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Cash Game Consciousness

by Bryan Devonshire |  Published: Feb 04, 2015


Bryan DevonshirePoker started as a cash game. Somewhere along the line tournament poker was invented, but cash poker has been and always will be king. Every hand is independent of every other hand. Chips can be cashed out at any time and turned into money to spend on things. Hollywood, while loving to play poker, hasn’t done a good job of accurately depicting poker over the years especially when it comes to table stakes. When playing in a cash game, you can only risk the chips you have on the table. A player cannot bet you out of the pot, they can only bet what you have in front of you.

Well, they can bet whatever they want, but the amount greater than your stack is irrelevant. You won’t ever have to risk your horse, farm, or watch to call a bet, and you cannot be faced with a wager so large that you are forced to fold. If poker games that did not have table stakes ever existed, I cannot find any evidence of them outside of Hollywood. Cash games come in any stakes and any game. They can be limit, pot-limit, or no-limit. They exist in every casino, and they should be the cornerstone of every poker player’s portfolio.

The first thing to consider when choosing a cash game is what stakes to play. It is important to play within your bankroll, and it is important to be careful with that bankroll. If you are not a professional, then it is important to be able to afford the maximum loss in a game. If you are nervous or worried about the money, then you will not able to play your best poker and will probably lose. If you are an amateur, having fun is most important. As a professional, when playing limit games, I like to have at least 500 big bets for my regular game. Losing several hundred big bets in a few sessions is not as uncommon as you may think. For no-limit games, bankroll requirements are variable with the style of the game, both theirs and yours. Some games are higher variance than others, like $1-$2 no-limit online versus $1-$2 no-limit live. For the live game, I’m going to need at least 20 buy-ins, or $4,000 to play $1-$2 regularly. I want to have at least $10,000 to multi-table that same game online. These bankroll requirements are irrelevant if you are losing player. These bankroll requirements are considering my win rate. If your win rate is lower than mine, then you need a bigger bankroll, and if you’re better than I am at poker, then you don’t need as much.

Now, it is important to not simply play the biggest game that fits within your bankroll requirements. Game selection is the second thing to think about when choosing a cash game. If everybody at the table is better than you, then you should probably find a better place to play poker. You should also probably work on your poker game some, but, if you are reading this article and can identify that you’re the worst at the table, then you are probably objective enough to know this already. Ideally you want to be the best at the table, or at least have there only be a few players as good as you.

I commonly hear smart people say things like they like to play against better players, or they like to play higher stakes where people respect their bets, or they can’t beat too many fish at one table because one of them will run you down. Without addressing those issues at all, let’s agree that winning at poker means winning the most money. If you have nine opponents at a table, and they all average losing $50 an hour, then that means that you have an opportunity to win $450 an hour minus the money that goes down the hole for the house. If only five of those players are losing $50 an hour, but the rest of you are winning players, then there isn’t going to be much to go around after the house takes its rake. You always want to play with the worst players, and the worst players are the ones that lose the most money. Thinking that you can beat a winning player because they won’t chase you down is illogical, because their correct fold, while denying you the opportunity to get sucked out on, also denies you profit on your hand. We want our opponents to put money in badly. Obviously, we don’t want them to suck out on us, but making bets so they won’t suck out on us is a bad play.

So, we pick a game that we are comfortable in, and we pick a game that we are good in. Good start. What if there isn’t a good game at the stakes we want to play? Well, then we either move down in stakes and play in a more profitable game or we take the day off. No problem. The only time you can deviate from this strategy is if you are an amateur and simply don’t care. I know lots of guys who are very successful in life and love the game of poker. They have fun playing high stakes against tough competition, and they don’t have fun playing low stakes. Cool. The whole point of playing poker as an amateur is to have fun, and, if you’re not having fun playing as an amateur, then you are doing something wrong, and moving down in stakes should help temper your stress level.

As a professional, it is important to know that amateurs are there to have fun. Therefore, it is your job to facilitate these good times. Don’t do things like wear headphones, hoodies, and glasses. Don’t be a hard ass and make people uncomfortable. Don’t start conflict. Do talk to people, learn their names, talk about sports and fishing and girls. Don’t talk about strategy, because you don’t want them to play better. You want them to have fun. Don’t dodge direct questions about strategy because that’s rude, but don’t engage in strategy discussion with them. Do listen to their strategy discussions. Don’t decline a drink with some comment like, “I don’t drink while I’m working.” They aren’t working and shouldn’t think you are either. It’s usually really good for your image to have a beer with them when they’re having beers. Beer is good, and camaraderie around a poker table is good too.

Lastly, always play your best. If you are not playing your best, then it’s probably time to quit and try again next time. I won’t play longer than 12 hours unless I am winning and have a really good reason to, because after that long, I am probably not playing my best, especially if I am stuck. I continue to play when I am winning, because that means I am probably in a good spot. I won’t quit a session once I’ve won a certain amount of money, nor will I quit if I have lost too much. I will only quit if the game isn’t good, I’m not playing good, or I’ve played the number of hours that I wanted to play. ♠

Bryan Devonshire has been a professional poker player for nearly a decade and has more than $2 million in tournament earnings. Follow him on Twitter @devopoker.