The Top 7 Factors to Consider When Choosing Which Poker Variant and Format to Play

By Grzegorz Bochniak
September 28, 2018

At the starting point of a poker career, the fundamental decision one must make is which variant to choose and format to focus on. Although at the highest level diversity and proficiency in all poker variants is key to success in today’s poker world, aiming to specialize in multiple types of poker from the very beginning doesn’t seem to be an optimal path. Therefore, I recommend picking one game for starters to focus your efforts on, and only later on progressing to hopefully become a master of many different types and formats of poker.

If one of your priorities in poker is to make money, here are the top seven factors to consider before choosing the type at which you will develop your skills.

1. Availability

A main underlying factor when choosing a game is traffic (a.k.a., liquidity). Maybe at home game your friend showed you an exciting niche wild card game poker variant and it became your favorite. But what if there are no online poker rooms or casinos near you that offer this game?

The most popular type of poker today is No Limit Hold’em and it doesn’t seem that’ll change anytime soon. Another variant with a decent number of running games is Pot Limit Omaha. All other variants offer very few or even no games. On the other hand, usually the less popular the variant is, the less competitive it is. Therefore, you can still make a good deal of money in some of niche games, but be sure not to choose any of them before analyzing carefully the number of recreational players and available tables, how widespread study materials for the game are, and their predicted future.

2. Profitability

How much money you can make is probably an aspect that came to mind. On the face of things, there aren’t huge differences in profitability of most popular poker variants and formats. You can make a comfortable living in both NLHE and PLO, either in cash games, online MTTs, or Spin & Goes. Sit and Goes are a slightly below average today but you can still earn loads of money grinding them.

I would not encourage you to try playing live tournaments professionally because unless you are a top player in the world you are not likely to make more money than in online MTTs there. You just can’t take part in too many live tournaments, and there is extreme variance to overcome. Plus, there are also the additional ancillary costs to overcome when playing live poker. If you prefer to play live, in my opinion, cash games are a more appealing choice.

3. Flexibility

Flexibility is without a doubt a big advantage that cash games, Spin & Goes and Sit N’ Gos have over MTTs. Unlike in other games, in MTTs you are “chained to your chair”, meaning that you will often have to play many hours straight with just few very short breaks.

4. Variance

Is having an income almost as steady as in a fixed-salary job important to you? Consider No Limit Hold’em cash games. Would you rather handle more risk and bigger swings in exchange for spectacular scores from time to time? Then consider tournaments of all variants and PLO cash games.

The more variance is involved, the more sizable bankroll you need. On the other side, in more swingy formats, there is a rich staking culture, therefore, it is usually easier to find a backer.

5. Complexity

Deep stack cash games and tournaments have a more compound strategy than “shallow” formats, like Spin & Goes or turbo SnGs. The high complexity can be both a pro and a con. A more complicated strategy is obviously tougher to learn but if you’ll become really good, your edge over other regs will be much more significant in more difficult formats. What’s more, in my opinion, it is way easier to make the transition later on from complex formats to simpler than vice versa.

6. Competition

With the many advantages of cash games already mentioned, the level and number of competitors is their noticeable drawback. The reg-to-fish ratio is way better in Spin & Gos and MTTs. With the high complexity of cash games, you need to be aware that if you are a beginner it can take you a lot of time to become at least as good as an average reg.

In fact, failing to accurately assess your competition in a given variant or format might end up being classified as a hilarious casino fail, at least to your opponents, who will be laughing all the way to the bank with your money.

7. Excitement

If you play poker mainly for money, does fun and excitement of the games matter at all? For most people, the more they enjoy something, the more they are likely to succeed in it, and they feel simply happier.

It is said that the most exciting feeling in poker is to win a tournament for a huge payout. The added adrenaline doesn’t mean that tournament-type formats will be definitely the most attractive for you but many players prefer them over cash games for this reason alone.

What’s more, if you wish to try and become a well-known poker player, MTTs are the best way to go, while cash games give you an opportunity to become a “silent” millionaire. The best you can do is just to figure out in practice what you enjoy the most.

Final Thoughts

Before making a decision as to what poker variants and formats to play, I strongly encourage you to analyze factors from this list, especially those which matter to you the most. Even more important is to check different variants and formats in practice. Experiment until you find your beloved game. Good luck!



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Grzegorz Bochniak poker author
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Grzegorz Bochniak

Grzegorz Bochniak is a passionate poker player from Kraków, Poland. He first got into the game in 2011 and absolutely fell in love with it. In particular, both the mathematical and psychological aspects of it were interesting for him. Aside from poker, Grzegorz’s interests include sports, psychology, and travelling. After completing his B.S. degree in […]


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