Thursday, June 19, 2008

2 Ways Of Thinking About 'Playing To Win' In SNGs...

An old subject came back onto the Plan3t Gong radar today, that of the polarization between the 'Play To Win' and 'Play To Cash, Then To Win' SNG camps... the great thing about this debate is that both sides are adamant that they are 100% right, yet there are very few who could back up their assumption with statistics.

Let us refresh the grey matter with a look at the arguments / profiles of each camp and before we go on to look at the often overlooked factors which affect these.

The 'Cash First, Win Later' camp will tell you that making a -$2ev call at the bubble will cost you those $2 over time no matter what. These players are usually the pro SNG grinders with an excellent understanding of push / fold (icm) poker and 1000's of games experience.

The 'Play To Win' camp argue that reaching 3rd without a big stack will never pay for those times you bust out - thus the correct strategy is to 'swap' a couple of 4ths for a 1st or 2... the jump in the prize money makes up for the busts. While some notable pro grinders use this logic to some extent this is usually the view of non-specialists (this argument works very nicely in MTTs after all... why fear the bubble when taking a chance there can give you a realistic shot at the final table??).

To my mind there are elements of both arguments which are useful in visualising a winning strategy, there are also major flaws in sticking to one side only.

- The 'Play To Cash' proponents do not take into account the future dynamic at the table when considering whether a bubble call is +$ev, for example if winning a hand when 5-handed would give you 4400 chips and each of 3 opponents just 1200 each at the bubble then taking one dollar in equity 'the worst of it' has given you the opportunity to accumulate several dollars in prize pool equity that you could not have gained with a medium stack.

- The 'Play To Win' proponents often fail to account for the $ equity they loose (especially with weak calls), this most often manifests itself in calls that cost 15% (or more) of the equity in play such as calling a bubble all-in with Ace-rag, no amount of 'wins' can make up for the size of such a mistake... or putting it another way, if you have a ROI of 15% and then take a -15% situation every game you become a break even player over time regardless of your finish distribution... since your finish distribution is already factored into the 15% ROI!

The next factor to take into account applies to both sides or the argument... skill.

If you are taking a -$ev risk in order to win then you'd better know exactly how to use your big stack to its maximum advantage - so as not to give away any futher prize pool equity. If not then you are not really 'playing to win'... more 'taking the worst of it to get a big stack that, while improving your chances, only gives you a limited edge'.

For the 'Play To Cashers', what if waiting for that +$ev spot leads to you losing your fold equity? Say you turn down a marginally -$ev spot while waiting, and see shoves that you can not call ahead of you for the next 6 hands (including your blinds) by the time you get to shove in a +$ev situation it might well be too late... you'll be called wide because you can not hurt your opponents chances! And wait a minute here, if you are really going to turn down an opportunity to be the dominant stack at the bubble with only a marginal ev risk then you'd better be damn sure you can play all the upcoming bubble situations perfectly.

The final factor I'd like to introduce is the skill level and predictability of your opponents... in the tradition of Planet Gong being the blog that likes to get you thinking I will not discuss - in the context of the above points it should seem obvious that this affects both camps... especially since a fish at the bubble does not only kill their own chances, he spews your equity too!

Anyway, whether you play SNGs to win or play to cash - GL at those tables!

Mark

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