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Heads Up Cash Games vs. Heads Up Sit and Gos

Once you have made the decision to play heads poker, than it is time to figure out which variation you want to play - heads up cash or heads up SNGs.

It's an important decision to make because the differences between the two are far from subtle. How much profit you see, the swings you experience and the strategies necessary in order to succeed will all be different.

Main Differences Between Heads Up Cash & Heads Up SNGs

This article will focus on the main differences between heads up cash and SNGs so that your decision will be an easier one to make.

The Rake

You'll find that the rake you pay is going to be quite a bit different between HU SNGs and cash games.

SNGs, for example, will have the one time fee when you register for the game. If you play $5 SNGs, you'll only have to pay the $.50 (or whatever it may be) fee once for the entire tournament.

This is unlike cash games where you pay rake whenever a flop is seen. If you were to play 10nl HU cash, you'll end up paying approximately as much as $.25 for every $10 in the pot. $.25 seems like a bargain to a comparable stake SNG ($5) with a $.50 fee, but keep in mind that you will contribute money to the rake for as long as you're playing. So, that $.25 will eventually turn into $.50, then into $1 and so on.

So in short, you'll likely pay more in rake in a HU cash games than you will in a HU SNG. This will be the case until you move up to higher stakes where the rake is capped in a cash game and the rake in a HU SNG doesn't generally exceed the $100 mark (buy-ins of $5k+).


Although you might pay more in rake in a heads up cash game than you would in a SNG, you still stand to make more in a cash game than a SNG at any given time. In a SNG, you can only win the other player's buy-in whereas in a cash game you can win your opponent's buy-in and then win it again if they choose to reload - with no further investment on your part. So you could say that paying more rake in order to win more money is a worthwhile tradeoff to play HU cash.

On the other hand, it's important to remember that although you can win more money in cash, you can lose just as much. After all, you have to risk money in order to win it. So you're likely to experience larger swings in a cash game than you would in a SNG. You need to decide if that is something that you can handle and want to deal with.

Bankroll Needed

If you're going to experience larger swings in a cash game in comparison to a SNG, than it would only make sense that you would want a larger bankroll.

For cash games, it's suggested by Gugel on that you have 40 buy-ins or more. If you played 100nl, you would need a roll of $4,000. He mentions that he has experienced swings as big as 25 buy-ins. So, 40 buy-ins would give you some breathing room.

This is a little different from SNGs where it is suggested that you have anywhere from 10 to 50 buy-ins. Brokerstar actually suggests that you can play with as few as 10 buy-insdepending on the stakes you play and your willingness to move down if you go on a downswing. That means you would only need $1,000 to play $100 SNGs compared to $4k for 100nl cash. Granted, $1000 (or 10 buy-ins) for that high of level SNG is probably a bit thin, but you could even bump the roll up to 25 buy-ins and only need $2,500.

Simply put, you're going to want a deeper roll to play cash than you would need if you were to play HU SNGs. You want to be able to reload or top off as necessary as well as be able to handle the larger swings.

Difference in Strategy

The strategies that you employ between the two HU variations are going to be different as well. This is due to a couple of reasons.

One, in heads up SNGs you have increasing blinds whereas in cash you do not. As time goes on in a SNG, the blinds will get bigger which will leave you with fewer opportunities to play post flop and eventually force you to resort to a push/fold game.

Secondly, you have the ability to reload in a cash game which in turn may also create a deep stack dynamic. This is unlike a SNG where you're given "xxx" or "x,xxx" number of chips and once they're gone, they're gone. Not only that, but you'll hardly ever find yourself in a situation where you're 200bbs+ deep in a SNG (unless you play a deep stacked game) because there are a fixed number of chips in play in addition to the fact that the blinds are always rising.

So in cash games, you'll want to be sure that you're comfortable with 100bb+ strategy and in SNGs, you'll need to be familiar with 10 to 100bb strategy.


Ok, so with all of this being said, what should you play? Should you play HU cash or HU SNGs?

In my opinion, it boils down to the bankroll you have now, how you manage your bankroll and how you deal with swings. If you are risk averse and/or have a difficult time dealing with swings or tilt, than it might be in your best interest to play SNGs. However, if you are able to handle swings, have the bankroll and the skills to drop down as necessary, than you'll likely benefit more financially (assuming you're +EV) to play HU cash.

More Heads Up Poker Strategy
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