A lot of new poker players come to the tables with some common misconceptions. One of the most common and costly mistakes beginners make their first time in a poker room is confusing cash games (or ring games) format with tournament format.
As you may well know from watching popular shows like the World Poker Tour, or even from participating in poker night at a friend’s, the primary betting medium in poker is chips. Poker tournaments have one large prize that is built up from buy in fees and sometimes sponsorship.
Once a player deposits their buy-in, they get a predetermined number of chips. Each player in a tournament starts with that same number of chips. While a value is ascribed to each chip, in tournament play chips are pretty much equivalent to points. When you run out of chips, you are also out of the tournament. In rare instances, some types of poker tournaments will give the option of buying back in early in play to help build the final jackpot, but for the most part when you lose your last chip you are gone, as are your chances at taking a piece of the prize.
At the end of the poker tournament, the player that has accumulated the most chips wins. The prize pot is divided among the first so many places, with the winner taking the largest percentage.
Poker Ring Games
Ring games work on a totally different premise. You’re still playing poker, and you’re still betting with chips, but the value assigned to each chip is their real cash value. Each player starts with a different number of chips depending on how much they bought. As the play progresses, a play may go all in and lose all their chips and return to the game by simply buying more chips.
Ring games are stand-alone games. They are the everyday type of game you can expect to find in poker rooms during peak, non-tournament hours. Players can play as many hands as they can afford, or they may stand and cash in their chips at any time.
Ring Game Strategy vs. Tournament Strategy
When playing a tournament, every chip counts and a single hand can break you, but you must play aggressively or you won’t be competitive as the blinds get higher. When playing ring games, you can play selectively. A single hand is just that, and it has no impact on the next one.
Furthermore, the risks are different. When you get knocked from a tournament, you only lose your buy in, but high stakes ring games can produce very large pots. Which style of game you choose to play is based on personal preference. But understanding each and altering your strategy accordingly is the only smart way to play.