10 easy steps to increase your cash game hourly with tournies

In a previous article I have stated my opinion on why I think playing MTTs for a living basically sucks. However, this doesn´t mean that playing MTTs has to all be negative. There are several situations where it can be hugely profitable.

1) Adding variety to your game

Learning to see things from a different perspective increases your overall understanding of the game. Learning PLO also increased my understanding of holdem. If not done out of genuine interest, one of course has to ask if it’s worth the extra time to learn a new game. That’s up to you, but learning new things never hurts in my opinion. Learning new, easy AND profitable things is what you should be aiming for. Tournies are one of them. You don´t have to study them like a madman, just put some time in here and there. Learn about restealing, openshoving ranges, nash equilibrium. One book that an SNG pro recommended is this one:

In this book you´ll get all the info on “pushbotting”. You´ll get mathematical analysis easily prepared and if you´re completely lazy, just copy the charts from the book and hang them over your screen. Over the time you will become more comfortable with pushing ranges. I´d say this book is a must on your way to playing tournies well and profitably.

—-> Learn basic tourney strategy

2) Playing tournies teaches you how to play short stacks & adjusting to different stack sizes in your cash game

In the moment that I´m writing this, major sites are about to increase the minimum buyin to 50bb on most cash tables. However, short stacks are still an issue on many other sites that you might be playing. Many cash game players simply have no clue how to play them. Yeah, they know some basic ranges in order to not get completely spanked by them, but that’s about it. Short stacks (the good ones), usually have an edge in the game.

When I played smaller stakes HU, there was a lot of money to be made from shortstacking fish. Most of my HU professional colleagues did not play them, because they had no clue or thought there was no money to be made. This made me some really easy money, since shortstacking strategy was pretty automated (I could add 4 shortie EXTRA tables without any effort) and I was one of the few guys playing them. Knowing which hands to push, to fold, to limp and to minraise was no rocket science. My edge didn´t come from secretly calculating advanced mathematical theories at home. All I did was use some nash equilibrium charts and my experience of reality (= what hands they “usually” show up with in certain spots).

Playing tournies helps you a lot to adjust to different stack sizes. Tourney players are extremely good at adjusting their play to individual players’ stack sizes. You see them raise or fold the same hand, same position, and ask yourself why. It’s usually because they look at the players behind and how likely their raise is going to get shipped on. This is also the part where cash players usually get slaughtered left right and center by the tourney pros. But there´s hope in sight! It’s pretty easy to learn!

Another point is reraising preflop. Most cash game players reraise hands for value, who don’t plan on calling a 4bet. Let’s say you have KQ in the SB and BTN is opening. Many people would reraise (some call) here preflop. In tournies you have to watch out. If the BTN is only 45BB deep, you can get into pretty nasty spots. By a nasty spot I mean, the BTN is going to ship and you have to figure out if you got the odds to call. With those stack sizes, I clearly think the superior play is to flat call KQ preflop.

Most tourney players would do this intuitively, but how often do I see cash players reraise and curse after getting shoved on.

In cash games you can encounter similar spots. Knowing how to deal with them will make you become a better player overall.

—-> Learn how to play short stacks

—-> Learn how to adjust to different stack sizes

3) Learning how to play against very weak competition

There´s a lot of hate for Phil Hellmuth and his poker “skills”. In a cash game I´d play him all day long, expecting to have a significant edge, especially HU. But this guy has won some big $ from poker. He´s no one hit wonder or lucky donkey who happened to win some tourney. So let’s try to give him some credit for what he´s good at instead of bashing his minor skills in another area. Seeing greatness in other people/players is one step of adding greatness to yourself. If you think everybody else sucks, you can´t improve.

Anyway, the reason Hellmuth has earned himself a fortune is because he is incredibly good at playing against weak competition. Incredibly good. To this day, I´d rather put my money on Phil than the best online player when it comes to playing against “the weakest player on earth”. Phil understands how they think. He knows when and how they bluff. If you´re used to a high level of skill, you´re often going to make mistakes that makes somebody like Phil just laugh. One of those “mistakes” used to be to stack off with AK preflop. It used to be that live players ALWAYS had KK or AA, when the money got in preflop. 100BB, 50BB and yes, even 20BB. This has changed as poker is evolving. But while every one “of us” thinks it’s mathematically non-exploitable to put in 50BB with AK, all we do is sound like some smartass kid who’s paying off nits that always have rockets or cowboys.

Maximizing your edge against weak players is a very important skill to posses.

As a cash game player, you are *usually* used to playing people who are at least to some degree aware of what they are doing; which hands they are representing. “He can´t be so stupid, my hand clearly looks like a set, he´d never be bluffing”. Booom, you fold, fish shows you an airball. After face-palming yourself for an hour, you still wonder. His play made no sense whatsoever. Don´t forget, it’s in your job description to find out on which level players are. If you´re only used to smart players, chances are the not-so-smart will outsmart you without you knowing it! Happened many times…Watch amateurs vs pros on TV and you´ll know what I mean.

—-> Learn how to adjust against non-thinking players

—-> Learn how to constantly (re-)evaluate the level of your opponent

4) Where your edge (as a cash guy) in a tourney comes from

In another article I pointed out how important it is to know where your edge comes from. So let’s apply this concept here. As a cash game player we can assume that in the early stages we have an edge on our opponents. Not only on the very weak players, but also on the tournament professionals. We are clearly better at playing deeper stacks. We have more experience playing marginal hands. We are better at hand reading and thus can better detect how strong ranges are in certain spots. For us it’s “normal” to play flop, and especially turns and rivers. Many tourney players refer to the turn as the street “after all the money went in” ;) . Consequently our strategy should involve playing not to lose, but relatively lose preflop in order to exploit our strength as much as we can. Don´t overdo it though! It is very hard for a consistent winner at cash games to not be +EV in 99% of tournament line ups (at buyins compared to the cash game he plays).

After priding ourselves, we should take a look at what we are NOT good at. I´ve pointed out some stuff in the earlier paragraphs. Tourney players beat us up the shorter & shallower the stacks get. They beat us up, because they know the competition better. After all, that’s what they´re doing all day long. They are much better when it comes to the bubble by applying the ICM concept. ICM is the IndependentChipModel. It is a model (= read, it does have flaws, but is a great approximation) to determine the best play in bubble situations. Google for more info. Many decisions in this stage of the tourney can be extremely counterintuitive and seem to make “no sense” at first glance. Tourney guys are also better when it comes to determining their play according to the tournament structure in general. Their play can change if the payout is heavily weighted to the top or more stretched out. They know which adjustments to make and it is fair to assume that us cash guys have no clue about what’s going on.

Knowing this, we should take the necessary steps to improve and try to minimize their edge on us to as little as possible. The great thing is, you know what to do. All you have to do now is walk the talk.

—-> Realize what you do better than the tourney players

—-> Realize what the tourney players do better than you

5) Which limit/buyin to play

This goes back to the topic of Bankroll managment. My general advice would be to play tournies with “extra money”. While this may just be a mental mindgame to create separate accounts inside of your account, it still is helpful. Take this money and expect to lose it. Pledging 10-15% of your winnings to this account sounds like a good number. How high you play is still for you to figure out. This site is not a place to look for written rules. It’s about teaching you how to think for yourself. Giving a recommendation is as far as I will go. This recommendation probably is that the buyin for the tourney shouldn´t be higher than 50BB of your regular cash game. But again, like every “rule” it’s just a random number that sounds good and I thought of putting out there.

Ok half time. It’s about time to get our feet wet.

6) “Warning” about live tournies

First of all, the edge and earning potential playing live tournies often is extremely overrated. Read my article HOW big is your edge. Just think similarly about live tournaments. If this is all that you do, let me give you a short calculation how “profitable” it really is. I love to use high numbers to illustrate that even the best possible case doesn’t sound that great. This way I save myself a lot of discussion by players who think they´re better than the gross average.

Ok, here we go:

Buyin: $5000

ROI: 100% ( = avg profit 5000$ )

Again the ROI is too high. The only reason why this number might never ever get challenged is because there are people out there who do have a higher ROI. But it should be obvious that we´re talking about the people who run way above EV. And having a 1000 live tourney sample size is kind of hard to achieve, unless you´re name is Methusalem and you´re going to be 900 years old. In tournies you have lots of people by nature who run way above or way below EV. It’s the name of the game. So don´t get confused when somebody has a friend of a friend who has a 200% + ROI. If they really believe what they say, don´t hesitate to invite them to your next homegame.

Travel costs: $1500

It’s hard to find an average here, but plane tickets, taxi rides (depending where you live and where you play) eat up a lot. I´m talking out of experience. However, this number might vary for some.

Lodging: $200/day —> ~ $1000 total

Assuming it’s like 5 days on avg. In some places lodging costs more, and yeah, you could live somewhere for cheaper, but this is what most people on the tour pay (actually rather more).

Rake: Let’s forget the rake, if you´re a nit at some other points, add/substract the rake there

Food: $100/day —-> ~ $500 total

I´m a food snob ;), so my figure is probably higher. If you wanna save money, you can do it a lot cheaper. But chances are you´re not sleeping in a hostel and dining at the corner kiosk if you play a 5k+ event. By the way, (off topic), hostels are an awesome place to stay and a great way to meet international people. I´ve enjoyed this a lot during the last weeks. It can get quite “bummy” if you land up in the wrong place, but you can turn everything into something fun. Advice on the side: Next time you travel, stay over at hostels, even if you can afford the five star palace.

On the road again: Let’s see, you´re one of the best and have $2k profit in EV left. Let’s say you play an average of 10 hours (I might be off with the number?!). This would equal out to like $200/hour. Those $200 sound like something else other than what they really are. It comes more down to -7800 or + 8000 for a single event. So basically – and I hope this is nothing new for your eyes – live events have a sick sick variance.

From this $2k in EV-Profit, you can still deduct other random expenses. Chances are, if you can afford to play such an event, your hourly is probably above $200. I hope this doesn’t shock you, but from a pure business perspective, most live events aren´t really going to make you any money long term. Whatever you earn in EV, you can make a multiple of that playing online with less variance.

Even if you think my numbers are a bit off, tweaking here and there isn´t going to change matters in the grand scheme of things. Since this view might be rather depressing, many players don´t like to hear it. Most MTT guys are either overestimating their edge or try to downplay the fact that they´re basically “gambling”. Some of them are also simply out to “hit it big”.

If you are backed, cut your winnings in half. In a way though, backing isn´t as bad as it’s viewed. But again, you´re giving away 50% of your profits, so it better be worth it, whatever you´re offered.
Eventually, the higher the buyin – with identical ROI – the more reasonable it would be to play a live event from a pure business perspective.

Ok, you’ve also got some side events, so things aren´t as bad as iI´m making them. I´m as lazy as you. My plan isn´t to show my mathematical skills and to “prove” anything. If it makes you think, I´ve done my duty already – and more importantly – you´ve increased your poker IQ ;)))

—-> Long rant, go to live tournies because you like to travel and enjoy them
—-> Don´t do it for the money. If your plan is to earn money, lock yourself up and start grinding
—-> Combine live tournies with a nice travel vacation

7) Profiting from live tournies

If you do happen to travel and “accidently” there is a high buyin live tourney around, go and play it. As illustrated in the paragraph above, your hourly EV isn´t extremely high, but the Variance is enormous. By that, I mean, while your “longterm” hourly might be around $200ish, your short term hourly is between – 5k and + 10k.  My point is, once you get deep and close to the final table, your hourly is incredibly high. The times that put down your hourly are when you bustout early (most of the time). In this case, you use variance to your advantage. This assumes however that you got the bankroll for it.  A simple analogy would be to go ahead and flip 10 times (assuming you´re a 50+x favorite in order to make up for rake). Most of the time you bustout, but when you win the 10 flips, it’s going to be huge. Then you´ll have a gigantic stack and you can maximize your edge until infinity. The key is that you neither gain, nor lose by flipping. But, the reason why this is so great, is you GAIN TIME. You don´t waste time, but when you´re in, then it’s worth it.

—-> Playing live tournies makes a very high hourly possible
—-> Abuse variance to your own advantage, but be properly rolled

After explaining a lot, let’s get to the most relevant/important point. This is what the article is about. It will be rather short, since it will be self-evident after reading 1-7.

8 ) Playing x cash game tables and adding 1-2 tournies on the side

That’s the whole idea. Let’s say you start your session. You have some cash tables running. Let’s also assume that you´re somewhat competent with tournament strategy. Whats the downside of adding 2 extra tables ? Try out how it will affect your game. What I advise you to do is to play completely autopilot in tournies, until you get near the big cash. Playing autopilot does not cost you anything. Just assume everybody at your table is new to poker and play ABC. Here and there you´ll have a tough decision, but overall it’s not going to affect your normal game. This is what I assume. If it doesn’t work out for you, just drop the idea.

Why not add 2 extra cash tables? Simply because they will warrant your attention. Since you´re +EV in the tournies, what will happen is that you´ll add some extra EV without much effort. At the same time, you improve parts of your game (as explained in previous paragraphs), which again will net you some extra profits.

—-> Add 1-2 tournies to your normal tables
—-> Play autopilot and profit
—-> Get better at tournies and cash games at the same time

9) Playing tournies in order to increase/boost your discipline/work ethic and poker tourney strategy

One reason why I have added tournies here and there is to keep me longer on the comp & playing. I have to admit that my work ethic in regards to poker is nothing to brag about. The reason I started playing was to earn well and give me extra free time, to do what I love.  At times I did grind a lot, but in general it has been a little fight against myself (this ultimately resulted in me quitting poker). Adding tournaments would ensure that I didn´t quit the tables if there was no action. Adding tournies while playing HU can be even more profitable than for the 6max/fullring player. This is because playing HU often means waiting.

I have to admit that adding tournies was not the way for me to go. I got to frustrated when I really wanted to go but had to stay. Also, keep in mind that I have played tournies full time for over 6 months. Might not seem like much, but I am completely fed up with them. It’s an emotional hate. A stupid one, but I have to accept my weakness.  For myself, another way was necessary in order to put in more hours. By the way, adjusting to my own personality (sounds schizophrenic haha) and suiting to my own needs, finding out where I lost/won was a big improvement.  This might sound completely weird to you. “Adjusting to oneself”, wtf is wrong with you? Maybe an example will clear up what  possibly can´t be put into words in a better way: We all learn certain things. One of them is to not tilt. But (almost) everybody does it. I have found out that playing hungry or not totally fresh in mind has lost me quite some money. O RLY ? What I´m writing is so blantantly obvious and seems unworthy to even put on paper. But think deeper. Don´t you know MANY things, that you shouldn’t do, but you do it anyways? I bet there are a lot of them. “Adjusting to your own person” means recognizing your weaknesses and acting accordingly. One of my weaknesses is to get angry when “wasting” time and money on tournies.  I know, it’s “nonsense”, but it is what it is. Don´t be ashamed if your weakness is even more ridiculous than mine. I haven´t told you everything ;)

To get back on topic. I think it’s a great idea. Unfortunately not for myself, but for most of you it should be.

—-> Adding tournies increases your playing hours in case you lack motivation at times
—-> Learn to try out new things in general

10) Try to find other ways to improve your hourly (EV) by doing only a little extra

What you should learn from this article is not only to add 2 tourney tables in the future. It should stand out as an example how to be creative in finding the “extra edge”. We´ve been discussing in another article that you should be edge-aware. You gotta be doing something better than your opponent/pro-colleagues. When it comes to HU, I have a bag full of little extra edges. My competitors were not paying much attention to them. I´m sure this gained me the business of one or other opponent from time to time that somebody else would have gotten.

—-> Be creative, think about HOW to gain an extra edge
—-> Be willing to learn your lesson (read: don´t be afraid to lose at times)

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