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Transitioning from Cash to Tournament Poker
With the WCOOP (World Championship of Online Poker) fast approaching here on Pokerstars, many of you cash grinders out there might be thinking about turning your hand to tournaments and hunting for that life changing big score. But beware, a well refined and accurate cash game taken rigidly to the tournament tables without adaptation is as bad as a weak sloppy tournament game. Let's explore some of the essential adjustments that us cash players must be sure to implement before we get stuck into those WCOOP events in our diaries.

1. Tournament Hand Selection is an Art not a Science

Cash is played in a calm infinite environment where you can only be blinded out at a static and slow pace. As a result, a default opening range of hands from every position will serve you well. The card-dead phases where you are dealt hardly any playable hands over a period of time and are forced to consistently fold are rescued by the eventual heater where you open 15 pots out of 20. The problem with a tournament is that the card-dead phase wipes you out, leaving you too short to fully benefit from the heater, if it shows up at all. Tournaments are played in a frenzied finite environment where accelerating blinds are constantly chomping away at your life. Waiting for a set opening range during a stream of consistent 84 off-suits is to incur a slow and painful death. It might well be that a strategy involving opening 84o from the CO (Cut-Off) is a poor one in the long-term, over the infinite time-frame of a cash game. It makes no sense to open this hand because either you will be adopting far too wide of an opening range that will eventually cause your steals to lose their fold equity, or you are just opening the wrong hands in a more restrained strategy.

Switch to the mid to late stages of a WCOOP event and your tight image at this tournament table has increased your chances of successfully stealing the blinds and if you do not act soon, you will be eaten alive due to your dwindling stack and the increasing blinds + antes. It is time to open that 84o based on the idea that it is now not only profitable due to your tight recent behaviour, but also essential for survival. Beggars can't be choosers. Cash players need to get over the initial repulsion of stealing with complete trash in a tournament. Good tournament play is all about being an opportunist and recognising when the ever-changing climate has shifted in a way that demands action.

2. You Might Have to Turn Down +EV Plays

This sounds like madness to the cash game player, but we must first make the crucial distinction between something that is +chip EV and something that is +₹EV. In cash games there is only one type of EV because chips literally = dollars. In tournaments, the exchange rate is more complex than one chip equating to one dollar. Every good tournament player is comfortable with the concept of his or her tournament life. Put simply, this is your continued existence in the tournament, which makes it possible that you might win a lot of money. Since the pay jumps of a tournament increase exponentially as we head towards the final table, existing for a long time is simply a very +₹EV thing to do. Winning a lot of chips is also a very +₹EV thing to do, but where the decision that leads to potentially winning those chips constitutes a significant risk to your tournament life, you must reassess the situation.

Let's take an example. In cash if we win ₹1001 half of the time and lose our ₹1000 investment the other half of the time, we are making a +EV play. We shall win ₹0.50 every time we make the play. Halfway through a WCOOP event, let's say we face a similar situation where by investing 1000 chips we will get back 1001 chips on average, but where that 1000 chips constitutes a large portion of our stack. This investment is a bad one. Yes, it's a +Chip EV play to invest, but it is certainly a -₹EV investment. The reason for this is that the chips we gain when we win translate to less money on average than the money we lose by greatly increasing our risk of elimination the times we lose. We need a much larger swing in chip EV to make our large investment profitable in terms of money EV. Our tournament life must be preserved. It is not just chips that equal money in a tournament, but the time over which we hold those chips.

3. Smaller Bets Get More Done

In cash, your opponent's required equity to call your river bet is equal to his investment divided by that investment plus the total pot after you have bet. In a tournament, his required equity is often higher than this percentage due to the threat to tournament life which promises to dramatically decimate Villain's ₹EV to zero if he loses. As a result, in a tournament, we can risk less money while still applying a similar amount of pressure with our bets.

Let's take a case study, examining the cash game situation first. Hero opens the CO (Cut-Off), gets called by the BB (Big-Blind), and c-bets a flop of . Villain calls and the turn comes the Kh. Again Hero bets, this time larger, and Villain calls once more. The river brings the and Hero makes a pot-sized bet. What is Villain's required equity? It's 33%. If he calls and wins a third of the time he will break even on calling this bet. This may incentivize Villain to make some bluff catches, particularly if happens to hold something like with a blocker to some of Hero's potential flushes.

Now switch over to the bubble of a WCOOP tournament. The pressure is mounting and elimination from the tournament at this point constitutes a huge drop in ₹EV. The same hand occurs. How big does Hero need to size now to create a required equity of 33% for his opponent to call? Considerably smaller! If Villain calls and loses with his he will take a massive hit that will greatly increase his risk of imminent elimination. In this context, Hero sizes for just half of the pot and manages to apply a similar amount of pressure, cutting his own risk the times he is bluffing. Smaller bets get more work done when tournament life is at stake.


There are many more subtle differences between cash play and tournament play. A cash player will also need to familiarise himself with push or fold strategies at varying smaller stack depths to truly maximise his edge in a WCOOP event, but is a large topic that deserves its own investigation. Hopefully these three tips are a nice starting point for transitioning over to tournament play. Good luck in the WCOOP.
Do you prefer to play Cash games or Tournament poker, of maybe both? Leave a comment below!

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