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Tournament Play or Cash Games? Explaining the Types of Poker Play




Newcomers to poker have to get their heads around new terminology. What is a “flop”? What is the difference between Omaha and Hold’em? As well as there being lots of variations in terms of the types of poker games out there, poker is mainly played in two ways, either through tournaments or in a cash game.

In this guide, we’re looking at both poker tournaments and cash games. They both have their own unique benefits for players, and you don’t always have a choice regarding which type of game you want to play. Different casinos approach poker in slightly different ways.

What is a Poker Tournament?

A poker tournament is often where the big audiences (and big bucks) come into the game. The prize pools can reach the millions and this means that players can be competing for huge money.

When you watch poker tournaments on the internet or even televised on a TV channel, they are likely to be tournaments. This is often because they have a defined structure, whereas cash games allow players to join and leave as they please, never really reaching a “winner” overall.

A poker tournament involves a buy-in. This means that the players pay for their initial chips, and usually everybody gets the same amount. These have a symbolic value rather than being able to exchange them. If you need to know more, this is your guide to any poker tournament and the rules, plus a brief look at the strategy that plays such a big part in deciding the outcome. Poker players who focus on tournaments may have a slightly different approach when compared to those who get involved with cash games.


In a tournament, the players need to stay in it to the end which means remaining focused on their ambitions in the game.

At the end of a poker tournament, a set number of positions get a prize. For instance, the top 10, or everyone who reaches a “final table” in the tournament may get a share of the prize pool. If the overall pot is $1 million, the winner overall might get $500,000, second place $200,000, third place $100,000, and the remaining money split between the remaining places. Of course, this is just an example and different poler tournament organizers do things in different ways. In 2023, the biggest total ever won on a single hand was awarded during a live-streamed poker tournament.

A lot of casinos are also embracing cryptocurrencies, so the prizes may be paid in USD equivalents, but actually transferred in Bitcoin, for instance. All these details can be checked when entering.

What is a Cash Game?

Cash games of poker are more simple in some ways. A cash game is one that you can join and leave at any time. There may be a minimum buy-in, but when someone has started to play the game, the balance in their account reflects its real cash value. This is a key differentiator when compared to a poker tournament.

Players in a cash game are also free to leave whenever they want. If someone starts with $10 in their balance and slowly builds it to $20, they might decide that is the time they want to cash out and take the money. The balance will be reflected in their account when playing online. In-person, chips are used to represent the value.


Cash games also make it easier to play with some flexibility, and players can do things like sit out certain hands if they want a short break. The balance in a cash game accurately reflects what a player has in their account, so when someone bets a dollar, they are betting a dollar of real money rather than a symbolic value in chips.

While some people ignore cash games due to the fact that they see tournaments as offering more potential, there are some upsides to this way of playing. Even one of the greatest poker players ever, Dan Negreanu, has shared his tips for playing cash games via his online Masterclass.

A good thing about this way of playing is the flexibility. If someone just wants to join for 20 minutes they can do so with no worries about having to stick it out for a whole tournament.


Most poker players experiment and explore different ways of playing when they’re just getting started. Tournaments aren’t reserved for the hugely successful high rollers, and even those with a few dollars to pay for entry may be able to join a tournament online. However, cash games may be less of a time commitment and a good way to learn the craft of poker.

Players have both options available, and some of the world’s best tournament players still enjoy the odd cash game here and there.

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