Cash Games vs. Tournaments for Poker Beginners

There’s nothing better than a good game of poker, but which game at Bovada Poker is the right one for you? Your choices are almost infinite. There are three different game types (Texas Hold’em, Omaha and Omaha Hi/Lo), three different betting structures (Fixed-Limit, Pot-Limit and No-Limit), three primary table sizes (full-ring, 6-max and heads-up), and all sorts of ways to play within these parameters.

Before you make any of those choices, you need to ask yourself one thing: Do I want to play cash games, or tournaments? We’ll help you decide in our latest installment of poker tips for beginners. 

Cash Games for Beginners

Not too long ago, cash poker was the only poker in town. In this format, you play poker on a hand-by-hand basis, purchasing a certain amount of poker chips and bringing them to the table. These chips (or “checks”) are worth actual money. At live casinos, the denomination is printed on each chip, and each denomination has its own color.

How many chips you buy depends on which stakes you’re playing. The lowest stakes for Bovada Poker cash games are 2c/5c, meaning the small blind is two cents, and the big blind is five cents. It’s common practice for players to bring 100 big blinds to the table, so for this game, you might choose to buy $5 worth of chips – although smaller and larger amounts are allowed. Stakes go all the way up to $10/$20 for No-Limit Hold’em and Pot-Limit Omaha, and $30/$60 for the Fixed-Limit games.

Once you have your chips and take your seat, you’ll play poker until you decide to stop and cash in your chips, or until you run out of chips, in which case you can always choose to re-buy and keep playing. This is why cash poker is perfect for people on the go; you can easily fit these games into your schedule, no matter how full it might be.

Our “fast-fold” Zone Poker games make scheduling even easier by cutting down the time between hands, which lets you play about three times as many hands per hour as a normal cash game. Also, you can play multiple tables at the same time – two Zone tables, or four regular cash tables. For maximum volume, try two Zone tables and two cash tables at once. Just make sure you don’t overload yourself, and as always, choose the stakes that best reflect your skill level and bankroll. Poker beginners at Bovada should stick with the lowest stakes while learning the ropes.


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Tournaments for Beginners

If you’re relatively new to poker, chances are you fell in love with this sport by watching the World Series of Poker. They’re the main ones responsible for bringing tournament poker to the mainstream, starting in 1970, when the WSOP switched from cash games to tourneys. In this format, everyone buys in for the same pre-determined amount, then all the buy-ins are pooled together, and eventually awarded as prizes for the top-performing players.

When you buy your tournament seat at Bovada Poker, you’ll be given a pre-determined number of chips to play with. Everyone starts with the same number of chips, and once the tournament begins at the scheduled time, everyone plays until they either run out of chips and get eliminated, or collect them all to become the sole survivor.

The general idea with tournaments is to survive for as long as possible. The prize pool is normally distributed to the last 15 to 20% of players remaining in the event, starting with smaller prizes (aka “min-cashes”) for the first players to get eliminated after they reach the “in the money” phase, then growing and growing until the end, with the largest prize going to the last player standing. These prizes can reach five or even six figures at Bovada, which makes tournament poker the most exciting way to play.

The downside to tournaments is the scheduling factor. Events start at a certain time and can take several hours to complete. Some tournaments are even spread out over multiple days. If you have the time, tournaments might be the best choice for you; if not, consider the Sit-and-Go tournament—a smaller event that starts as soon as the required number of players (which can be as low as two) have signed up.


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Which is Best for Beginners?

Aside from scheduling and bankroll concerns, making the decision between cash and tournament poker can be tough for beginners. The competition level at the cash tables tends to be higher, especially as you go up in stakes, so if you’re just starting out, you might want to consider playing tournaments – especially if you can get into a freeroll tournament, which is free to enter. Not only will the competition be easier, you’ll also gain experience working with different stack sizes that you normally wouldn’t see at the cash tables, like 20 big blinds or 200 big blinds.

It also depends on what you want to get out of poker. If you mostly want to play for fun, tournaments are amazing, but if you’re an aspiring professional player, cash poker might be the right way to go. The variance with your cash game results will naturally be much lower than at the tournament tables, meaning your risk of going broke after a long downswing will be smaller. As a beginner, though, you’d be well-advised to think of poker more in terms of fun than profit. Both are nice, of course, but focus for now on playing the lowest stakes and working on your poker strategy.

Ultimately, the smart decision between playing cash poker and tournaments is to play both. This isn’t a binary choice; on any given day, you might find more enjoyment and success playing one format or the other. Take a moment to browse our Bovada Poker lobby and see which games suit your needs the most, then hit the tables with confidence – and don’t forget to check out our archive of poker strategy articles for more useful tips and tricks.