You can read basic Sit N Go strategy articles on literally 1000’s of websites online. Some advice will be good, some of it bad and some downright dangerous! These articles usually divide 1-table tournaments into three distinct stages, early, middle and bubble – outlining the different strategies during each stage.
What often gets overlooked is a good explanation of why your strategy should follow these stage-specific rules. Once a player starts to understand the reasoning behind the need to stay very tight early, or shove often (but rarely call) on the bubble - their play will often dramatically improve. This article looks at the strategy changes at different stages of a SNG and answers the key question – ‘Why?’
While most articles start with the early stages I am going to start with the bubble, that period where there is just one more player to go before the money paying spots. In a standard 9 or 10 handed game this will be with 4 players. At this point stacks are usually ‘shallow’, each player having between 7 and 20 times the big blind.
These stack sizes explain my first ‘Why?’, since the lack of ammunition for turn and river betting means that post-flop options are limited. While this explains a good SNG player’s tendency to shove all-in a lot, there is another more important reason – the way the prize money is distributed.
Prize Pool Distribution In SNG Tournaments
Usually, prizes are given out to the top 3 players in a 9 handed SNG at 50% / 30% / 20% with the remaining players getting nothing. It therefore follows that the chips held in these games change value as we go through the game. Let me keep the numbers simple with a 10 handed game at $10 with 1000 starting chips per player. At the start of the game each chip is worth 1c, at the end of the game one player will hold all 10,000 chips and be awarded $50 – meaning each chip is ‘worth’ only 0.5c each.
Here is the key to understanding all-ins at the bubble: Since chips change value the extra chips you win by doubling up are worth less than the value you stand to lose if you get knocked out. The numbers can show you how why.
4 players remain, with 2500 chips each in our game – over the (very) long-run each will average $25 profit per game, all else being equal. Now say that player A and B go to war with an all-in, and player A wins the hand – doubling up to 5000 chips. What is the value of this new double chip stack over the long-run?
While it is more than $25, we can not give this player a long-run average of $50 here, player A will not win 1st place every single time – poker is not that straight forward! Also players C and D are now guaranteed at least 3rd place ($20) with a legitimate shot at 2nd and 1st – on average they will win more than $25.
If you do the math using the Independent Chip Model or similar method the average wins work out something like this:
Player A: $38
Player C: $31
Player D: $31
Now we can get to the key ‘Why?’ explaining the frequent all-ins during bubble play. When player A went all-in, player B had to make the decision of whether to call or fold. When he called he was risking equity (average wins) of $25 to win an average increase in equity (wins) of just $13 more. He did not just need to have a better hand than player A, he needed to have a hand which would compensate for him taking an almost 2-to-1 risk with his long-run profits to call. Because player A knew that hands which give these kind of odds are rare, he was able to go all-in with a wide range of hands himself.
As an aside, you will notice that players C and D gained average profits of $6 more in our simple scenario simply by watching the hand play out – nice work if you can get it.
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Now We Go Back To The Early Stages Of The SNG Tournament
Once you understand the ‘Why?’ of bubble play, the ‘tight is right’ strategy during the early and middle stages makes far more sense. Key to being able to profit from your opponent’s mistakes and your own ‘shove all in’ strategy, is having enough chips to persuade an opponent to fold their hand a large proportion of the time. If your stack is short then someone could call you without risking being knocked out – which means you no longer have the 2-to-1 requirement on your side.
Chip preservation is a dominating factor in the early and middle stages of SNG tournaments. The risk of being short at the bubble means you no longer have advantage of fold equity, and means your opponents will be happy to wait for you to bust.
Having said that there are things you can do early on. Set mining with small pairs or sneaking in with suited connectors can be profitable, and you can often build big pots with premium holdings against the weaker players. Avoiding unclear situations and the temptation to play Ace-X hands where X is not a king or at least Queen is important, staying solid will get you through to the mid and later stages with enough chips to do some real damage!
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