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Basic Sit and Go Tournament Strategy

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Basic Sit and Go Tournament Strategy

Sit and Go (SNG) tournaments are small poker tournaments that start when enough players join them. Currently they are really popular in the online poker world and are available with different buy-in levels, from a few dollars to thousands.

This article is about the basic strategy a player should follow in SNGs and it shows how strategy changes depending on the stage of the one-table tournament.

We will see the differences between SNG strategy and the strategy used in cash games, plus the four stages of a SNG tournament and common opponent mistakes.

SNG tournament strategy and cash game strategy

Cash game and SNG strategy have two main differences:

  1. The connection between the size of stacks and the increasing blind levels in Sit and Go tournaments.
  2. How profits are made and the link between chip value and equity.

In general, cash game poker players tend to play with ‘deep stacks’ compared to the blinds. As a result, betting will take place during a hand, which will give you time to evaluate how strong your opponent’s holdings are. Although SNG strategy starts with deep stacks, not long after the stacks become shallow compared to the blinds, usually ten times the blind or even less.

In SNG gaming has to do with ranges of hands as opposed to distinct hands. The most favorable play is to make the most out of mathematical advantages against the range of hands the other players will use to call or raise. Although SNGs may seem a low skill version of hold’em poker to those poker players who usually play cash games, poker players who are used to play with ranges and prize pool equity will have a major advantage.

In cash games your chips always have the same value, that is their dollar value, but in SNG tournaments the value of the chips will change in the different stages. The cause of this is that the player who ends up winning all the chips will not win all of the prize money.

In general, SNGs pay 50% for 1st place, 30% for 2nd place and 20% for 3rd place. For example, in case 10 players take part in a $10 SNG and start with 1,000 chips each chip will be worth 1 cent when the game starts.

When the game ends the winner will hold 10,000 chips but he’ll win $50, that is to say that each chip is worth 0.5c. Knowing that the value of chips changes and being aware of the mathematics of prize pool equity is mainly important at the bubble.

The different stages of SNG tournaments

Early stage

Solid poker and tight poker are the main features of the early stages of SNGs. Besides, blinds are small and stacks are deep. Fold equity, a mid-game dynamic, is the main reason why tight play is best in the early stages of SNG. Players play tight in the early stages to make sure they have enough chips for the middle stages.

Middle stage

SNGs become more aggressive as the blinds get higher and the number of players begins to fall. The main characteristics of middle stages are stealing blinds, raises and re-raises. When you are in a cash game your success does not depend on stealing your blind but in SNGs this defense is critical, as much as the ability to steal chips from the other players by threatening them with elimination.

Late stage (also known as bubble)

This is the most strategic part in a SNG tournament because players tend to push all in while their opponents fold. This is because when just one player more folds, the other will be in the paying zone. In this stage, you will need a much better hand if you decide to call an all-in bet than if you want to go all-in because the value of chips is decreasing. For example:

  • In case 4 poker players have 2500 chips each at this stage, this means their ‘prize pool equity’ is $25.
  • If 2 poker players go all-in and one of them wins the pot, the 5000 chips will not be worth $50, but approximately $35. (The reason for this is that having a double stack does not guarantee the 1st place in the tournament.)
  • As a result, when you call an all in bet you are putting $25 worth of chips in danger just to win an extra $10.
  • Therefore, you will need to have a hand that is proportionally better than the raisers range – that is to say, a tall order without a premium holding.

When you reach the point in which the bubble bursts and only three players are left in the paying zone, you’ll have to change your strategy again. Blinds will be large compared to the size of the stack, which means that all-in bets will be back. Players will raise and call raises holding much weaker hands because they will not face elimination. You should adjust to this and if you are a new SNG player you should know that any pair, aces and 2 ‘face cards’ turn out to be really strong at this point.

A frequent early stake error

In SNG tournaments you should be careful with overplaying early hands that are easily dominated, such as ace-X where the X stands for a jack or lower, because this is a common mistake.

Other frequent errors include calling bets at the bubble when you don’t have a strong hand and not been able to defend your blinds. The main skill you should have in SNG tournaments is the ability to correctly evaluate the range of hands the other players will raise and call raises.

Sit and Go strategy overview

The strategy to be used in SNGs includes three main factors: the ability to adapt to the varying conditions of the poker Texas Hold’em game, understanding the way in which prize pool equity modifies the value of chips and the skill to correctly evaluate the calling and raising changes of other players. The bubble is the stage in which these abilities become more important because it is the stage in which a good SNG player makes his profit.

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