Cash Games vs Sit N Go's

written by: John

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When first getting started in online poker a player has several decisions to make in terms of what kinds of games they would like to play and at what stakes they can afford to play those games at. A majority of online poker rooms offer at least 3 to 4 different variations of cash games with stakes ranging from $.01/$.02 per hand up to $1k/$2k per hand and at least 4 or more variations of sit n go's with stakes as low as $.10 per game up to $5k or more. One would think that with all the different options available that it would be easy to choose a game. But since all require a different approach in strategy, have different levels in competition and vary in the difficulty of earning a profit, the process can actually be quite daunting.

So to help with the decision making process, we have outlined the basic idea behind both cash games and sit n go's including the general strategy and basic bankroll guidelines so that players can choose the game that will work best for them.

Cash Games

Cash games are a fairly straightforward form of playing poker. Players buy in for no less than the table minimum which is about $1 at the lowest stakes and no more than the table maximum which is $1k on average at the higher stakes in no limit games and up to $1 million (seriously) in fixed limit games. In most of the online rooms, there are enough variations in stakes to please any kind of bankroll as well as several game variations to choose from such as heads up, 6-max, full ring, turbo and some sites even offer 4-max games. These variations are generally offered in all the games that the site offers with the only difference from game to game being the size of stakes offered.

Although cash games are not as swingy or have as much variance as sit n go's or tournaments, cash game players will still want to be sure to have a solid bankroll to allow for some variance but most importantly, allow them to buy in for the table maximum. Bankroll guidelines vary, but the general consensus is about 300 to 500 times the big blind of the stakes you wish to play or about 20 to 25 times the maximum buy in. Both guidelines come out close to the same figure so whichever figure is easier to work with is fine. So, this would mean that a beginning micro stakes player would want at least $10 if not closer to $25 to begin grinding it out at $.01/$.02 no limit hold'em.

Now, the strategy required to play cash games will focus a lot on post-flop play. Since the only thing players need to concern themselves with is the revolving blinds, hand ranges will generally be wider and implied odds will be used much more. So having a solid understanding of board texture and being able to compare your hand in relation is a definite must. But having said all of that, many of the micro stakes players are only one-sided thinkers meaning that they do not pay attention to these types of things which make the games relatively soft and easy to beat for those who study and work hard at getting better.

In terms of profit, cash games can be more difficult in the beginning since you are obviously playing for loose change. It really shouldn't be any shock to play 2 to 3 tables at one time for an hour and only be up a $1 or $2 in profit. So it can take a little while to build up a bankroll with any major loss in the beginning being absolutely devastating.

So in short, cash games will be for players who do not want to deal with any kind of tournament structure, want less variance and do not mind being a 'grinder' and taking their time to build a bankroll.

Sit n Go's

In a nutshell, sit n go's are basically a much smaller version of a tournament that starts once a pre-determined amount of people have signed up and sat down. So for example, if you signed up for a 9-man sit n go, it would start once all the 9 seats were filled. Depending on the size of the field, only the top 30% or less of players make money while everyone else that busts out walk away with nothing.

Sit n go's are offered in variations such as full ring, 6-max, turbo, double or nothing, steps and heads up with the most common field sizes being 6, 9, 18, 27 and 45 man with some having fields as high as 90, 180 or 216. Stakes most commonly start at $1 on average and are found as high as $5k or more.

Sit n go's have way more variance than cash games since there is a possibility of busting out. So, it is important to have a solid bankroll to ensure that there is money to play with tomorrow in case a player runs bad today. Guidelines vary, but it is suggested to have anywhere from 30 to 50 buy-ins for the lower stakes and up to 100 buy-ins or more for the higher stakes. So, if a player wanted to get started playing $1.50 sit n go's, they would want to start with about $30 and closer to $50 if possible.

Now, even though sit n go's are much more swingy than cash games, these games are generally much nicer to a player's bankroll. The reason is that in cash games, players can simply reload their stack at any given time so if they are on tilt for example, it would be rather easy to deplete their bankroll. In a sit n go when you bust out you're out, there is no buying back in. So it is much harder to 'spew' your bankroll needlessly.

In terms of strategy, players will have to keep many different things in mind when they play. To begin with, the blinds are constantly increasing every 5 to 10 minutes so players need to keep an eye on their stack to avoid being blinded out. Since there is a fear of busting out and not cashing, players should be more conscious of the hands they choose to play with their hand range being tight in the beginning and widening as the sit n go progresses. The Independent Chip Model, known as ICM, is also important to eventually learn, understand and integrate into the overall approach to sit n go's as this describes each player's equity in the sit n go and will also help determine what hands are played, when they are played and how. In short, there is plenty to think about and most of the decisions made in sit n go's are made pre-flop.

In terms of profit, it will depend greatly on what game a player succeeds at whether it is 6-max, full ring, heads up, etc as well as the size of the field. Obviously, the bigger the field the more money that can be made but the bigger the field the more often you lose between wins. However, it is common for players who excel in these lower stakes sit n go's to have ROIs upwards of 20% or higher which is solid. In the short term, players can buy in for $1 and play for an hour, win and walk away with about $3 to $14 as opposed to maybe earning $2 or so in the same amount of time in a cash game. Long term, a 20% to 30% ROI actually only averages a profit of $.20 to $.30 per game.

So the bottom line is that sit n go's are for players who can deal with variance, want a bit of a safety net under their bankroll and are willing to learn a lot of the strategy that is geared at not only at the game of poker, but the strategy geared towards the game structure as well.

Sit n Go's or Cash Games?

So, which do you play, sit n go's or cash games? Well, that will ultimately depend on your bankroll, the type of structure you want or don't want and the time that you have to play. Both offer softer competition at the lower levels and to be quite honest, both will require a player to 'grind' to build a bankroll.

As a general overview however, in the beginning of a player's career sit n go's would probably be recommended simply because it's harder to spew a bankroll and the games are soft enough that a player can grind a beginning bankroll much faster. But as the bankroll gets bigger it may be better to switch to cash games as they are less swingy and there is more potential money to be won at any given time.