Is min-cashing a lot a sign of poker skill?

Is Chris Ferguson min-cashing his way to Player of the Year a huge feat of skill or a flawed way of judging poker tournament success?

Chris Ferguson WSOPE

The min-cash is making a comeback. Last week not only did Chris Ferguson win the WSOP Player of the Year because he set a record breaking number of min-cashes, we also reported on Park Yu Cheung breaking the record for most live cashes in a year at 62.

Not only did Ferguson break the record for most WSOP cashes in a year with 23, John Racener and Ryan Hughes were close behind him and would also set the new record had Ferguson not grabbed it. While this year’s POY scoring was controversial, it’s interesting to note Ferguson would have also won it had the WSOP used the Global Poker Index formula.

Putting their personal thoughts on Ferguson aside, a lot of people were begrudgingly respectful of his feat this year, acknowledging that cashing 23 times out of 82 potential events is a big deal. This is despite the fact that the min-cash is sometimes the subject of derision from tournament purists, suggesting to many of them with no wins is the sign of a nit (it was only at the very end Ferguson won a bracelet this year and he would have won the POY without the win).

Play to win

Park Yu Cheung poker
Park Yu Cheung

It is true that if you have a ton of min-cashes on your resume and few titles, you are probably doing something wrong. Almost everyone would agree it is better to brick more tournaments and win one now and then, than to cash frequently before the final table. This is because tournaments have a tremendously top heavy pay out structure and only usually the top three make big returns on their investment.

Ferguson banked $496,343 this year at the WSOP and when you consider he played a pretty full schedule and maybe swapped action, he may have made less than half of that in profit. Contrast that with one of the random winners of a $1,500 event (for example Anthony Marquez who won one for $393,273) and it is quite clear why playing for the win is the way to go in these events.

But while it is clearly not the optimal way to approach a tournament, it would also be wrong to say that there isn’t an element of skill involved in cashing that often. It’s just probably the wrong skill to use in that situation. I’d compare it to MMA, which in the early days we would often see fighters from boxing, Judo, kickboxing, karate and even things like Sumo wrestling. Some of whom would be very good at what they do and occasionally win impressively, but it is clear that the style to thrive in MMA is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

A different skill set, executed well

Scott Blumstein wsop main event 2017
Playing for the win is the way to go

Ferguson is like a boxer in the MMA Octagon, he has skills and they may even be good enough to overcome a stylistic disadvantage, but he is playing the wrong game. Min-cashing frequently is a survival skill, but tournaments are a game of chip accumulation. He executed a bad plan well, essentially. To be fair to Ferguson, I would imagine he purposely employed a tighter than usual strategy when it looked like he had a chance in the POY race, knowing how valuable min-cashes were in the scoring.

Had it been anybody else but Ferguson, I think the poker community might have really got behind a min-cashing Player of the Year. You’ll never see Phil Ivey or Daniel Negreanu brag about min-cashes, but they mean a lot to recreational players and it might have been a fun, quirky, feel good story that romanticised the min-cash a bit more. Still, whatever you think of him or the min-cash strategy, you have to begrudgingly tip your hat at the performance.

Is min-cashing a lot a sign of poker skill or deeply flawed? Let us know in the comments:

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Comments (5)

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  • silkkis


    Ofcourse min cashing is better that nothing :)
  • VorpalF2F


    "To be fair to Ferguson, I would imagine he purposely employed a tighter than usual strategy " Tighter than usual among WSOP players, or tighter than usual for Ferguson who is well known as a tight player?

    It is necessary to play in a manner that suits your stack, and the players at your table. Knowing how to do that is a skill.
  • Jordyvde


    IMO mincashing is something insanely undervalued by a lot of tournament players as in a lot of spots you get an instant 100% ROI
  • VorpalF2F


    Somebody in F1 once said "To finish first, you must first finish".
    In tournament poker, that means making it to the money. How you do it depends on your stack. So the first trick is to actually have a stack. If it is bigger than the other players' stacks, exploit that. If it is less, then watch for spots to increase it.
    I've been chip leader and watched my lead slip away being too cautious -- and it always seems to surprise me when short stacks bet/fold post flop
  • tonypmm


    Perhaps Chris played to cash solely for the POY vanity. not to maximise his earnings.