Making a Case for Tournament Poker

As primarily a cash game player in the great state of Michigan, I’ve heard all the arguments for why the real money is in cash games instead of tournaments.  Variance is too high in tournaments. Your hourly rate can be better in cash games.  You can play for hours and bust near the bubble in a tournament and make no money.

For each of those arguments in favor of cash games, there is a counter argument.  A low variance style in cash games doesn’t beat the rake.  Low variance cash game style creates a low or negative hourly rate.  You can lose two or three buy-ins and put a real dent in your bankroll in just one session.

So which one is right?  How about, they both have merit?  Truth is, there’s probably a good case to be made for the big payouts that winning a local charity room tournament provide (most SE Michigan casinos no longer run tournaments regularly, maybe Greektown).  You can play a 3-4 hour session of cash and make one or two buy-ins at $1/$2 blinds.  But you can play 5-6 hours in a $35-$50 tournament and make over a grand.  That hourly rate is not bad for either.

One thing that forces the debate is that schedules being what they are, you really get forced to make a decision about which to play on the weekends.  Weekends are the time for the big buy-in/big payout tournaments. There are several rooms offering $100-$250+ tournaments every weekend: Snookers, Cada’s, The River, Electric Stick, Northville Downs, etc.  So do you spend a buy-in for the hope to make over $1,000 after 5-6 hours, or do you trust that you can do the same in that time at a cash game?  I’d argue that it doesn’t matter.  You can manage to make the same hourly rate at both depending on how you play and how you run.

An interesting plan (if you have the right schedule of off-hours or if you don’t have a job) is to play cash during the week and try to hit a big tournament score on the weekend.  Sure, the cash games are not as good on week nights, but if you’re good enough you can still grind a decent hourly rate. 

I hate to keep bringing it to this point, which I have made on prior posts, but the real constraint is the lack of big tournament series in Michigan to try to hit a big score in the big bankroll-building tournaments. I’m not going to go into another rant about why we don’t have HPT, WSOPC or other stops in Michigan, but you have to admit, it really holds Michigan poker players back as far as opportunities and in chances to build a bankroll to play higher stakes.

So what do you think?  Do you think a mix of tournaments and cash games makes sense?  If might depend strictly on whether you can make the transition from one game to the other.  Some cash game players can’t tighten up and find shoving spots when short, and some tournament players can’t play deep stack poker (thus all the mistakes early in the tournament).  One thing is for sure.  Being good at both opens your opportunities for making a good hourly rate.

About Frank Panama

Frank Panama is the host of the Michigan Poker Monster podcast, a podcast about Michigan poker. He lives in Saint Clair County, Michigan, and loves to play and talk about poker.
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