Do you plan on playing a cash game anytime soon? You’re in luck!
Today we’ll cover 10 fundamental tips that will help you dominate your cash game competition. You’ll learn when to bluff on the flop, how to play versus limps, and more.
And make sure you stay tuned until the end for 2 bonus audio tips from 2 poker strategy masterminds, Doug Polk and Ryan Fee.
Let’s dive in.
Cash Game Tip 1: Avoid bloating the pot with medium-strength hands. Use them to bluff-catch.
Medium strength hands are often the toughest to play. When holding these hands, you should usually check because they perform well in smaller pots as bluff-catchers.
Thus medium strength hands will often be the hands you use to bluff-catch. Let me give you a few examples:
- J♦ T♦ on J♠ 8♠ 6♥
- A♠ 4♠ on A♣ 8♠ 5♣
- 8♥ 7♥ on K♠ 8♣ 4♥
These are solid hands, but they shrivel up when multiple bets and/or raises start flying into the pot. Consequently, checking at least one street (often times the flop) is the best approach with these hands.
Now, keep in mind that if your opponent has shown weakness by checking back or checking to you twice, these hands go up in value because your opponent would likely have bet his stronger hands. This is usually when you should start betting with them in order to extract value.
Cash Game Tip 2: Mostly bet when you have a strong hand
When you are holding a strong top pair or better, you should most often bet. These hands want to build the pot because they are a favorite to win.
These are the hands that will represent your value betting range. Some examples:
- A♣ K♦ on K♥ T♣ 5♦
- K♠ T♣ on T♥ 8♦ 6♣
- Q♦ Q♠ on J♣ T♥ 7♦
Note that you want to choose hands that can comfortably triple barrel for value on most board run outs.
Cash Game Tip 3: Bluff on the flop with hands that have good backdoor potential
When you have a hand with good backdoor (runner-runner) potential, you should very likely bet as a bluff. You want to choose hands that can turn a strong draw and potentially hit a flush or a straight by the river.
These types of hands work very well as bluffs because they can hit very disguised strong hands. Here are some examples:
- 7♠ 6♠ on A♣ 9♠ 3♣ – Can turn a strong draw on any 5, 8, or spade. Can also turn a gutshot on any 4 or T.
- J♦ 8♦ on Q♦ 7♠ 5♠ – Can turn a strong draw on any 6 or diamond. Can also turn a gutshot on any 4, 9, or T.
- Q♣ 6♣ on K♥ 7♥ 5♣ – Can turn a strong draw on any 4, 8, or club. Can also turn a gutshot on any 3 or 9.
Note that with these hands you will only continue barreling on the turn when you improve to an actual draw.
Cash Game Tip 4: You should almost always 3-bet when you have a premium hand
Avoid getting trappy preflop when you have QQ+ and AK. These premium hands perform best in large pots, and so you should build the pot as soon as possible by putting in a 3-bet.
You should also balance your 3-betting range by bluffing with hands like A2s–A5s and suited connectors. You can visualize the range here:
Note that this is an example of an early position vs early position 3-betting range, which is why it’s quite tight. Versus later positions, you’ll want to expand your 3-betting range by including more value bets and bluffs.
If one of your opponents is raising a lot preflop and then rarely folding to 3-bets, you should massively change your 3-betting range to be more value-heavy. Something like this would be a lot better against such a loose opponent:
Notice that this range excludes the bluffs from before. This is because they will rarely force a fold preflop and will often be dominated by hands uniquely played by this opponent (K7s, Q7s, A7s, ATo, etc). Also notice the expanded value range, which now includes AJo, AQo, ATs, KQ, TT, and JJ. You can take it a step further and start 3-betting QJs and ATo if your opponent is calling extremely wide.
On the other hand, if your opponent folds very often to 3-bets, you should make the opposite adjustment: 3-bet more bluffs and the premium value hands.
Cash Game Tip 5: Check the flop a lot in multiway pots
You need to be selective with the hands you bet on the flop in multiway pots. The more players who see the flop, the stronger the hands you should check with. This is because the likelihood of an opponent hitting two-pair or better increases drastically.
Consequently, you should:
- Check with strong top-pairs and overpairs if the pot has 4 or more players. These hands have much lower equity in 4-way pots compared to heads-up pots.
- Bet small (1/4–1/3 pot) when you have two-pair+ or a very strong draw. Betting bigger risks chasing away all but the strongest hands.
- Fold with many more bluff-catchers, even against very small bets since your opponents are unlikely to bluff such unfavorable situations.
Cash Game Tip 6: Bet a lot when you’re heads-up and in position
In heads-up pots, you should frequently take a stab at the pot from in position, and when your opponent has shown weakness by checking instead of c-betting. This type of bet is called a ‘float bet’.
This bluff typically works well against weaker players because they fail to protect their checking ranges, choosing to check with only weak hands.
Be wary, though, of float betting against stronger players who are capable of checking good hands. When this strategy is unsuccessful it can end up costing you a lot of money.
Cash Game Tip 7: Check-raise on the flop with your strongest hands after defending your big blind
After defending your big blind against a steal from a player in position, you should almost always check-raise your strongest hands. This allows you to start building the pot so you can hopefully get all-in by the river.
Make sure you stay very conscious of the board texture when check-raising. For instance, bottom two pair is worth a check-raise on a 9♥ 5♠ 4♣ flop, but that same two pair should just be check-called on boards with flush and straight potential, like 6♥ 5♣ 4♠ or 9♥ 5♥ 4♥.
Cash Game Tip 8: Always warm up before a session or tournament
This is a mental game tip, but it’s at least as important as the tactical ones above.
Have you ever seen an athlete like LeBron James start a game without warming up beforehand? I bet if you asked any professional athlete they would tell you they warm up 100% of the time.
Now, you might be thinking, poker isn’t a sport, so what could it possibly mean to ‘warm up’? I’m talking about a mental warm-up––preparing to endure the session or tournament mentally.
Now, what should that warm-up routine involve? The answer is relative and based on your current tactical and mental game leaks.
Make a list of your most frequent mistakes (e.g., playing too loose preflop, c-betting too much, getting tilted, etc.), and note a correction to that specific leak. This will prime your mind to focus on those specific areas, which will help you avoid those specific mistakes.
Over time, those leaks will go away using this process. But the game is complex, so there will always be something to work on. Make sure your warm-up routine stays updated.
For some professional insight on how to warm up for a session, check out our 3-Step Poker Warm-Up Routine.
Cash Game Tip 9: Be smart about losing sessions
No one likes being a loser, especially when you have bills to pay. Unfortunately, no matter how good you are at poker, you’re going to have losing sessions sometimes. You may as well handle them the right way.
This can become especially tricky in cash games, where you can leave at any time. If you quit too often and too quickly, you’ll struggle with volume. If you always chase your losses, you will play some long and frustrating sessions that end with an unnecessarily big red number.
So, when should you quit and when should you stay to fight it out on the felt?
Doug Polk has 3 questions that he asks himself in these situations. Try asking these to yourself next time you find yourself stuck in a cash game:
- Am I playing well? Be objective here and really analyze the way you are playing. It’s really easy to just say you’re playing well and chalk up losing to bad luck, but a lot of times people’s games will start to crumble when they start to lose.
- Is the game still good? Sometimes there are lineups you simply CANNOT leave. In these scenarios, you usually just have to battle onwards. Of course, if you’re playing completely awfully, you might still want to head home and sleep it off.
- Am I feeling up to the task? Sometimes your head is just not in the game, and in those cases it’s almost always best to walk away. Your play will probably diminish and you’ll start to make more costly mistakes, digging yourself a deeper and deeper hole.
Cash Game Tip 10: Take advantage of limpers
Every time you see a player limping you should see an opportunity to take their stack–or at least a big chunk of it–in a rather short span of time.
Since most limpers are weak players, you will want to isolate them by raising over their limp with a wider range of hands. Forcing a limper to call your raise preflop, out of position, and with their weak range, is one of the most profitable situations in poker.
As far as sizing goes, find the perfect size to put the weakest hands in their range in the toughest possible spot. The general rule of thumb is your standard raise size plus one big blind for every limper. So, if you usually raise to 3 big blinds and there is one limper, you should raise to 4 big blinds.
For more, check out this detailed guide on how to destroy limpers.
Bonus: Doug Polk & Ryan Fee’s most valuable cash game tips
In preparation for this post, I reached out to both Doug Polk and Ryan Fee to ask for their most valuable piece of general cash game advice.
Doug’s cash game tip: Play with what you can afford to lose
When playing in cash games, the single most important thing is to be playing on an amount of money you are OK losing. If you’re playing with a stack that should you get stacked you are gonna be in a tough time financially, you’ve already lost by buying in for that amount.
Pick a buy-in amount that you’re comfortable losing in a game you have enough buy-ins for. That way if you have to put your opponent in a tough spot, you can comfortably go for it.
Ryan’s cash game tip: Try to be the most aggressive player at the table
You want to be the most aggressive player at the table in cash games, especially low stakes, especially live. You want to be the one that’s doing the betting and raising. Just about every time I play in a cash game I’m the most aggressive player at the table because it puts me in a position to win the most money possible.
But with that aggressive style comes the occasional big downswing. When that happens it’s important to move down, take time off to de-tilt and regroup. At the end of the day, aggression is going to be a big part of the reason you are winning and you always want to be comfortable coming back to it, even when it goes wrong.
Editor’s note: If you aren’t comfortable playing a very aggressive style, try increasing your aggression little by little, session by session until you get comfortable.
Take these tips to a cash game near you
Whether you are playing poker for fun or you want to make some extra income, these 10 tips will help you play a stronger game and make more money:
- Bluff-catch with your medium-strength hands.
- Mostly bet when you flop a strong hand.
- Bluff on the flop when you have backdoor draws.
- 3-bet your premium hands (QQ+, AK).
- Check on the flop a lot in multiway pots.
- Bet often when heads-up and in position.
- After defending your big blind, check-raise on the flop with your strongest hands.
- Warm-up before you play a session or tournament.
- Be smart about losing sessions
- Take advantage of limpers
And don’t forget Doug and Ryan’s tips:
- Play with what you can afford to lose.
- Try to be the most aggressive player at the table, especially if you play low stakes.
That’s it for today! I hope you’ve enjoyed these tips, and as usual if you have any questions or feedback don’t hesitate to use the comment section below.
Good luck, grinders!
Read more from Upswing Poker:
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- How to Play Poker on the River