Terminology is a big part of the poker world and because another big part of the poker world is based strictly on the idea of tradition, terminology's importance in the poker world is not likely to change anytime soon. This means that you need to learn what all the different parts of the game not strictly related to the rules are all about and one of the first things you should make an effort to learn if you want to be successful as a poker player is the difference between ring games and poker tournaments.
Ring games are also sometimes known as cash games and they are basically what poker has been about since the dawn of its history. Ring games are where you exchange your money for chips, sit down at the table and then play with your own money and therefore potentially lose your own money as well. A number of poker players, professionals even, regard ring game poker as the only pure form of the game because ring game poker and in particular high stakes ring game poker is the only type of poker where you can put it all on the line and therefore theoretically the hardest decisions that you ever make about what to do with hands are going to come in those ring games where so much is riding on your decision.
There is no question that ring games pose a much bigger financial threat to you than poker tournaments do, but at the same time you will find that a lot of the less savory characters you encounter will be at ring games because they tend to be less policed than poker tournaments, especially if they happen to be outside of the casino setting. However, the biggest rushes you have are likely to be in ring games and the most popular poker series of all time, High Stakes Poker, utilizes the ring game format.
Tournaments are a newer form of poker that can date their history back to the original World Series of Poker more than 30 years ago. The tournament form of poker has quickly gained steam and nowadays you can expect to find thousands of people playing in a tournament where just a couple of decades ago there would only have been hundreds. Most of the television programs you will see that deal with poker deal with the tournament form of the poker game and when people really tend to talk about the big wins that they had in poker, they are usually talking about entering a tournament for a relatively small buy-in and parlaying that buy-in into a gigantic prize for finishing within the money or even in the top three of the poker tournament.
Tournament poker is a lot more stable than ring game poker, because if you bust out of a tournament you only lose your buy-in rather than your shirt. It is a lot easier to regulate loss and manage your bankroll in tournament poker and it also allows you to play no limit poker variants without fearing for a large monetary loss. However, many players will argue that tournament poker, because of the structure and the stability that it provides, is a less fun version of the game. To really decide what you feel about this, you need to play. Play both cash games and tournaments (both forms are available at every major poker website) and decide for yourself which ones you think are better.