Are you a poker player?
Then you’ve probably found your way to a cash game or two. Some people may prefer tournaments, but the convenience and availability of cash games is hard to pass up.
The deep stacks make for a more complex game and make attainable hourly win-rates higher on average. The best cash game players essentially have money fountains anywhere they can find a casino or card room.
But wherever there is money to be made in poker, there is also competition, and cash games boast the fiercest competition of any game type. It turns out, a lot of people want access to that money fountain. Who would have thought?
In this article, we’ll look at 6 tips to help you achieve cash game dominance. These tips came straight from Upswing coaches Doug Polk and Ryan Fee, two players that have had their share of success at cash games over the years.
Before diving into the tips though, you have to know whether cash games are the right choice for you.
The Pros and Cons of Cash Games (and Tournaments)
Everyone is different, so you’ll have to weigh the pros and cons of cash games yourself. That said, they have a lot of obvious upsides:
- Freedom to choose your lifestyle. Play as long or as short of a session whenever you’d like. You’re never forced to play for any period of time.
- More room for analytical play. The blind levels are always the same and typically you are playing much deeper stacks which allows for a lot more room to navigate post-flop.
- A lot less swings. You will have up and down days but you will never (hopefully) encounter the long droughts associated with tournament poker.
- Relatively small bankroll requirements. You don’t need to have as much cash in the bank to play cash games as the swings will be nowhere near as violent as those associated with tournament play.
It is all these upsides that lead to the biggest downside of cash games: the difficulty. Everyone wants that simple, swing-free life that comes with being a successful cash game player, but getting there is not easy. It requires more study, dedication and self-discipline to get to that point.
So, does the effort required sound worth the end result? If so, cash games are probably for you. If you still aren’t sure or want to know more about the differences between cash games and tournaments, check out our article and infographic Should I Play Cash Games or Tournaments?
Cash Game Tip 1: Don’t Play Ace-King the Same Way on Every Flop You Miss
We all know the terrible feeling. You pick up Ace-King pre-flop, get excited and then watch the dealer fan a flop of 8-7-6. Your hopes and dreams down the facking drain.
Doug starts by dividing all of the flops that miss Ace-King into 1 of 3 types, providing examples for each:
We are holding
Type 1 – Good flops like
Type 2 – Not bad flops like
Type 3 – Really Bad Flops like
The way we react in these miss situations is going to be different for each scenario.
On type 1 flops contrary to popular belief, this is a situation to check. If we bet here and our opponent raises, we will be in a difficult spot. Our hand is fairly strong but we should not overvalue it. Doug recommends that if we catch a small piece such as a flush or straight draw, we should check and call with our hand.
Our hand is not strong enough to check/call on type 2 flops, but is a great hand to turn into a bluff. We have six outs to improve to top pair and a ton of turns will give us back door draws that we can continue to barrel. Doug recommends betting these flops most of the time. Unlike type 1 flops, if we get raised it is an easy fold.
Don’t overthink it, just check/fold and move on to the next hand on type 3 flops. It’s such an awful miss of the flop, not only for our hand, but because it’s a board that smacks a pre-flop callers range. We would likely be bleeding money if we attempted to take a shot on boards like this. Chalk up the loss and move on.
Doug shares a couple more examples of each flop type in his video and article What To Do When Your Ace-King Misses the Flop
Cash Game Tip 2: Take Advantage of Limpers
We’ve all seen players who limp in cash games. They’re at all levels. Typically they’re the “fish” that just like to limp into pots and see as many flops as possible. It’s almost hard to blame them, folding is probably the least fun part of poker.
When I see players limping over and over again, I take it as an invitation to go after their chips. But how exactly should we go about doing that? Ryan Fee has two schools of thought when it comes to facing open limpers, both of which can be correct depending on the situation.
Playing tighter against open limps.
From a theoretical standpoint, this makes a lot of sense. Most people aren’t limping complete garbage and are making a statement that they have a hand they are interested in playing.
There are few factors you should think about when facing a limp that makes playing a tighter range optimal:
- Consider their skill level. If a strong player limps, you should put the red alert light on and proceed with caution.
- Estimate their limp/3-bet frequency (or look at the stat if you have a sample). Some players just love to limp and then reraise when you raise them. It’s annoying but they love to do it and we have to consider it as a factor in regards to our range.
- Consider the effective stack sizes. Short stack sizes won’t give you enough room to steal the pot on later streets and may also leave you vulnerable to limp/all-ins.
Exactly how much tighter should you play when these factors come up? Ryan shares specific ranges, Cutoff RFI and Cutoff Vs Limp, to help illustrate how much your range should shift against such limpers:
Playing tighter may be the theoretically correct reaction to limpers, but as is occasionally the case in poker, sometimes it is better to take a more practical approach.
Loosening up against open limps
Often times, the skill level or style of the player who limps incentivizes us to loosen up our range, making money in spots we normally would not.
Two things are true about most players who open limp:
- They are weak and/or inexperienced players.
- They play a passive style post-flop and will not fight for pots.
When you isolate these limpers pre-flop, a lot of time you will end up playing a pot in position against a weak player.
They are more likely to make mistakes and are also going to be less likely to try and run a crazy play to take the hand away from you. They are most likely going to be fit or fold, meaning if they hit their hand they will continue or if they miss they will fold and you can take the pot away.
It’s going to be up to you to figure out which method is best in a given situation. Ryan Fee has a great in depth breakdown that will help you make the right choice in his article Crush Open Limps Like A High Stakes Pro. Make sure you check out the quiz at the end to test your skills against limpers.
(Note: Ready to take your cash game and deep stack tournament skills to the next level? Check out the Upswing Lab, an A-to-Z poker training course covering a huge range of concepts, from fundamentals to how to play flush draws. Click HERE or below for more details.)
Cash Game Tip 3: Don’t Be Afraid to 4-Bet Light (With the Right Hands)
In many low limit games, 4-betting light can get you in a lot of trouble, but as you move up in stakes it becomes a necessary strategy to protect your opening range. If you only choose to 4-bet with the strongest hands [AA, KK, QQ, AK] your opponents will be able relentlessly 3-bet you with little risk.
When you do choose to 4-bet light, it’s important you do it with the hands that are best fit for this situation. A common mistake committed by inexperienced 4-bettors is arbitrarily doing it with random cards without much of a thought process behind it. Here’s an excerpt from Ryan about choosing 4-bet hands:
You want to 4-bet bluff with hands that are just barely not strong enough to call the 3-bet.
The best hands to use as 4-bet bluffs are suited Aces, particularly suited wheel Ax (A2, A3, A4, A5). These hands are great choices for a few reasons:
- Card removal. When we hold an Ace in our hand it becomes less likely that our opponent holds Aces or Ace-King.
- Good equity against a calling range. Suited Ax will almost always have at least 35% equity against a 4-bet calling range.
- Solid playability. Suited wheel Ax hands have the ability to flop straight draws, pairs and of course the nut flush draw. This makes it fairly easy to continue on a multitude of boards.
Consider the above reasons when looking for other hands to use as 4-bet bluffs, and remember it isn’t always mandatory you check off all three.
In the article There’s Big Money in 4-Bet & 5-Bet Pots, Ryan looks at each of these points more in-depth and outlines specific hands he likes to use as 4-bet bluffs. He also goes a step further into the illustrious world of 5-betting, and it’s capped by another challenging quiz.
Cash Game Tip 4: Be Smart About Your 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, so 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 on-wards. 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.
Doug explains more about How To Be Smart About Losing Poker Sessions in his full article. He even shares a photo of an impressive looking high-stakes chip stack.
Doug & Ryan’s Most Valuable Cash Game Tips
In preparation for this post, I reached out to both Doug and Ryan to ask for their most valuable piece of general cash game advice. Click the play buttons below to listen to their responses.
Tip 5: Doug’s Most Valuable Cash Game Tip
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.
Tip 6: Ryan’s Most Valuable Cash Game Tip
Most of the time, 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 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.
Take These Tips to a Cash Game Near You
The competition in cash games is often much tougher relative to other game types, but nailing down these 6 concepts will put you on the right track to a long term success:
- Don’t play Ace-King in the same fashion on every flop you whiff.
- Take advantage of limpers by factoring in their style and skill level.
- Don’t be afraid to 4-bet without a monster hand, but be careful not to go overboard.
- You’re going to have losing sessions, so it’s important you approach them correctly and quit at the right time.
- Play with an amount of money you are comfortable losing so you can continue to play your best.
- Strive to be the most aggressive player at the table (most of the time)
Cash games are one of the best ways to develop as a player and make money in the process. Think through all your decisions carefully and always have a plan in mind for the rest of the hand.
Did I miss any great cash game tips? Share your winning advice in the comments below!
(Note: These 6 tips are a great start, but long term cash game success is much easier to achieve with guidance from players who have already done it. Doug Polk & Ryan Fee have outlined their poker roadmap to success in the form of the Upswing Lab, a comprehensive poker training course. The Lab is the best and most efficient way to take your poker game to the next level, but don’t take our word for it, see what our members are saying!)
Jason is a former MTT grinder and current content creator who owns and operates the website Plug In Vegas