Poker games can be played in either cash or tournament format. While the rules for the games are the same, the strategies involving cash and tournament play are vastly different.
Cash games, also called ring games are played with chips that are valued the same as the currency used to buy-in with. For instance, a $1 chip is worth $1, a $500 chip is worth $500, and so on. In most cash games, there are rules set by the poker room that have minimum and maximum amounts that a player can buy-in at. A first buy-in is your original stake at a cash table. Players may add more to their stack if they lose, this is the practice of rebuying. However, a player must wait until the hand is over to do so. If a player wins money in a cash game, he may not remove that money from his stack until he gets up from the table. For example, if a player sits down with $500 and wins a $250 pot, he may not take any money from his stack until he decides to get up from the table. Cash games are also raked per pot, and blinds are always the same amount. There is also no predetermined amount of time that a cash game is played, and players can freely sit and get up as they please. Cash games can be played with anywhere from two to ten players. The style of play for each player may change depending on the amount of players, and it is up to player to make adjustments to how many opponents are in the game.
All online poker rooms offer cash games which are are the true lifeblood of the poker. Stakes and offered games may vary from site to site a little bit. For example if you want to play juicy cash games with plenty of weak players you should definitely check out WSOP website. Their poker games are known for good action and full of bad players.
Tournament poker is different from cash games, as players buy-in paying a fixed amount and a tournament fee, and begin with a set number of tournament chips. These chips have no cash value, and tournament winnings are dependent on the place of finish. If a player is eliminated without making the money, he loses his buy-in and comes away empty handed. Tournament poker can be played with as little as two players, a heads-up tournament, or as many as thousands, multi-table tournaments, and of course everything in between. There are many different forms of tournament play. Blinds increase as the tournament progresses forcing players to make moves or get "blinded out". Many tournaments also have antes at the later stages.
The most popular type of tournament is a freeze out or knockout tournament. When a player is eliminated, the table shrinks. These types of tournaments will keep the tournament play fair by having all the tables play with a consistent number of players with similar chip stacks. Players will move from table to table, with the tables, not in use being eliminated from the tournament. At the end of the tournament, players are seated at one last table known as the final table of the tournament.
Rebuy or add-on tournaments are also common, these allow players to rebuy back into the tournament if they are eliminated or add chips to their stack.
Sit N' go are usually single table tournaments that have a fixed buy-in and prize pool. They can have many options, such as turbos and bounties. Turbos are quicker, and blind levels increase faster, forcing players to play more aggressive. Bounties allow players to get extra money for eliminating their opponents.
Multi-table tournaments, often abbreviated as MTTs are large field tournament that often have thousands of players. Many have set prize pools, but payouts are normally based on the number of entrants. Top prizes in larger MTTs can be in the hundreds of thousands, or even into the millions of dollars.
Tournament vs. Cash games
Even though cash games and tournaments have the same rules, at times they play entirely differently. A play that is nearly automatic for players in a tournament cause be terribly dangerous in a cash game. They both have their ins and outs, and rarely are players experts in both. Developing a solid strategy for both types of play is extremely valuable to your long term success in poker.