but the gameplay starts to mirror the strategies employed in higher stakes games more closely. It’s a good balance risk and reward at micro stakes, making it an excellent stepping stone for beginners.

Conclusion

The journey into the world of poker is completely personal – so the way you choose to go about it relies mostly on yourself and your own goals.

When it comes to being a beginner poker player and deciding whether to focus on playing cash games or MTTs to build your bankroll, each format carries its unique set of advantages, challenges, and learning opportunities. Once you get to understand these differences, you’ll be able to make an informed decision that aligns with your personal preferences, time commitments, and aspirations in the poker world.

Whether you’re drawn to the steady play and flexibility of cash games or the exhilarating competition and potential for huge windfalls offered by MTTs, the ultimate choice comes down to how you envisage your poker journey unfolding and what you want to gain from playing at the beginning of your career.

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