I’ve been playing poker tournaments for almost 2 decades yet I somehow never played a cash game in all of those years. After getting bounced out of a home game tournament early last week, I went ahead and joined a cash game that was starting up. I walked into the game that night thinking I knew what I was getting into but boy was I wrong.
There are two reasons that I’ve never played a cash poker game before, and the first reason strictly was the fear of the unknown. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, and that was the main reason that I stayed away from it. Another thing that always kept me away from the table was the fear of going on tilt and really losing my ass quickly.
That night as I played cash for the first time, I made several observations about the game and learned so much more. Through this blog article, you’ll get to see it from my eyes as I played for the first time. Hopefully, this can help other players who might be thinking about playing a cash poker game for the first time.
Observation #1: Chips Disappear Quickly
The first main thing that I learned that night was just how quickly your chips can disappear. At the house that I was playing at that night, there is no minimum or maximum buy in for the cash game. As I was super hesitant going into it, I decided to only buy in with $20 for the first go around. I wanted to get a feel for things before I put more on the table.
Within about 10 minutes, my $20 had quickly dwindled down to $4. What’s wild is that I hadn’t even played that many hands. I was blown away at how fast my chip stack had gone to practically nothing.
The main thing eating into my chip stack was the blinds. At the game I was playing that night, the blinds were $1/$2. When we started the game, there were only 4 players, so it was moving fast. Even with very little action in the hands, the blinds were quickly eating away at my stack. I quickly realized that I needed to get some more chips to buy some time or I’d be out.
After gaining some more comfort with the overall game, I added another $40 worth of chips. Once I got that amount, I felt better about the fact that I was not in danger of running out of chips before I really had a chance to play. Luckily, I managed to win a few hands, and my chip stack continued to climb.
Observation #2: Chip Swings Are Massive
Having played poker for nearly 20 years, I’ve seen my fair share of chip stack swings in tournaments. That being said, nothing could have prepared me for the quick and massive swings that occur in the cash game. As I watched the first few hands unfold, I could not believe how big the swings actually were.
I got my first real taste of it in my first major hand. After having just pissed away chips for the first 40 minutes or so, I finally looked down and found pocket Kings in my hole cards. I was pumped, and I thought to myself this might be my chance to make some money finally. The flop came K-10-10 giving me a full house. I tried hard to keep my cool on the exterior while I was super excited on the inside. To fast forward a bit, I lucked out that another player had flopped a set of 10s and he was leading the betting.
I was first to act, and I checked every time. I was lucky that the other player in the hand had flopped a set and was betting hard on it. By the time it was said and done, I came out $50 up after that single hand. I was amazed at how quickly the tables had turned.
Throughout the night, similar massive swings happened not only for me but also for the other players. It was a bit of a roller coaster at first, but I got used to it. If you’re planning to play a cash game of poker for the first time, definitely be prepared mentally for massive chip swings.
Observation #3: Bluffs Are Not As Common
I’m a big fan of bluffing, and I can’t go through an entire tournament without throwing at least one or two out there. However, I didn’t have the stomach or the bank roll to do it with cash. For the entire cash game that I played, I saw very few bluffs from other players.
The main detractor for me (and I assume the other players as well) was the fact that it isn’t cheap to bluff in a cash game. It’s one thing in a tournament when you have thousands of chips, but it’s another thing when each chip actually equates to an actual dollar.
From what I gathered that night, I only plan to really bet when I have a hand with some potential. I just don’t see the value in bluffing hard when it can add up quickly to the detriment of your chip stack. If you’re playing a poker cash game, it is ultimately your call how you want to play your hands.
Observation #4: You Can Leave Whenever
Before playing cash for the first time that night, I was pretty sure that you could get up and leave whenever you wanted to. That being said, I still was not 100% sure until I sat down that night. As we were all doing our initial buy in, I inquired about it and was assured that I was free to leave at any time.
This concept is very foreign to me as I’ve always played traditional tournaments. Technically speaking, you can leave a tournament at any time, but you definitely can’t cash out for the value of your chips at that time. In order to make money in a tournament, you have to finish in the money. Otherwise, you’re done. Even if you stockpile a massive load of chips early on in the tournament, you must hold onto them until the end in order to get paid.
In contrast, you’re free to get up and go at any time in a cash game. While it seems that it is perhaps frowned on a bit by other players, you’re able to get up and cash out after amassing a large sum of chips. My guess is that doing this is easier said than done.
If you’re new to playing cash, just be sure to keep in mind that you’re under no obligation to stick around. Whenever you’d like to take your money and go home, simply let them know that you’re ready to leave. You should not feel pressured to stick around.
Observation #5: You Can Add More Chips Whenever
The concept of buying more chips whenever I wanted was definitely a foreign one to me. I’m used to some of the tournaments that I play having a rebuy period which is typically for the first hour. However, the idea of it being unending was very new.
At a poker cash game, your only limit is how much cash you want to put into play. If you’re new like I was, you might consider starting small until you get a good feel for how things operate. Just remember that you’re always free to add more cash later on in the game if you’d like.
Observation #6: Blinds Don’t Go Up
One of the first questions that I asked upon sitting down at the table that night was how the blind structure worked. To my relief, I was told that the blinds never change in a cash game. I was surprised to hear this, but it was good news to me.
For me, the fact that the blinds don’t go up gave me one less thing to worry about. I often find myself focused on when blinds are going up during tournaments. Since I didn’t have to worry about this in a cash game, I was instead able to focus more on the game itself and my strategy.
Just to be safe, be sure to check that the game you are playing has a fixed blind. Something else you might inquire about is if they use antes or not. While my cash game didn’t use antes, it sounds like some cash games do. Either way, make sure that you have a full understanding of the game structure and rules before starting to play a cash game.
Another thing that I wasn’t sure when sitting down for the first time at a poker cash game was if any of the rules differed from a typical no limit game. What I found out what that the same rules were followed regardless if it was a tournament or cash game.
Observation #8: Position Matters
Those familiar with poker know that your position matters. It is definitely not a new concept in the poker world. That being said, I learned more about playing in position that night than I ever have before.
What I observed that night was how much more position is used in a shorthanded cash poker game. I started to pay more attention to what hands I was playing. I ended up tossing away “good” hands in early position and allowed myself to be a bit looser when I was more middle or late position.
I was basically forced into this action due to how fast things added up. Unlike a traditional poker tournament where you can limp in with marginal hands early, I had to really decide when I was going to get in on the action in a strategic fashion. If you’re new to poker or the idea of playing in position, be sure to read up on how to properly play your position at the table. Doing this will increase your chances of success at the table.
Observation #9: Patience Matters
I’m not a very patient person but I was forced to become one that night as I sat at my first cash poker game. I simply could not afford to play nearly every hand like I mentally wanted to. While I love action, I forced myself to fold the majority of my hands in an effort to not go broke.
It was a struggle for me to fold more hands that I traditionally did. Part of the fun of poker is getting in on the action so it stinks when you’re getting less of it. However, I’m glad that I exercised patience that night so that I could keep my chips from depleting.
I witnessed other players sitting out of more hands that I was ever used to seeing in tournaments. Even players that I know tend to play practically every hand in a tournament were folding more often than not. I figured if it was good for them that it was probably good for me too.
If you’re planning to play a poker cash game, definitely learn to be patient. Try not to get bored or go on tilt. We all hit a run of dead cards from time to time. Wait for your big chance and then go for the gold!
In conclusion, I had a blast playing a poker cash game for the first time. While I went into it a bit nervous, I ended up liking it quite a bit and my nerves managed to calm down after I got the hang of it. I definitely plan to play more poker cash games in the future to learn more about it and hopefully make some more cash!
If you’re planning to play a cash poker game for the first time, I hope that my observations above might help you have more success at the table. At a minimum, you’ll walk in knowing much more than I did when I first sat down. Best of luck!