Poker Cash Game Tips

Long before the World Series of Poker made tournaments popular, cash games were the lifeblood of poker. Many of our players at Bodog Poker still choose the cash tables over tournaments, or even better, they play both games to keep their portfolios balanced. If you’ve been thinking about playing cash poker at Bodog, or you’re looking to improve your results, we’ll help you get started with this simple guide to online poker cash games.

Before we look at some of the finer points of poker cash game strategy, it’s important to recognize the differences between cash poker and tournaments. The key difference is how the prizes are doled out; in a cash game, every hand has a winner, and the chips you collect are worth face value – you can leave the game at any time and cash out. In a tournament, the chips don’t have the same monetary value. You buy in for a pre-set amount, and you need to last long enough (usually the Top 10-20% of players) before you can collect a prize, with the biggest prize going to the winner.

That difference in payouts is enough to make cash game strategy a bit different than tournament strategy. We’ll show you how to play poker cash games like a boss; we’ll even throw in a beginner’s guide to bluffing that will help you navigate the cash tables while you’re still learning how to play poker the right way. Let’s dive right in with the trickiest hands you’ll encounter at any table.

What to Do With Medium-to-Weak Hands

Many of the decisions you’ll face in cash poker are quite easy. You’ll fold a lot of really bad hands, and you’ll usually bet or raise with your really good hands. It’s the stuff in between that can get you in trouble. Here’s the good news: When you have a marginal made hand, like second or third pair in Texas Hold’em, the reason it can be hard to choose among raising, calling or folding is because neither option gives you much added value over the others.

With that in mind, as a newer player, consider folding anytime you face one of these marginal situations. By folding, you make the game simpler to play, helping you avoid larger mistakes on later streets after you’ve bloated the pot. This conservative style might leave a little money on the table, but that’s a price worth paying when you’re still learning the ropes; pop psychology says its twice as important to minimize mistakes than it is to “make the right play” every time. Save the thin value bets and hero calls for when you’re more advanced at cash poker.

What to Do With Strong Hands

Poker gets a lot easier when you’ve been dealt a stronger hand. Generally speaking, when you’ve got something good, you should bet, hoping that your opponents will call (or raise) with something worse. That’s “value betting” in a nutshell. There may be times in a poker tournament when you don’t want to put too much money in with a medium-strong hand, but at the cash tables, you can go ahead and put your whole stack in if you think you have the edge on your opponents – even a 52/48 flip like pocket Deuces versus Ace-King will be highly profitable in the long run.

As a beginner, betting with stronger hands will also keep things simple by encouraging your opponents to fold their draws, thus denying them the chance of making a better hand than yours on a later street. This will also open up the opportunity to run some bluffs, as we’ll discuss in a moment.

What to Do With Premium Hands

The best feeling in poker is when you’ve got the nuts – the best hand possible. In Texas Hold’em, that would be pocket Aces preflop; if the flop comes out with three Spades, you’ll have the nuts if you started with two Spades including the Ace. With premium hands like these, you’ll almost always want to bet (or raise) when you’re at the cash tables.

There’s one exception: If your opponent is very unlikely to call your bet. This can happen on a low flop like Seven-Seven-Five, when you’ve got Seven-Five in your hand for a Full House. Especially if you’re first to act, you might want to check instead and give your opponent a chance to bluff. If they check back instead, maybe they’ll hit a card on the turn (like an Ace) that gives them a Pair that you still beat. Again, as a beginner, you might want to keep things simple by always betting when you have the nuts, but keep this slower play in mind anytime you have the board “locked down.”

When to Bluff

Now we come to the trickier stuff. If you want to make a profit in poker, you can often get away with betting only for value at the smaller stakes, counting on weaker players to call you and hand over their money. However, if you want to crack the best poker cash games at the higher limits, you’ll need to bluff a certain percentage of the time, and get your opponents to fold hands that are stronger than yours.

The key to a good bluff is to make it look exactly the same as a value bet. Preflop, you should be 3-betting with hands like suited Aces and suited connectors in certain spots, using the same bet size you would if you had pocket Aces. Post-flop, you’ll find situations where you can pretend to have the nuts because your opponent is less likely to have it – maybe you have a “blocker” in your hand, like the aforementioned Ace of spades (but nothing else) on a board with three spades. As you get better at poker, you’ll recognize these opportunities more quickly, and know when to pounce.

When not to Bluff

That doesn’t mean you should take every bluffing opportunity that comes your way. Beginners should use this play sparingly, and they should do it only when they have a strong drawing hand, one that can make a Straight or Flush in case your opponent doesn’t fold. Do not attempt to bluff opponents who have already shown you they like to call down a lot, or raise you willy-nilly. And don’t try to bluff good players until you have some more experience at the cash tables; remember, avoiding expensive mistakes is more important to you right now than running sick bluffs.

What to Do Heads-Up

Heads-up poker only happens on rare occasions in tournament play, and not at all in cash poker – unless you’re specifically playing at a heads-up table, or you and your opponent are the only players seated at a larger table. This can be a daunting situation if you’re new to poker. At a “full ring” 9-handed cash table, you might end up playing in something like 15-20% of the hands that get dealt, and you’ll usually have something good to start with. In heads-up Hold’em, you might open or call 90% of the time, even with hands like Seven-Three off-suit.

Because of this, we recommend you start with full-ring cash poker before working your way to 6-max tables, then short-handed games and heads-up. It’s important down the road to learn how to play all these games, but learning is a gradual process, so work your way through that process at your own pace – without risking too much of your hard-earned bankroll.


There was a time when the simple check-raise was considered verboten at the cash tables – or at least very rude. It can still put your opponents on tilt, but there’s definitely a time and a place for this powerful weapon when you play online at Bodog Poker. For example, you can check-raise when you have a medium-strong hand and you’re worried your opponent will fold if you bet. Or you can check-raise as a bluff, which will work even better when your opponent is in late position with a wide range of possible starting hands. Finding the right blend of the two is what smart poker is all about.

Know Your Table Position

Position means two things in poker: What seat you’re in, and whether you act first or not. Learning both is absolutely essential. If you’re at a 9-handed table, you should know all the names of the different positions, from “under the gun” all the way around to the small blind and big blind. This will help you follow along with the action and make the right plays based on what seat you’re in.

The second meaning of position is just as important. If you’re “in position,” that means you get to act last, and acting last is a big advantage in poker. The button (the seat to the right of the small blind) is the most important seat at the poker table because you’ll always be in position post-flop. Be aware of your position at all times, act accordingly, and success will follow. Best of luck at the cash tables.

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