Are you tired of busting out right before the bubble in sit and go’s? It can be frustrating to get so close and yet walk away with nothing!
Could tweaking our strategy result in better long-run profits?
Here we present our top 10 tips for crushing the popular sit and go (SNG) format.
- Avoid Confrontation Early
- Play Aggressively on the Bubble
- Play to Win, Not to Min-Cash
- Learn ICM
- Understand ICM Pressure
- Value Future Life Correctly
- Analyse the Structure
- Practice Shortstack Play
- Know When to Fold-War
- Use Good BRM
The following tips should be useful whether playing 9/10 handed sit and go’s. They can even apply to some of the larger sit and go tournaments.
Avoid Confrontation Early
Assuming we are playing 9-handed SNGs or larger, we should not be looking stack off in the first few orbits.
If we are starting with relatively deep stacks, we might actively look to see cheap flops. Our goal should be to make super premium holdings.
We do not want to stack off light at this stage of the sit and go.
The chips won are not as valuable as chips lost at this stage of the tournament. Doubling our chip stack does not double the monetary value of our chips. We can show this using ICM (independent chip modelling), which we’ll touch on later.
If a situation involving a large number of chips seems close, we should be willing to let go of our hand. At this stage, we need to reserve our tournament life instead.
Play Aggressively on the Bubble
A common beginner mistake is to tighten up dramatically on the bubble. They’ll fold everything until the bubble has passed.
Note: A bubble is where the prize pool is reached after one last player goes bust and leaves with nothing.
However, the bubble can provide an excellent opportunity for building our stack. This strategy is especially true if our opponents are unwilling to take any risks until after the bubble bursts.
- Where possible, we should target shorter stacks aggressively with steal attempts.
- But be extra careful vs opponents who have us covered. Tangling with them can endanger our entire tournament life.
The ideal scenario here is that we have an above-average stack going into the bubble. That way, we can put pressure on the shorter stacks without risk of busting.
Play to Win, Not to Min-Cash
Playing aggressively on the bubble does increase our chance of walking away with nothing. But it also increases our chance of walking away with the first-place prize.
First place is often considerably larger than the min-cash. So, it’s nearly always worth the risk of busting out on the bubble a few extra times. This scenario is especially true in larger field SNGs, where the first place prize might be much larger than the min-cash prize.
So, ironically, if we feel we are bubbling too much, maybe we are not bubbling enough!
ICM stands for “independent chip modelling”. It is a crucial part of tournament play (SNGs included).
It measures how much our chip stack is worth in monetary values based on –
- the prize pools
- the remaining players
It’s a crucial concept. It helps tournament players understand that their goal is not necessarily to increase their chip stack size. They should instead look to increase its monetary value.
As a quick example, we are deep stacked in a double-or-nothing tournament. An opponent, who has us covered, shoves all-in.
We look down at our hole-cards and see pocket Aces. Easy call, right?
Calling would undoubtedly increase the size of our chip stack on average.
We say that is +cEV (plus chip EV). But is that the right decision here?
In a double-or-nothing tournament, all we need to do is pass the bubble to win the maximum. It doesn’t make sense to put our entire stack at risk when it’s likely we can win the maximum prize by continuing to fold.
(Imagine there is a 99% chance we cash if we keep folding. But a 15% chance we bust from the entire tournament, if we call).
Without going into the details, it’s possible to prove, mathematically, that calling is -$EV (minus dollar EV). It increases the size of our chip stack in the long run. But it decreases the amount of money we make, which is more critical.
Understand ICM Pressure
We won’t go into the maths behind ICM here, but it’s well worth looking in to after reading this article. More essential, though, is the impact that ICM maths has on a given situation.
Even a player with no knowledge of maths should understand what ‘ICM pressure’ means in a sit and go.
Imagine we are in a 10-handed tournament with four players left on the bubble. (third place and above are paid).
The outlook of each player will be different depending on their stack size.
- Player 1 - Deepest Stack - This player has no fear of going broke in a single hand since he has everyone covered. He can look to play very aggressively and hope to knock out opponents while building a stack. He will be able to get lots of folds from the mid-stacks since they will avoid tangling with him.
- Player 2 - Healthy Stack - This player will be exerting pressure on the two smaller stacks but trying to avoid tangling with the big stack. Getting all-in with the big stack rarely makes sense. This player has a great chance of passing the bubble even if he doesn’t play any hands.
- Player 3 - Smaller Stack - This player will be exerting a lot of pressure on the shortest stack. He will try to avoid investing lots of chips against the two larger stacks. The shortest stack could bust at any time, and this player doesn’t want to risk his tournament life unnecessarily.
- Player 4 - Shortest Stack - This player does not have much to lose and should be looking to secure a double-up by any means possible. This player will also be looking to steal aggressively to build a stack and avoid being blinded out.
Value Future Life Correctly
Sit and Go hands cannot be played in a vacuum. We must always think about what the rest of our future tournament will look like once a hand is over.
A simple example is that we are deciding whether to empty the clip on a triple-barrel bluff. We run the analysis and see that the $EV is roughly $0. That number means that we are indifferent between bluffing or giving up.
Should we bluff here?
- If we would still have a healthy stack left to play after not bluffing, it makes sense to avoid endangering our tournament life.
- But imagine we are playing in an ultra turbo tournament. We are likely to get blinded out if we don’t build a stack immediately.
Now it makes sense to put our tournament life on the line.
We risk ending up with a dangerously small stack if we don’t.
Analyse the Structure
We’ve already seen an example of how a double-or-nothing tournament can result in some extreme ICM considerations.
At the other end of the spectrum, winner-takes-all tournaments function exactly like cash games. The goal is to accumulate chips.
Most SNGs fall somewhere between these two extremes.
SNGs run at regular intervals with the same prize pools and number of players. So, it makes sense to analyse the structure more carefully when playing several.
Practice Short Stack Play
It’s no secret that SNG/tournament players spend a lot of time playing short-stacked, compared to cash game players.
Most professionals agree that, once we are down to around 10bb, play a push/fold strategy.
- We either shove all-in.
- Or we don’t enter the pot. Even though there is no postflop play involved, we need to learn how wide to shove in each spot.
Many professional players use tools which calculate push/fold ranges. After studying these ranges off the table, they’ll have a much better idea of what to shove in-game.
Know When to Fold War
A folding war is when players at the table are all trying to outlast each other by folding more often than their opponents. This situation most commonly occurs on the bubble of double-or-nothing SNGs.
It becomes quite hard for the larger stacks to justify risking a lot of chips when they can fold their way to the full prize.
Folding wars may also occur in other types of SNG. In our ICM pressure example above, we said that the shortest stack should be playing very aggressively. Well, he has nothing to lose. This situation generally implies the rest of the table are making ICM correct decisions.
Say some of the larger stacks are playing contrary to ICM and continuously stacking off. It might make sense to fold just for a little longer and move up a few places to a bigger prize.
Then we can start following the ICM pressure and shoving aggressively.
Of course, this strategy only applies if our stack allows us to continue folding. If we are at immediate risk of being blinded out, we need to ramp up the aggression immediately.
But, sometimes, the shortest stack may still have a good 20-25 big blinds and not in immediate danger of busting.
Use Good BRM
BRM (Bankroll Management) is not just a tournament thing. All poker players should use good BRM or run the risk of going broke. (SNGs generally have bigger swings than cash games).
A common recommendation is to never invest more than 2% of our total bankroll on any individual tournament entry.
But it depends on -
- the format being played
- the more registrants to our regular SNG games, the higher the variance
- the higher the required number of buy-ins in our roll to avoid going broke