Online Poker vs. Tournament Poker

Online Poker vs. Tournament Poker
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I was in the mood to talk so…

One of our Admins recently posed the question (in his own broken English) “Why is tournament poker better than cash games?” Our own Dan Druff quickly replied, “It’s not”. I also share this same opinion. There are pros and cons to both, but in my opinion one causes delusions while other slaps you in the face with stark reality.

I have been a cash game player for over 13 years. I started from the bottom playing small limits and worked my way up to what I would categorize as middle/high limit poker, usually playing around the $100-200 limits. Over the past 14 years or so I have played a fair amount of tournaments with moderate success in proportion to the number that I’ve entered. I have watched poker grow into something no one ever thought it would with the help and vision of Mike Sexton and the WPT, as well as the increased popularity of online poker. Has TV and the Internet been good for poker? Yes, and no.

Online poker has allowed the younger generation, albeit not yet of legal age, the ability to play poker and hone their skills at a very early age. As this popularized prize pools in online tournaments increased with the growing number of entrants. Win one and all of the sudden you go from being a broke kid to being “rich”, but at what expense and how long does it last? I have heard horror stories of young men and women not yet 21 years of age who have destroyed not only their credit, but that of their parents as well, “secretly” using credit cards to fund their online poker accounts. For a while it was so easy to get money online it was a breeding ground for degeneracy, and in many cases an appetite for personal destruction.

One thing that online poker has generated is the number of increased entrants in live tournaments, which has “sweetened the pot” for seasoned professionals such as Chris Ferguson, Erik Seidel, and John Juanda. Prize pools that used to be a few hundred thousand are now well over several million, and with the number of entrants in each event it has been proven that anyone can win. Chris Moneymaker, a seemingly normal individual, helped initiate this poker boom in conjunction with the aid of online poker when he emerged victorious at the WSOP winning two and a half million dollars. This paved the way for sponsorship greater increasing his earning potential, as well as the earning potential for future winners of major events.

Since that time we have seen major event winners such as Joe Hachem, Tuan Le, Jeff Madsen, Gavin Griffin, and Greg Raymer gain notoriety among their peers and the public. I can tell you with 100% certainty that at least one of those people has/had gone completely broke to the point where it took them a full year to pay back a $20K prop bet. Now, how does that happen? Anyone who wins a million dollars or more and goes broke almost certainly has to be an idiot. I’ll tell you how it happens…delusions. Play a tournament, win a tournament and you are an overnight millionaire. All of the sudden everyone is your friend and you know all of the most famous players. Pretty soon you have forgotten all about improving your skills at poker and you are concentrating on improving your skills at craps, blackjack, Chinese poker, and Wii Bowling. Oh, and how could I forget, you are also an instant statistician and now you are making prop bets where you obviously ALWAYS have the best of it, right?

The above-mentioned consequences aren’t typical of cash game players, but that is not to say that cash game players don’t have “leaks.” Basically what I am trying to point out is that cash game players are a lot more financially responsible in most cases. They have family to support and bills to pay, and they still need to maintain an adequate bankroll in order to perform their job, but in most cases they don’t have a million dollars to do it therefore ensuing a sense of responsibility. To the cash game player poker is treated as a job, a way of life. There is planning, a schedule, and in most cases consistency. There isn’t any sponsorship deals for cash game players, no matter how much you win.

Many of the world’s very best cash game players would be un-noticed and unknown if it weren’t for online poker and tournament poker, and truthfully many still are unknown and not sponsored. Full Tilt Poker has the world’s best players behind it, right? While some of those players are undoubtedly the best tournament players in the world, some were mainly cash game players, and the only reason anyone knows who they are now is because they had money long before tournament poker became popular, which enabled them to get involved with the “right” company to promote them.

I’ll give you 2 examples: David Oppenheim and David Singer. Both have been winning high limit cash game players since I have known them, which is about 10 years or more. Many people hadn’t heard of David Singer until he won the Heads-Up championship in 2007 at Caesars, LV. Would it surprise you to know that he has been playing tournament poker for over 25 years? David Oppenheim lives in LA where there are tons of tournaments, yet every time that I had seen him at Commerce, he was playing cash games. Since the WPT’s inception he does play tournaments, but mainly those with larger buy-ins.

There are many long time professional cash game players who have benefited both directly and indirectly from the wealth that online and tournament poker has created, but they were winning cash game players for 10-20 years before the boom. Now, many times tournament players start out playing small cash games online then perhaps get lucky in a tournament, and immediately you see them shooting off their winnings in high limit cash games. Hey, that works for me, and many of other cash game players!

Does that mean that tournament players can’t play poker? No, of course not. Tournament play requires a different strategy and skill than cash games. Players like Chris Ferguson, Howard Lederer, Negraneu, Juanda and Seidel have been consistently either making money or winning tournaments for as many as 20 years. But, it seems that poker has grown so rapidly and has allowed young people with little or no sense of responsibility to gain instant wealth and notoriety that the strategy and planning are out the window so to speak, thus causing a lot of them to be broke and borrowing in the end. For many, if they didn’t have some sort of sponsorship deal they’d either not be playing due to high costs, or they’d have no money do to not winning. Today there are tons of tournaments with very large entry fees, and a massive number of entrants. Winning isn’t easy and it doesn’t share the same consistency as cash games do. I keep mentioning that word, consistency. It is because I feel that it is the main difference between cash game and tournaments along with reliability and responsibility.

Early on I mentioned stark reality referring to cash games. Even if you do everything right (start with an adequate bank roll, play according to that bank roll, try to maintain a schedule, and really focus on game selection) it won’t take too long for you to find out whether or not you are a winning player, or if you could pursue poker as a job. There are many talented and intelligent players but not everyone has what it takes to rely on poker as their primary source of income. There is a lot more to overcome than just the cards. Mentally and emotionally, this life can be very brutal and draining. Take away the million dollar prize pools, and let everyone grind. How many of today’s tournament winners would be winning poker players? And, for that matter, how many would even be winning tournament players? Not many I would guess. Of course, this is just my opinion.

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I for one am sick of winning

I for one am sick of winning a tourney and suddenly feeling invicible...I won in Vegas, I won on Stars, I've won on Party Poker....you're right once you win a tourney and the cold cash is sat in your hand you feel like no one can stand in your way....such a humbling, sobering blog...I think the last thing any of us should do once we win a sizeable amount at either cash or tournaments is carry on playing...but hey we keep on doing it...once again I salute you Silence

Very clear and

Very clear and precise.
Tournament poker is quite the boom/bust cycle if the person isn't smart with their money after making their score.
The same could be said however for cash games where instead of players investing money they've earned they immediately move up to the next level that they're barely rolled for.

Very good article however, I always enjoy your input on topics like this Silence.

wow, I wasn't expecting

wow, I wasn't expecting anything this well written or as in depth. I particularly enjoyed the 6th paragraph where you talk about how cash players see the game as a way of life etc. Nh.

very well written, i

very well written, i agree.
cash games are your pay cheque
tourneys are just a lotto ticket