Sit and go’s, or SNG’s as they are also called, is a one table poker tournament structure with usually nine, six or two players. I started playing them when building my bankroll as early as 2005 just before the poker boom, and I quickly become one of the absolute top players in the world at that format.
At that time I had an average profit per game that used to range from 20$-40$ per game at 215$ buy in SNG’s. Back then I was playing about 8-10 games per hour which gave a pretty decent hourly rate (about 300$/h) for a 19 year old boy just finishing school.
Many of the guys that I was competing with in these games later became some of the most famous players in the world, like Elky, DaroiMinieri and RhainKhan. My nick in the chart below is HOMERos.
In this guide, I’ll teach you the tips and tricks that took me to the top. This basic sit and go poker strategy explained below can also be applied as a starting point to how to develop a strategy for multi table tournaments. But more on that in another post.
So let’s get started!
The early levels
During the early levels of a sit and go tournament the blinds (and sometimes ante’s) are very low compared to the stacks. A usual setup is 10-20 blinds, with 1500 chips in each stack. One big difference between tournament poker and cash games are that you can’t buy new chips and add to your stack whenever needed. The value of each chip is therefore were high and you should persevere as many as possible to maximize your potential double up, once you do get the hand and spot you are waiting for.
One of my favorite book’s for tournament strategy is Dan Harringtons books “Harrington on Holdem” (Both volume 1 and 2). Dan Harrington, or “Action Dan” as he is called, literary never gave any action
That was how my journey started as well, adding a really aggressive twist during the later levels to really exploit the fact that my opponents had the perception that I was only playing the nuts.
At the first levels at a nine handed table without ante, which is the standard format at many poker sites, I used a starting hand selection during the early levels that looked something like this:
UTG: Raise – AQs+, TT+. Yes I was so tight that I folded AQ off at tables were I could not locate any super fishes that would call my preflop raise with a very wide range of hands. The thoughts around this is that it is so little in the pot and you have one of the worsts positions at the table, acting last on all streets against all players but the small and big blind.
Middle position: Raise: AJ+,99+. A bit “looser” than above. For earch spot you get closer to the button you can of course loosen up your opening range. It is also very important to mention that adjusting to the opponents at the specific table is very important. At some tables a wider range is preferable, and at some a tighter ranger is better. If you have calling stations and loose limpers acting before you, there is more reason to raise and isolate. But since the stack sizes are much more shallow you should not raise as often as you would in the same spot at a cash game table when acting after the same type of players.
HJ: Raise A7s+, 55+. At a cash game table much looser ranges here are advised. It is just because the blinds are very small and not much to win in the pot you could as well keep a tighter approach here at the earlier rounds – something that you can exploit when it really matters and the blinds are high. Table image is very important when “stealing” and bluffing later on.
B: Obviously the best spot at the table. Here you can, and should, raise very liberally. Any Ax, any pair and lots of suited connectors and “one gappers” is fine to raise with here. If the blinds are tight, or just loose passive, even more hands can be added to the raising range here.
At the medium levels at a sit and go tournament the ante often kicks in, that makes it much more lucrative to widen the opening range and start stealing those blinds and antes. It is impossible to really provide any valuable opening hand chart here because it is so dependent on your opponents at the table. I’ll talk more about that, and different spots, in the poker video below.
But as a general rule of thumb, play really tight when you are out of position. Understanding the importance of table position is one of the most important concepts to become a winning poker player, also when acting last it is so much easier not doing any big mistakes.
During each round of betting in poker you receive more information about the strength of your opponents hand. When playing in position you have more information and can thus make better decisions.
When you approach the bubble (close to money paying positons) new parameters must be taking into account. How big is your stack? Whats the blinds and antes? How is the player that is closest to going busto? When you have a good stack in a SNG and it’s time to “play the bubble” it is a great opportunity to accumulate alot of chips and put tons of pressure on those guys that are waiting for the small stack/stacks to go broke.
Identify the weak players and their patterns and exploit them to maximum. It’s almost impossible to go through all the different spots in a blog post, so I’ll guide you further about this in the video as well.
Tips and tricks
There is one type of play that has worked really well in during the later levels of an sit and go and steal smaller pot without risking much. Since I’m playing such a conservative style during the earlier levels I can get away with lot’s of stuff when the blinds are high and it really matters.
One of my favourite moves is to limp from sb when everyone folded to me, and then bet half pot on the flop almost no matter what (of course you should occasionally check as well). That bet on the flop only need to work 1/3 to be profitable, and since the opponents give me ton of credit at that stage it works way more often than that.
Of course, sometimes you will face an opponent that will read the preflop limp from sb as weakness, and instantly raise, but then you now that until next time. So when I get the chance to limp in I almost always do that from sb to if I don’t already know that my opponent is really aggressive. I’ve made tons of extra chips (=money) with these types of steals.
One other grinder that I was competing with at the tables actually said to me at the table once that he picked up that specific play from me six months earlier and that he made a smaller fortune at those types of SNGs (this was 5 max at Betsafe/Microgaming) when he started to exploit his opponents tendencies to fold to much against that half pot size bet.
GTO or exploitative play?
GTO, game theory optimal play, is a really popular concept nowadays. And when facing really good players with statistical tools in deep cash games today I understand that it is important to not play exploititative. Though when facing weaker opponents I always advocate to play and exploitative style. It doesn’t matter if some players at the table know that you would only do a certain play or raise size with a certain hand. It is better to exploit the fish at the table to maximum.
For example, if you are sitting at a only SNG and know that one player at the table will call to see the flop almost no matter how much you raise, you should of course try to find the sweet spot and maximise it when you wake up with a great hand. If you know a player is willing to call a 500 raise pre even though the antes are only 10-20, then you should go for the 500 raise right from the start with your pocket aces, kings etc. In that way you are maximizing the value even though some better players at the table will know that you will only make this type of play with certain hands. It doesn’t matter. You’ll burn the fish in this way.
Playing the short stack
There is tons of literature of how play a short stack in poker tournaments and sit and gos. I always found myself a bit tighter than the general tips, however I have really been a master in picking my spots. Don’t only look at your hands and position when you decide what to push. This is almost just as important, who is the big blind and small blind? Do they have really shallow stacks themselves so they are almost forced to call? Or do they have super big stacks so a call doesn’t matter to them? Pick your spots to push against the players that would be hurt by calling with a hand that don’t hold up.
This concept i very often looked over. But it is really important in maximizing your fold equity when you push your small stack.
Playing the big stack
When you have a big stack in a sit and go and you are are getting closer to money paying position you can really exploit the fact that several players are just sitting and waiting for a money paying position. You can always start off with an aggressive approach and see how that works out, if your opponents don’t bite back – be relentless and put pressure on them, especially on those “medium stacks” that are waiting for the short stacks to go busto.
Another important thing to take into consideration is the payout structure for the tournament. In some SNGs the winner receives a large chunk of the pool and that changes the dynamics even further. An illustrating example was the turbo 6 max tournaments I played on Cryptologic (Ladbrokes) back in the days. The structure was super fast with blind increases every ten hands. And the payout structure was 75% to the winner, and 25 % to the runner up.
That means the winner got 4,5x their initial buy in, compared to 1,5 for the second place. When playing the bubble in that case it was super lucrative to play really aggressive before the bubble to maximize the times you won the tournament. Going busto as third some more times than if I had chosen a passive approach was no problem since the times I won I took almost the whole pot. My winnings on that network skyrocketed when I adjusted my SNG strategy to the payout structure. So it is a very important factor to take into consideration, both in SNG’s and MTT’s.