A Quick Guide to Poker Formats (part 1)

20 Jan
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Ever feel overwhelmed by choice? The modern online poker player really does suffer from an embarrassment of riches when it comes to game choice in the online scene, and we’re here to help you narrow down your options (as well as your opponent’s range). 

In this instalment in the guide series we’ll walk you through all of the most popular forms of poker being played today, and indicate which of these are available across multiple types of poker beyond No Limit Hold’em. We’ll also dip into some variants within each format, where applicable. 

Our aim in this piece is to give you the very best start in choosing which formats to settle on for your own grind, so in each case we’ll try to give you a thorough sense of the pros and cons of each one for your average grinder. 

Cash Game Poker

Let’s start as simple as it comes with cash games. These are the original deal, games where you can sit down and stand up as you wish, there’s a minimum and maximum buy-in, blinds are fixed and chips is chips, what you sit down with is what you play with. 

Typically players will sit with 100bbs, so for a $1/$2 blinds cash game, you’d usually sit with $200. This is the max at many cash game tables. 

The minimum buy-in for cash tables tends to range from 20-50bbs, and short stackers are often frowned upon as they will often “hit and run” a table by doubling up and then leaving. 

Deepstack cash game (200bb+) is the most complex form of poker out there, and is available on some sites, as are capped tables where only short-stacks may play. 

A popular format within cash is zoom, or fast-fold poker, in which players are entered into pools and reseated on a new table with players from that pool as soon as they’ve folded their hand. This makes for much faster play and many more hands per hour. 

Zoom tables are often capped at 4 maximum, but grinders of regular speed cash tables have been known to play anywhere between 6-24 cash games at a time.

Rake is an important consideration in cash game poker, and rakeback is a big component of regulars’ income at the tougher games (rake is also generally higher in the lowest stakes). See our poker sites review page for more info on how we can help secure the best rakeback deals.

Six-max is now surely the most popular form of cash game online, although you will also find games running Heads-up (2-handed), 8-handed, and 9-handed. 

Cash games available online span a huge range of buy-ins, from $0.01/$0.02 games where you would sit with $2 for 100bbs, up to $5/$10 where you’d sit with $1,000 for 100bbs and even higher stakes running at times on certain sites.

Cash games are available on certain sites in almost any format including 8-game, but the most popular by far is NLHE, followed by PLO. You can also find various variants, in particular Omaha Hi-Lo and NL 6+ are somewhat popular on certain sites.

Another twist you might find on certain apps is a straddle, which is a third blind (twice the size of the big blind), or certain games running with antes of different sizes. This tends to boost the aggression of the action in-game, since there’s more to be won in the middle. 

Cash game play is well-suited to anyone who likes to study the intricacies of postflop poker, who wants to work with a bankroll of around 50 buy-ins, who likes the prospect of putting in hundreds of thousands of hands of play as they progress up the stakes, who wants to play against tougher opponents as they progress and who prefers to play poker in instalments of a few hours at a time. 

The main benefits of cash game poker are the low variance relative to other formats, the significance of rakeback for your bottom line, and the convenience of the flexible hours it offers. The main downside is that it is relatively tough compared to some other formats, and that some players find it less engaging due to always playing at the same stack depth.

Tournament Poker

Tournament poker subdivides into several formats, but first a word about the overall grouping. Tournaments are essentially any game into which you enter with a fixed buy-in amount for which you receive chips, and then cannot exchange these chips for real money again until you place in the tournament. The blinds go up in fixed increments at fixed time intervals, forcing players to elimination as stacks become shorter in big blinds. 

outs usually go to roughly the top 12-18% of finishers, or up to 30% in the case of small sit and go tournaments (SNGs) of 6-9 players. In big field multi-table tournaments (MTTs), the lion’s share of the payouts goes to the top three finishers, making for a game format with extremely high variance but potentially life-changing reward.

Multi-table Tournaments (MTTs)

Because of the huge prize money on offer tournament poker, particularly big field MTTs, have remained one of the softest poker formats in existence online, and will likely be the softest remaining format in the future, aside from new formats which may emerge which no-one yet knows how to play or study. 

ICM is a model used to estimate the relative value of different stack sizes in terms of their potential to cash for different amounts in the payout structure. 

Multi-table tournament (MTT) poker is well-suited to anyone who loves the thrill of a deep run and attempting to come out on top despite the long odds, who is interested in studying different ranges needed for different stack depths, is interested in how the payouts affect ranges, who is prepared to play for long sessions of 8-10 hours or more and who is able to stand the psychological pressure of huge variance and big down and up swings. 

The main benefits of MTT poker are the softness of the games, the interest value of the dynamic nature, with stack depths changing often, and the sheer fun of taking a big title in a headline event. Naturally the big payouts on offer for the top spots are a major draw as well. 

The main downsides of MTT poker are the crushing swings possible in a format with very high variance, and the sheer time outlay required.

MTTs tend to run for NLHE and PLO, but rarely for other formats except during major series. 

Some MTTs are freezeouts, meaning you cannot re-enter if you bust out. Some are re-entry, and allow either a fixed or unlimited number of re-entries within the late registration period. Others are rebuys, meaning usually that you can buy in for multiple stacks at the start, and at several points during the late registration period, as well as adding on chips at the end of that period, for an additional fee. 

Now you’re well equipped to play almost anything, what will you choose? Let us know over at our PokerDeals Discord!

 

by Lucky Luke

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