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Winning Single Table Sit-n-go Strategy

Sit and Go Poker Strategy


Sit-n-Go's (SNG's) are highly popular poker tournaments, especially online. SNG's start as soon as a fixed number of players have joined the tournament. On most sites, there are one-table SNG's with six or ten players. Most pokerrooms offer multi-table SNG's as well. Full Tilt Poker offers nine player SNG's instead of the more common ten player Sit-n-Go-tournaments.

This article focusses on single table No Limit Texas Holdem Sit-n-Go's, but most concepts apply to other variants and scheduled tournaments as well. This article teaches a Tight Aggressive strategy.

The fundamental difference between Sit-n-Go & Cash Games

This is the most important concept a SNG player should understand. In a normal poker game, the chips in a pot have a certain fixed value. With pot odds, you can calculate the expected outcome of a call in the long run. For example, if you have a 20% chance to hit your flush, ofcourse you don't want to call for more than 20% of the pot size (unless you are pretty certain you can extract extra money from your opponent when you hit).

This is fundamentally different in a Sit-n-Go. Not all chips in a SNG are worth the same. The less chips you have, the more each individual chip is worth. Let me explain this in the following example ($11 dollar SNG, 10 players, Payout for top three: $50-$30-$20 dollar). We assume that all players have the same skill level. Therefore, everyone can expect a return of 10$ (one dollar goes to the house).

In the first hand of the tournament, the small blind (SB) raises to 200 chips, and the big blind (BB) reraises all-in. The SB calls and shows two jacks. The BB holds Ace King suited. The SB's jacks hold up, and the big blind is eliminated. The SB now has double the amount of chips, but his Expected Return did not double, because part of the expected return of the eliminated player went to the other players. The new situation is something like this:

Without doing anything, player 3 - 10 saw their expected return going up! Ofcourse, the totals are still the same.

Let's say the Small Blind knew that the Big Blind had Ace King. In a normal cash game, his call is mathematically correct: the pot is 200+1500=1700, and he has to call only 1300 more for a 50% chance on winning the pot. In a SNG, this is a less profitable move, since the chips he earned are worth less than the chips he could lose.

Early Blinds Play

Because of the 'Chips are not money' concept, you don't want to risk you chips early in a SNG. Use your time wisely by watching your opponents. Try to determine who plays very loose, who calls all the time without showing agression (the 'calling-station') and who plays tight. You will need this information later in the game.

During the early stages of a SNG, there are two types of hands you should want to play.

  • Monster hands
  • Speculative hands in favorable conditions

Monster hands

In the beginning of a tournament, monster hands are AA, KK, QQ and AKsuited. Your goal should be to pick up the blinds or see the flop with one or two players. On most tables, this is achieved by betting 3 to 4 times the size of the big blind, plus one for every caller (because every caller makes the pot bigger, generating better odds for players behind you). On a very loose table, you might deside to bet more pre-flop.

If someone reraises you, you should usually let AKs go. It's not worth risking your tournament life early on. With QQ, I would call and wait for the flop, and I'd reraise with Kings or Aces. Some poker players advocate to fold pocket kings when reraised as well, but at the low-limit games I don't agree. Too often you will find someone reraising with tens or ace king. Yes, once in a while, you will stumble upon pocket aces, but this happens so rarely that you shouldn't worry about it to much.

After the flop, it is important that you let your cards go if the flop doesn't improve your hand and someone shows serious strength. If the texture of the flop doesn't look too dangerous and you are up against a single opponent, you can choose to place a continuation bet of about half the pot. When you get a call, you should be able to let the hand go if you don't improve on the turn.

Speculative hands in favorable conditions

Speculative hands don't have much strenght on their own. They need help of the board. Examples are suited connectors (which can improve to a straight or flush) and small pocket pairs (which can improve to three of a kind or a full house).

When there are several limpers and you are in late position (which means there are less people behind you who might deside to raise), you can deside to call with some pocket pairs (66 or higher) and suited connectors (78s or higher). If someone raises after your call, just fold.

If the flop doesn't help you, always fold. Don't try to bluff early in a SNG, the reward is not worth the risk. If the flop gives you a very good draw, and the odds look good, you might consider calling a small raise. Remember, you need better odds early in a SNG than in a cash game. If the flop hits you big time, play aggressive. Usually in this situation, there are a lot of players on the flop, and you don't want to give opponents a free card which might make their hand better than yours. Bet between 75% and 100% of the pot.

Middle Blinds Play

As soon as the blinds reach 50-100, you should try to pick up pots from time to time. If everyone folds towards you on the button (the position immediately right to the SB), try to steal the blinds if you have an above average hand (a suited ace or king, medium pocket pair, two suited high cards, suited connectors). But don't commit too much of your stack, it's important that you are able to let the hand go (preflop) if the SB or BB makes a reraise.

Speculative hands are usually not very profitable during this stage. Look at the following hand carefully. We assume that no player has been eliminated yet.

You are on the button with pocket sevens. One player with pocket nines limps in, and you deside to call. About 1 in 7 times, you will hit your set.

Imagine the hand at the 10-20 blinds stage: the blinds put 30 in the pot, and the limper 20. You pay 20 for a pot of 50. You hit a set 1 in 7 times. To make this play profitable, you have to extract 90 additional chips after the flop on average when you hit your set.

Imagine the hand at the 50-100 blinds stage: the blinds put 150 in the pot, and the limper 100. You pay 100 for a pot of 250. You hit a set 1 in 7 times. To make this play profitable, you have to extract 450 additional chips after the flop on average when you hit your set.

Conclusion: Stop playing speculative hands in the middle stages.

High Blind Play: The bubble

The biggest difference between average and great players is the ability to adjust playing styles correctly during different stages of the game. On the bubble, you should loosen up and become more aggressive. There are three reasons for loosening up:

  • By playing tight, you might hit the money a little more often, but this are usually just third place finishes. The real cash is won by finishing first or second. Playing aggressive means getting knocked out before the money a little more, but a bigger reward when you hit the money.
  • In poker, it is always profitable to play the opposite style as your opponents. On a loose table, waiting for a big hand will pay out. On a tight table, stealing pots is very lucrative. The usual bubble table is tight, because most players are afraid to get knocked out.
  • Because you didn't play many hands in earlier rounds, your image is tight. Opponents will think twice before they call a bet from a tight player.

In this stage, limping and small bets are over. It usually is a game of pre-flop all-in shoves and folds. Use your stack to your advantage and try to pick up pots. Bluffstealing blinds is very lucrative. It's important to choose who to steal from. Don't try to steal from very big stacks, because they can knock you out. Also, very short stacks might just call and hope for the best. Therefore, people with average stacks are the best to steal from. Imagine the following situation, with four players left, and blinds of 300-600:

Imagine you are in the small blind with Queen Six ofsuit. Player four folds. Because there is a player with less than 2 Big Blinds left, the SB and BB don't want to take the risk to get knocked out. Therefore, this is a perfect opportunity to make a big re-raise pre-flop, even with a hand like Queen Six.

So attack the middle stacks as soon as you get the chance on the bubble.

Be carefull with calling big raises from other players, especially if they can really damage your stack. Only call when:

  • you have a real big hand (high pocket pair), or
  • The player which goes all-in is short-stacked, you only have to add a few extra chips and your hand is above average. Even in this case, be carefull, you don't want to help a small stack by doubling his chips.

Sometimes, you will get shortstacked yourself. You are in a dangerous position when you have less than 5 BB left. If this is the case, you should shove with almost any hand pre-flop in any uncontested pot (suited cards or hands with a single face card are good enough). If you wait to long, your stack will shrink so much that people will call any bet from you. With five big blinds, you still have so called fold-equity (there is a real chance your opponents will lay their cards down after your raise). In case someone does call, you might still hit the board and double up.

It is difficult to determine which cards are in the long run just good enough to shove, and which are not profitable. As you advance to higher limits, you might consider reading an article about the Independent Chip Model. This is a mathematical model which calculates the outcome of a SNG shove in the long run, not in chips but in real money. There is software on the market which helps you optimising your bubble play using this model.

Heads-up Play

The difference in profit between the second and first place is as big as the difference between the tenth and the third place. Therefore it is very important to work on your heads-up skills. I could write a book about heads-up strategy, but let's keep it short and to the point.

  • The most important aspect heads-up is position. You have a huge advantage in the small blind, because you are the first to make a move pre-fop, and have position after the flop. Raise preflop with almost any hand in the small blind.
  • Agression is the key. By calling, you can only win with the best hand. By raising, you can win with the best hand or when your opponent gives up.
  • Another important factor to remember is: because there is only one other player, your pre-flop raising requirements go down dramatically. Most flops miss most hands, and most of the time also your opponents hand. So the continuation bet on the flop becomes an important tool.

With the use of this article, you should be able to develop a profitable poker strategy, especially at the lower limits. If you want to try out Sit-n-Go's, I recommend you to try one of our sponsorship packages. We offer poker sponsorships to all poker players.

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This article is written in Poker Strategy.