Ring vs Tournament

There’s been some scattered talk about the differences between ring game and tournament strategy, and I thought it might be interesting to start a thread dedicated to the topic. I’ll start it out by taking a quick look at edges.

Las Vegas is full of billion dollar casinos that were built with money earned from a 2%-3% house edge. This is possible because they handle many billions of dollars in transactions, and they are in it for the long haul. This is also true with ring games.

In ring games, you can profit from small edges as long as they are more than the rake.

This isn’t the case with tournaments. In tournament poker, you will need a much larger edge to profit. (generally speaking)

Let’s look at a hypothetical example to illustrate the point…

You have to go allin for 10k, and are a 2-1 favorite.

In a ring game, if you do this 3 times, you will win 10K twice and lose 10K once, putting you 10k to the good overall. This is a no-brainer, and it’s how bankrolls are built.

In a tournament, you would be eliminated.

2-1 is a fairly big edge. I’m not suggesting that you should fold there in a tournament… the point here is that an edge that is a bread and butter, clear cut choice in a ring game isn’t as clear cut in a tournament.


Good thread!

Lots of factors play into strategy in a tourney. Is it play or real money, rebuy, high stakes, low stakes and how much risk you can take?

I generally play lower stakes real money tourneys so I can take an all in but you get lots of players doing the same thing especially in rebuys.

The object is to survive IMO with enough chips until the plonkers take themselves out and hopefully hit a couple of big pots so you have something to cover the blinds and then things usually settle down and regular play takes over which is not that much different in strategy from a ring game.

Until you get past the plonkers it is mostly luck but then you better have skills to make it to the big show.

Now once you get in that big show I usually hang back and fold alot letting the players take each other out but you have to defend your pot on a blind and take on a big blind when they are vulnerable.

There is a lot more to it than just the cards and you have to watch the players stacks and notice if a big blind is vulnerable and who is just running out the clock.

As they say- hold’em is a thinking man’s game!

I feel its the opposite. You won’t go all in ring as odds won’t usually be that clear and an all in costs 100BB or more that’s lot of chips. In tournaments you will go all in. Somehow if you know its 2-1 odd, you will lose one tournament, and another two you will climb to top, an exponential increase in your buy-in equity.

Climbing to top/building stack, play in high blinds, low stack, stealing the pot are some skills I have observed unique to tournaments.


Again in ring, heads up and normal ring are different games.

Nice thread.

Ring & SnG/MTT strategy seems a mile apart… lets also set aside for a second any rebuyMTTs…

Ring: normally in a casino unless you know your opponents, therefore have an Idea of thier bankrolls, you’re basically waiting to maximize profit on any singular hand and possibly snag a few small pots here/there (but not bluffing), Because Ring has the built in ability to rebuy, assuming the bankroll to do so… You can’t always assume another person’s “risk” is your “risk” even in the exact same reverse situation, therefore you need to be more confident you have the winning hand or that your opponent(s) will fold to the right bet. Bluffing is more risky on a Ring table than a SnG/MTT table.

SnG/MTT, and since they are basically the same then we combine strategys. Your strategy is just condensed in a SnG vs a MTT. Here rather than maximizing hands on an individule basis, you’re maximizing profit across all hands it takes to play that event. We are talking no rebuy here. The biggest difference left is the fact that blinds increase, therefore you MUST make enough profit each orbit to counteract those blinds. ( thats just to stay even ) Bluffing will be less risky, due to the elimination factor.

Situational and psychological plays work both places, yet are enhanced when playing a SnG/MTT vs a Ring… Depending on your knowledge of your opponent(s), then Ring can play equally as enhanced.

Anywhere where you can see in to your opponent(s) pocketbook… ( see thier Bankroll ) then Definite advantages are avail for the bigger bankrolls in Ring games. Altho that difference exsists in SnG/MTT, once your “in”, since everyone starts with same amount of chips, you get a “leveling” of the playing field, so to speak.

Rebuys (3) or Unlim, will severly skew strategies in a SnG/MTT as will any Leaderboards such as we have here at replay. You need to adjust your play accordingly for these.

I find that when multiple different objective strategies clash, thats when ppl have the hardest time adapting and overcoming situations. What I mean by that is : If player A’s objective is profit/winning the SnG/MTT, and player B’s objective is winning a Leaderboard… OR … a higher Broll player is playing a lower table just for fun, vs another player thats got 30% of his Broll on table, playing super serious to grind out profit… Each of these are where objective strategies clash bigtime.

I guess for me Ring is 1 hand in a vaccuum, and SnG/MTT is ave of all hands. My personal opinion is SnG/MTT players are more rounded in thier skills than are Ring game players, and its slightly easier for SnG/MTT to play Ring, than the opposite. I said “easier” I am not gonna touch “if” 1 or the other are “better” players. ( better is way too subjective )


I don’t think odds will ever be that clear. It’s a hypothetical situation to illustrate the point that you should generally look for a bigger edge in tournaments than would be profitable in a ring game.

I didn’t mean you would have to go allin 3 times in three different tournies, I meant in the same one. That one time you miss will eliminate you. Again, I was just trying to illustrate a point.

I specifically didn’t mention how many BBs were at risk, or at what point in the tournament you are. If I knew I was a 2-1 favorite, I make that call every single time in a ring, all day long, no matter how many BB were involved… no exceptions.

In a tournament, this isn’t the case. I would usually make the call, but not always, even if I knew I was a 2-1 favorite. Near the beginning of the tournament, I would do it, because I have little time invested and never play a significant portion of my bank. There’s always another tournament about to start, so nothing lost really.

If it was closer to the end and I was down to 10k chips, yeah, why not? I don’t like to linger on a short stack, get me into the game or out of it. I don’t play to cash, I play to win.

There may be times I would lay it down though. For example, if I needed a few thousand points to ladder a leaderboard near the end of the month. These times would be few and far between.

Decisions that are simple in ring games are far more complicated in tournaments.

I agree with almost everything you said, which was bound to happen sooner or later! :slight_smile:
To me, SnGs are like an MTT final table.

The only minor point I would make is that I don’t see ring as “1 hand in a vaccuum,” I see it as one hand in a lifetime of poker. Make +ev plays consistently and you will profit in the long run.

Thanks for your insightful reply.

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Another interesting topic - thanks SPG. Probably going to be tough to scratch the surface on how cash and tournaments differ but it will be nice to see how far it can go. Since you are starting with edges/margins, I’ll add a bit to this first.

Its hard to get reliable data from live games but for online cash play there are some good numbers in terms of what players are working with at different levels. These numbers are pretty solid for cash and SnG’s but are all over the map for MTT’s. MTT’s are so high variance and are so heavily top-end weighted for payouts that results swing wildly. A single win in a 2-year period can shoot a players ROI from single digits to triple digits, depending on volume of play. Anyway, here are some benchmarks for ring and SnG’s compiled from aggregation sites such as officialpokerrankings and others.

Ring: Online Winrates in bb/100 for top-performing players. If you are positive at all (net of rake) you are faring better than the vast majority of players.
5NL - 25NL: 10bb+/100
50NL - 200NL: 6bb+/100
500NL+: 4bb+/100

SnG: ROI for top multi-table grinders
< $6 20%
$6-11 15%
$22 10%
$33 7%
$55 5%
$109 4%
$215 3%

The common theme is that as stakes increase, the level of competition becomes better and so relative edges reduce towards zero.


I guess what I’m getting at here is that it pays to be less risk tolerant in tournaments. Generally speaking, it can be harder (if not impossible) to recover from mistakes in tournies, and even if you don’t make a mistake, one bad beat can end any chance you have of showing a profit.

In tournaments, each hand can have a sudden brutal finality that is somewhat lacking in ring games. One almost has to look at each hand in isolation in tournament play rather than the hand as part of a series which includes a session or even a lifetime.

Of course, basic poker skills are still important, but poker strategy and tournament strategies can and do sometimes bump heads. It’s not always clear what to do in those situations, and it’s made more difficult when facing a 20 second clock.

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Ah, edges in each individual hand vs overall. My bad.

To that point, it gets back to the concept of the relative value of chips in cash vs tournament play. In cash, each chip is worth exactly how much it says it is, at all times. A $5 chip can be brought to the cashier and redeemed for $5. In a tournament, the chips are not redeemable and whatever denominations they come in seldom have anything to do with what they are really worth. What value they do have varies over time. Without getting into the weeds, in tournament poker a chip lost is almost always worth more than a chip won.

The result of this feature of tournaments is that calling ranges need to be tighter than they would in cash games. Opening ranges can actually loosen up compared to cash at certain stages but calling ranges will always be tighter. This is called the gap concept and it takes into account that the chips you put at risk have a higher value than the chips you stand to win. So, in identical spots, you may profitably make a fold in a tournament that you would profitably make a call with in cash. Cool stuff.


ring vs tournaments, hmmmm i will pass, too many differences to list

I think this is correct.

But as far as needing tighter call ranges, I think that depends on the stage of the tournament, at least in the ones I play. To me, this has to do with the average skill level of the players. The average skill level in a tournament is at it’s lowest at the start, and generally goes up as the tourney progresses. This isn’t the case in ring games.

Sure, ring games have a certain amount of churn, with players leaving and new ones sitting, so the average skill levels aren’t constant. But at any given stakes, they are fairly constant.

In tournaments, the weaker players tend to bust early while the better players run deep. Yes, this isn’t always the case, but it’s a good general rule, I think. Weaker players seem prone to playing any ace, for example, and it can be profitable to call with hands you might fold later on.

The trick, of course, is to have some idea of how each player is playing, which is hard at the beginning because there’s so much rebalancing. Also, someone willing to play A6o will also play AK, (but usually not the same way)

Personally, I tend to accept more risk at the beginning of a tournament because I have little time invested and there’s always another tourney starting soon. Do well early on against the weakest players and you can then afford to be more selective later on.

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Ack - you’re going to make me use the dreaded “ceteris paribus” caveat? OK, all other things being equal (exact same table of players), you would make tighter calls in a tournament than in cash. Now I am seeing the weeds begin to sprout up :slight_smile:

That being said, in general, early stages of tournaments play closer to cash games than later stages. At least this is the case with deep enough formats. I suppose we will get to the differences in this area later on in the thread.

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Yes, but should they? As you pointed out, a ring chip is worth what it’s worth, but I don’t think an early chip is worth as much as a later chip. Yes, early chips may be easier to get, but this alone makes them worth less.

Well yeah, ok, but that never actually happens!

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Yes. They are not exactly the same but are at their closest point. As we showed in your previous thread, “A Matter of Perspective”, $EV and cEV run tightest together at the beginning of tournaments. As the tournament progresses, the gap between the two widens. Therefore, while still being different in absolute terms, tournaments and cash games are most closely comparable at the early stages.

Yeah, I know it never really happens, which is why I hate introducing it. Sometimes it is necessary to isolate one variable and fix everything else though. It can be the only way to illustrate a concept even though there are no practical applications. Since we will be generalizing most things here rather than comparing two actual games, we have to allow for some amount of purely academic thought to come in, right?

And the weeds are now ankle deep …


i would say 1 chip is worth more at the beginning of a tourney. For example if u buy into a $100 tourney and u start with 2500 chips than 1 chip is a much larger percentage of your $100 buy in than 1 chip is to your buy in when u have lets say 10,500 chips and as far as taking more risk early on i agree because u can see more flops and chase more the 1st few blind levels when they are low than later in the game when blinds eat your stack more but i still think being selective is still important early on to get a large enough stack to get deeper into the tournament and mainly to get and have high chip leverage to be able to play more different ways later on in the tourney. Once again i am talking about it being worth more from a buy in value standpoint and not what the projected winnings could be if u placed or won.

Haha, point taken!

And yeah, I’m looking for general ways rings and tournies differ. I know they do, but never really looked into exactly why. Or rather, never came up with a general set of differences.

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Ok I basically agree with this too Florida… kinda.

You would like to be more selective when the blinds are a significant portion of your stack, but that’s usually the time when you can’t afford to be more selective too.

Yes, but either way u have to be selective from beginning till end and play well from beginning till end to win a high peep tourney, there is no room for error at any stage, that includes getting a very bad beat too that knocks u out. Every hand u play and decision u make has to be almost flawless, thats why theres only 1 person that wins 1st place, the player that had all that. Yes too as far as being more selective with very high blinds such as the final table but after u get to the point where u place at least then i think play opens up a bit more unless u are close to or the shortest stacked. In that situation u cant be more selective and are forced to be not as selective because the the high blinds are eating your whole stack at this point.

Think of rings in the case where u bring 100k to the table and if u lose it u are not allowed to bring more chips and your done. If that was the case Most good ring players would play more like tourney play every hand. There is all kinds of room for error in rings compared to tourneys, if any tourney is even remotely close to rings then it would be the re buy tourneys, during the re buy period u can play more ring style because in both of those u can bring more chips to the table, but even with the re buys you have to play tourney style when the re buy ends.

Again, I tend to mostly agree with this. Play does indeed open up after the cash bubble. It’s more of a “Whew, I made the money and am tired of folding, let’s get it in there,” mentality.

I base my styles and, to a certain extent, my ranges, on my current M-ratio. At M>20, you have the luxury of playing however you want, but at M<6, you have to find a spot and get them in the middle… you don’t have the option to be all that selective.

Note: M ratio is basically the number of orbits you will last if you just post the blinds and antes.