Three Biggest Mistakes in Cash Games

Many cash game players think tournament players suck at cash games. They are right and MTT guys probably suck at cash games even more than cash guys suck at MTTs.

Yes, I just said it and I’m not sorry. Sometimes the truth is tough, but I’m actually not here to offend you. Telling the truth might not make me everybody’s friend, but my mission is to help poker players improve their game first. So, let’s focus on that!

“If you don’t know who the sucker at the table is, it’s probably you”.

I’ve heard this phrase many years ago and never forgot it. Everybody knows that phrase, but nobody acts on it. One big reason for my own success as a player and the big success of all of my students is that we always know where we’re at in the food chain. People who don’t know this will inevitably lose their winnings or won’t become winners in the first place.

Very successful tournament players will go to a cash game table and often dismiss bad results as “variance” and other reasons. It might not always be variance, though, so in this article series I will point out three typical leaks and how to fix them.

Okay, now that we got this out of our way, let’s get to part one of this three-part series. As the title says, you’re going to learn the three biggest mistakes you make at a cash game table. You will also learn how you can fix them.

Part 1: There is no CHIP EV in cash games, aka Tournament Players Have a Terrible Understanding of Pot Odds and Equity

In tournaments, it is very important and often crucial to consider villains’ and your own stack size when making a decision. How many Ms or big blinds you have is not only a consideration for the current hand, but also for future decisions.

Situation #1

In a tournament, a player may not decide to call a min-raise out of the big blind with a hand (let’s say 8s-5s) because the likely check-fold on the flop could result in a lower stack size.

Problem #1

Why is this so important in a tournament? Lower stack means less fold equity for re-steals or open-raising / open-shoving. The ability to have fold equity is crucial in tournaments.

Tournament players are very good at being conscious about all of those little details. Small gains in EV such as calling a min-raise with 8s-5s can be a bad bargain if it consequently means losing a bigger EV spot by not being able to open-shove / re-steal. This probably matters less when you have a 70bb stack, but it can matter a lot when you’re below 30bb.

Many tournament players understand this on an intuitive level even if they can’t use phrases such as “sacrificing short-term EV in order to gain long-term EV.”

How to fix situation #1 in cash games:

There is no such thing as long-term EV in cash games. In about 99.9% of cases, you should make the instant “mathematical” correct play and totally disregard stack sizes. Stack sizes in Hold’em are an imaginary construct because you can always rebuy. There are very few situations in which stack sizes play a role on a rational level.

In other words, if you get the right price with 8s-5s in a cash game and there is nothing else to consider, you should be calling this hand in the big blind against a min-raise.

Situation #2

This principle is very simple to understand, easier than in situation #1. You’re playing an MTT, 20 players are left, and 19 get paid. Most players these days understand that you should avoid battles with other big stacks since it’s a lose-lose situation.

Let’s complicate the situation even further. There are nine people left, all of you get paid, but there is a big pay jump from seventh to sixth place. In spots like these, the most optimal Chip EV play is often very different than the “real” EV that can be calculated with models like ICM. Some plays can be very counter-intuitive.

How to fix situation #2 in cash games:

There’s nothing to fix. It’s knowledge you won’t be able to use. Those two spots are rather easy to understand and most tournament players will be able to fix them. If you’re somewhat of an advanced player, you know this stuff. So why am I stating the obvious in situations #1 and #2?

The main reason – and this is your biggest value from this article – is that your straightforward math gets messed up when your main goal is stack preservation and not maximum chip EV.

Here is a hand that could have been played by a tournament player. I’m not saying all of you, but many of you would have done a terrible move without even understanding how bad it is. Keep in mind I’m simplifying and exaggerating a lot of things to make a point, so don’t nit-pick the details. Understand the thought and idea.

Situation #3

We’re playing NL200, 6max cash game.
Hero is in the big blind with Th-7h

BTN ($200)
SB ($160)
HERO ($200)

BTN raises to $4, SB folds, Hero raises to $10 and wonders why the button never folds.

Problem #3:

In tournaments, you can often get away with using a very small sizing when re-stealing. Why? Because both you and your opponent know that despite him getting great odds, he has to be concerned about his stack size.

Another reason might be that he simply doesn’t know better and thinks along the lines of, “I don’t call 3bets with X or Y” instead of understanding that it’s not about the hand, but instead about the price you have to pay to play the hand.

Either way, small 3bets and small 4bets work very well in many tournament situations. They do not work very well in cash games. A smart opponent will simply call because he understands that he’s getting a good price. That’s it.

Solution #3:

Don’t offer your opponents too good odds when you’re re-raising. Make sure you’re (re)raising big enough. He’s not making a mistake by calling you super light. He’d actually make a mistake by folding too much. The typical recommended sizes these days for a re-raise is about 4x vs a min-raise and 3.5x vs a 2.5x to 3x open-raise.

That’s it for today. I’ve kept it simple for the start, but here is a little quiz where you can check if you have understood today’s lesson.

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