Poker cash games (or, ring games) are considered by many poker players to be the only “authentic” way to play the game. A lot of people feel that SNG’s and other tournament games leave far too much to chance. Even a beginning player can potentially find himself in the finals simply by coming out on top of a few key hands.
Cash game poker is different. Novices are typically blown out early if the table is filled with talented players. While the size of a person’s bankroll is hardly an indication of his (or her) proficiency, the ones who build their chip stack over time usually know what they’re doing.
On this page, we’re going to give you a roadmap for playing poker cash games. This is not meant to be a strategy guide. For that, we encourage you to go through our long list of poker strategy articles. Instead, we’re going to explain the different types of ring games you can play, how they vary from tournaments, and how the betting works. If you have yet to get started, this will give you a push in the right direction.
Let’s jump in.
Popular Types Of Poker Cash Games
By definition, any poker game that is not part of a tournament is considered a cash game. Under that umbrella, you’ll find several variations of poker with each one offered in different formats. Here are the most popular types of poker cash games:
You’ll find most (if not all) of the above games offered at the top online poker rooms, including Bodog Poker and PokerStars. Moreover, you’ll usually find them offered in limit, no-limit, and pot limit formats (we’ll describe these formats below).
How To Play Poker Cash Games
Real money is at stake during ring games. Once you make the buy in and take a seat, you’ll be pitting yourself and your bankroll against the other players. There’s no time limit on the table; players are allowed to come and go at their choosing. While each variation of poker is played a little differently, many of the rules are consistent.
Each hand begins with players (some or all) making a forced wager in the form of an ante or blind. The manner in which this is done varies by the type of ring game. For example, Texas Holdem requires the two players to the dealer’s left to contribute a small blind and big blind, respectively. Seven Card Stud requires every player to contribute an ante, and the person with the lowest face-up card to contribute an additional “bring-in.”
Ring Game-Specific Overviews
Texas Holdem is the most popular poker cash game played today. Each player receives two hole cards dealt face-down. Bets open with the player to the big blind’s left, and continue through several rounds as a series of 5 community cards (the flop, turn, and river) are dealt face-up. The final round of betting ends with the last remaining players building their best hands using any 5 cards from their 2 hole cards and 5 community cards. Read our in-depth article on Texas Holdem poker strategy to gain an upper hand on your competition.
Omaha and Omaha Hi-Lo follow the same small/big blind structure used in Texas Holdem. In fact, many of the rules are similar to holdem. Each player receives four hole cards face-down. This is followed by several rounds of betting as 5 community cards are dealt face-up. Players must use 2 hole cards and 3 community cards to make their hand. In Omaha Hi-Lo, the pot is split between the players with the highest-ranking and lowest-ranking hands. Check out our Omaha poker strategy articles to learn more.
Seven Card Stud uses the ante/bring-in system mentioned earlier. Once the ante has been posted, each player receives 2 hole cards face-down and a single “door card” face-up. The player with the lowest door card posts the bring-in. Several rounds of betting follow. After each of the first three rounds of betting, players receive an additional hole card dealt face-up. After the fourth round, each player receives a final hole card dealt face-down. A last round of betting is followed by a showdown between the remaining players. We have Seven Card Stud poker strategy pages to help you create your edge in this game.
Razz Poker is almost identical to Seven Card Stud. The main differences are the manner in which the bring-in is chosen, and how hands are ranked. In Razz Poker cash games, the player with the highest door card posts the bring-in (Aces are low). Hands are ranked according to an “Ace to Five” system. You can learn more about this system on our Razz Poker strategy article.
Five Card Draw is the simplest type of poker ring game. The game begins with a small/big blind contribution by the two players on the dealer’s left. Each player then receives 5 cards face-down. After an initial betting round, players can choose to exchange up to 5 cards for replacement cards. A second round of bets follows after which players show their hands. Check out our Five Card Draw strategy page.
Betting In Cash Ring Games
In each type of poker cash game, betting always progresses clockwise around the table. There are four types of bets that a player can make during each round of betting: call, check, raise, or fold. Here’s a synopsis of each type:
- Call – This means you are either matching a player’s bet or matching a raise.
- Check – This means you are betting zero. It essentially represents a decision not to bet. You cannot check if a non-zero bet has already been made.
- Raise – This means you are matching the current bet and making an additional bet. All other players must match your raise in order to stay in the hand.
- Fold – This means you are choosing to abandon your hand and by extension, the pot.
Fixed Limit, Pot-Limit, and No-Limit
We mentioned earlier that there are three formats that dictate the betting in each of the poker cash games described above: fixed limit poker, pot-limit poker, and no-limit poker. Here is a brief explanation regarding how each betting structure works:
- Fixed Limit Poker – This format usually allows one bet and up to 3 raises per betting round. Moreover, the first 2 betting rounds are held at the lower limit (i.e. $5 for a $5/$10 table). The second 2 betting rounds are held at the higher limit. Raises are usually limited to the size of the previous bet or raise.
- Pot-Limit Poker – This format is similar to fixed limit with one exception: your raise is limited by the pot amount (after you call the current bet). The pot includes all bets that are on the table including those made during the current round prior to your own.
- No-Limit Poker– This format is exactly as it sounds. There is seldom a limit on the number of raises made during each round of betting. Nor is there a limit on how much you can bet (though you cannot bet chips or money that are not on the table).
Ring Game Poker Versus Poker Tournaments
Cash poker games are an entirely different animal than poker tournaments. You’ll survive and thrive on your skills rather than luck. That’s not to suggest that ring games are better than tournaments. Both definitely have their place. In fact, you should invest the time to watch two of our Sit-N-Go strategy videos.
Having said that, there are important differences that are worth noting. First, poker cash games have no time limit. As mentioned earlier, you have the freedom to join a table and leave whenever you want (that’s not the case with tournaments).
Third, only a small percentage of tournament participants make any real money. If you can advance to the final table (and again, your best skills can be trumped by a lucky novice), you’ll profit. Otherwise, it’s a coin toss. In cash games, if you know what you’re doing, you can squeak out a healthy profit.