How to beat SNGs – Part 2 Tournament Dynamics
Poker is a lot like sex, everyone they are the best, but most don’t have a clue what they are doing! Dutch Boy’d
In the first article on how to beat SNG’s I discussed the beginning of the game and I explained which handsÂ to play from different positions. I used a very strong distinction between monsters potential monsters and crappy hands – this distinction becomes more problematic the longer you get into the game and the blinds have increased and now form a relatively large part of your stack. This is in my opinion the hardest part of the SNGs and here I will explain some strategies for Sit and Go tournaments that I use in my game but in thruth I think the most important factor in this part of the game is experience.
When playing Sit’N'Go’s, it is important to note that you play a tournament! The game evolves and therefore your own game should evolve with the game’s changing character. You usually start with what equals to somewhere between 80 to 100 big blinds. After half an hour where you haven’t lost a chip and you are still exactly breaking even with your starting stack, you now have only 40-50 big blinds – after another hour and a half still breaking even you now only have 10 big blinds. The dynamics have changed, and the significance of the blinds have heavily increased, two to four players maybe more are out of the game – how do you adjust your game in relation to this? I will now explain you how I adjust my game accordingly to new dynamics. My game evolves ideally in a standard SNG from a “tight aggressive” style of with emphasis on weak and scared towards a style which is way more ‘loose aggressive’ and sometimes borderline maniacish. However, this is a development which is taking place gradually, and to have a feeling for when the game is changing and when you have to make a change of pace is clearly what makes the tournaments a difficult game – mastering this element is to master art of tournament play. Way too many semi-good tournament players understand how to play a solid start game – without major structural mistakes – but ends up blinding themselves out of the game during the playoffs and too often they end at the 2nd, 3rd or fourth place because they turn up the aggression too late – this is a very expensive mistake – but if you belong to this group of players you are probably a winning player, but YOU DO NOT WIN ENOUGH.
No more limping – Mid- and Endgame
One very important difference between my game in the early and low blinds and later in the game is that I stop limping potential monsters. Once the blinds have a real impact on your stack you should no longer limp in early position with small pocket pairs and small suited connectors. Just fold them before the flop! There is at this stage only two actions which are ‘profitable’ if you are the first player to act (ie everybody untill you have folded) and it is: Fold or Raise. There are few situations where you can call a raise, but more often is a reraise or fold the right response on a previous raise. When does the midgame starts? There are two parameters here to follow: 1. How many players are left and 2. How big are the blinds? The latter is obviously relative from site to site as each network has its unique blind structure, but typically are Level 3 and 4 of the blind increases the beginning of a new era of the game – if I were to give a general rule – I would say that the midgame starts when big blind is 1 / 30 of your starting stack. The midgame is also characterized by fewer players, which means that the strength of the hands increase. However sometimes it happens that there occur a disharmony between the number of players and the higher blind levels. In that case it is still very important to be tight in an early position, eg if there are 6 players left, Ajo is a hand you should raise from the first positions in the midblinds (though it typically should be folded to a reraise), but if there are still 10 players in the game Ajo must be folded in early position. I mention this because it is a mistake I have often made myselft and that is because I have a tendency to focus on the blind structure instead of also considering the number of players . How many times should you raise preflop? I will take this backwards so that one third of my raises are based on very strong hands while the rest of my raises comes from more marginal hands, but generally not crappy hands (‘ll explain a little about a few exceptions in the subsequent section). On average, I would like to take a pot (pot = blinds) per round, and this naturally leads to the next chapter: The Art of Stealing.
The Art of Stealing!
I am one of those stupid honest persons who buy DVD’s in shops, and everytime you see one of those DVDs it starts up with a short informatory introduction and they always goes something: Piracy is stealing – Would you steal a car? Personally I am getting so annoyed with those theft commercials that I am considering buying DVDs on the black market – if they sell the DVDs without this annoying spot. Well back to the SNGs – here you have to steal, and you should have stealing as a widely used tool in your arsenal of weapons for being a winning SNG player.
The strength of stealing is that one says to his opponents that the blinds are mine, and if they will challenge this statement, they will have to bet their stack and then your opponents justhave to hope that it is not this time you have picked up a monster hand. A steal is therefore in a sense a bluff preflop, where you challenge your opponents to play on the stack – when you make a steal you invest a little chips and the difficult decision is the one your opponents have to make. It is they who must decide whether they believe in you or not. And sometimes you will be having a monster hand. There are though certain criterias you should be aware of.
The first criteria is position. The two most typical positions to make steals from is the button, cut-off and High Jack (the position before the Cut-Off) and it is simply because there are fewer possible hands that can play back at you. The earlier position you raise from, the more often you should expect on being played back – and one thing you do not want when you stand with your dirty hands in the cookie jar is to be fought back at and then you have to put your tail between your legs and run away – ie . fold! Next, it is enormously important to adjust the raise before the flop, as the tournament progresses. Usually in the beginning of a tournament I raise the pot or higher (up to 6x the big blind a little depending on the table) to 3x big blinds in the middle game between 2 to 2.5 x big blinds at higher blinds I normally just go directly all-in if I am lowstacked or blinds are huge – the latter is slightly an exception from the remaining dynamics, but certainly a relevant part of the SNG.
Granted, it might be a little hard to figure out when to switch from one level to another. But here I would recommend to feel a little forward, and keep track of other good players at the table, how to adjust their raises, and if they do not, then there is no other way than to experiment yourselves and do the mistakes it takes to get the good game. Personally it takes me some time to adjust when I play a new site. BUT it can not be stressed enough: to raise the pot in the mid- and late game is too much when steals should be e a crucial part of your arsenal, the correct answer to a reraise against a steal is 75% of the time to fold (the rest of the cases, you pot-committed and you’ll have to call). Further, it is important to raise the same size when you are sitting with a monster as when you’re stealing.
However, there is an adjustment, which is important and actually not so relevant when you steal. When there are people who limp before you and you have let’s say AKs and QQ in that case I’m raising my standard preflop raise + 1 big blind per limper (limper – player who just calls the big blind). When you steal, this adjustment is less important: limpers players have recently indicated that they would like to see the flop, and when you steal, you want to take the pot down without resistance – ergo with one or more limpers: just fold, even if your plan was to make a steal here.
The third criteria is to pay attention to those players whom you steal from. What types are they? Dream scenario are two players who are tight passive or tight aggressive with the empasis on tight and weak. These players are ideal to steal from – I very very often steal the blinds here, and if I don’t it is mostly for show of being an honest player. In such a situation it basicly doesn’t matter what cards you have – what matters is the expectation of them to fold. IIf they play back at – don’t kid yourself with medium strengt hands – just respect the fact that you way to often are crushed handrange wise, unless it was this one time you actually had a monster hand. The nightmare for blind thief is to have two blind defenders in the blinds. Blinddefenders are typical loose passive or loose aggressive, the former typically cold call what he considers to be a steal, while the latter reraise the blind stealer. My experience with the loose passive is that he way to often defends his big blind, while the small blind is more indifferent to him. Here is the adjustment minor. Raise good hands versus the loose passive blind defender when he is in big blind while you save your steals for when he is not in the big blind. Loose aggressive blind defenders are usually a much bigger problem because they usually do not care whether they are sitting on the button, small blind or big blind if they read you to be on a steal then they push or reraise depending on stack-sizes. Definitely a nasty type of opponent.
As a general rule: I suggest that the more loose your opponents are in the blinds, the more you should turn down your steals. Usually the blinds have a style of play somewhere between weak tight and loose maniac. Furthermore don’t overdo the stealing there is no reason for making a steal the third orbit in a row from the same person. It will often be perceived as an unintentional provocation, and the big blind will feel compelled to take a stand and play back. Make sure your opponents in the blinds are happy, let them keep their blinds once in a while and vary little who you steal from.
Back in the days of my childhood when I woke up in the late night hours and I sneaked out to nab a couple of grandma’s homemade biscuits and she knew it so well, but she never commented on it, since she was just happy / proud that I loved her biscuits. Had I emptied the whole cookie jar, the tone had probably gained a another sound. The point is: A thief should respect his victims’ integrity, his existence is based on that they do not fight back.
Examples of Stealing Hands: All suited connectors from 45s, young couples, all with an ace, which kicker is small (eg A2o, all with a king and semi-strong kicker (eg K8o) a suited over cards (eg Jh 8h).
Your stack in relation to the blinds – how big a risk factor to go all-in!
I am not a mathematician by nature, and I will probably cut some easy edges in my forthcoming mathematical results in this article – all too often I will be a bit wrong in my results compared to more true pot odds. This is a condition that is very fundamental to my game because I do not sit with a calculator, but only have my non-mathematical brain to work with.
But despite the inability to figure out the exact odds you can easily still be a winning player by having some qulified guesses. When I start adjusting my game to a more loose style it is basically a result of the blinds begin to make a significant cut into my stack. Here I use a very simple relation namely, how many big blinds I have left, eg if I sit with a stack of 1500 and the blinds are 50/100, I have 15 big blinds back – personally, I play very rarely sites with antes in the SNG’s but if you use such a site, is this relationship a little differently, and you subtract a little from the above example, so it would mean 13-14 big blinds.
There are some ‘official’ estimates for example by Dan Harrington, and despite my estimates are a some kind of variation of his estimates and are way more inacurate estimates I use my own as I am sitting in the heat of the battle don’t want to fight difficult formulas when what really matters is the decision ahead of you – I say ‘Keep it simple!’ My estimate is: Stack shared with big blinds – Easy game. If you want to know more about this estimates I strongly recommend either Dan Harrington’s ‘On Hold’ em ‘- especially ‘Volume II – The Endgame “or Colin Moshmanns SNG book – the latter is probably the best litterature ever made on SNG’s.
In the following I have built some categories concerning which hands you can end all-in on in relation to your stack and it is supplemented by some examples. The following is based on the blinds in the middle game when there still are 5 to 10 players in the game. Everyone knows that the aces is a good hand to get it all-in with, and therefore I focus not so much on the kinds of monsters, but on the more marginal hands. The easy decisions hopefully talks for themselves.
The situation in SNG’s changes significantly when there are only 4 players left and I will return to this in part 3 of this article series.
21 x big blinds or more
You’re well placed in the tournament â€“ there is no reason to take unnecessary risks and you can still afford to fold against the big stacks who reraises you all in. Raise / reraise your monsters in early position to late position, and call an all-in or reraise to all-in with your monsters. Raise your semi-monsters in early position to late position. If you’re in late position with semi-monster, and everyone has folded to you – your hand has turned into monster. No matter what position you have you have when you raise your semi-monsters you have to call all-ins from shortstacked players -you have no odds to fold, and the typical short stack will reraise a far greater range of hands than the deepstack.
Hero 3000 chips Blinds: 50/100. 8 players left. Position: UTG. Hand: 10s10d Action: Hero to 300 everybody folds untill a Short Stack in Cut-Off reRaise all inn with his 900 chips the rest of the players fold. Now hero must pay 600 to call the all inn. That is 600 for winning a pot of 1350 (300 + 900 +150 (blinds)). Only against JJ-AA is hero really bad in here oddswise. But there only need to be a few AK/AQ in his range to level out odds, and in practice there are almost any pocket pairs in an average short stack reraising range. Call is an absolutely must here (even though that he might in the actual situation show up with aces â€“ that is just tough luck).
Hero 3000 Blinds: 50/100. 8 players left. Position: UTG. Hand: 10s10d Action: Hero raises to 300 – Everybody folds until the button a standard tight aggressive (with 4000 chips in his stack), who reraise to 1000 SB + BB folds. Hero??
In practice there are 3 options here: 1 Fold. 2. Call. 3. Reraise (all-in). There can be arguments for all three options. I choose, however, the solution fold. This hand I would rather not reraise all in versus a player who is tight â€“ it is simply to weak versus his range when we both are relatively deep. He is tight aggressive and have a very strong reraising range. He is aware I raise from UTG, he must put me on a solid hand. Very rarely will he here reraise 88-99 in this situation and worse is almost unthinkabel. Very often he will reraise AK and AQ a few times. In those cases we are facing a coinflip. However, the serious problem is that he often will have JJ-AA. By reraising him all in I probably would make him fold 88-99 and sometimes AQ and then he would be calling the remaining hands in his range. Definitely not a dream scenario to be either in a coinflip or way behind. A call is also very problematic. A dream scenario for call would be a low flop or tripsl. However, Hero is out of position which is making the game much more difficult after the flop. So either you have to push all in on low flop or check-fold. If the positions had been reversed (eg if it was the SB or BB who had reraised preflop), you could bet or reraise all in on a low flop, and then just concentrate on being ahead of Villains against AK / AQ and not behind his JJ- AA. I would not choose vocation in position. To fold 1010 is never fun before the flop and certainly not in tournaments and 1010 after an extra few blind increases are a monster, but in my opinion it is at this time a pen.
Hero 3000th Blinds: 50/100. 8 players left. Position: Button. Hand: 10s 10d Action: All folds to Hero. Hero raiser 300th SB folds. BB a standard tight aggressive (with 4000 in his stack) ReRaise to 1000 Hero?? Basically 3 options here: 1 Fold. 2. Spd. 3. ReRaise (all-in).
Although Villain is tight aggressive and plays a much smaller number of hands than most other players I can not expect that his reraise represents a monster in the same way as in example 2. There are several factors that I think are relevant to include in this consideration. First, although there are 8 players at the table, your raise first comes from the button meaning a very late position basicly the game is now reduced to a very shorthanded game (3-handed) ergo you a strong hand doesnt need to be as strong to be a monster. Here 10 10 are transformed from semi-monster to being a monster. Secondly, raises from the cut-off and the button are very often steals. Even though he is a tight aggressive player he will normally be aware of this fact and able to adjust his reraising range here. A re-steal is therefore a very possible scenario in this context, hands like 66 + A9 + KJ KQ could be a very reasonable range for a tight aggressive to reraise in this particular situation. Therefore, a fold is not possible to me in this situation. If he sits with JJ-AA – Tough luck! But the consideration is how to play the hand now essentially I think the hand can be played in two ways. Call: here you choose to see the flop and preferably not to see an ace. The advantage of this game is that you have position and you can just play a low flop. The problem with this method is first you lose the ability to make him fold preflop like AJ, QK and the worse. Actually, he has no fold equity in relation to your 1010, but if he put your range to be AK / AQ plus top pocketpairs, I would think a fold will more often occur than what would be correct from theoretical perspective – a guess would be around 30% of the time. The second problem in calling is that if there is a card from Jack to Ace, then you have no idea where you stand. My choice is therefore in this situation is to reraise all in, so I do not end up in a troubled situation on the flop.
11 to 20 x big blind -
You’re ok in the game but pressure lurking around the corner (corner = loss of small pots or next blind increase). Basically in this part of the game the semi-monsters often turns into monsters. You now have a much wider range of hands to play and to get it all in with.
5 to 10 x big blind
You are under pressure, here you must play more hands than normal. You do not call a bad ace to an all-in, but AQ + to 88 + I will call â€“ sometimes a bit weaker aces and KQ depending on my specific read on the player. Reraise all-in from any position with those hands. If you face a raise from a late position player or just have ashorthanded (up to 6 players), I go all the way with A10 + and 66 +. If every folds to you you need to shove (go directly all in) with any pair, all semi-monsters (including QKso) and of course your monsters as well. In late position any two overcards (10 +) is also an all-in hand, and depending on how bad things are looking you are also have an all-in option in cut-off button and small blind with all suited connectors and any ace just shove it. Easy game.
These handranges is indicative only, especially in regard to reraises and calling an all in, and if you have a specific read on Villain – either that he is super tight or mega loose – it is important to adjust your hand range to that. Here it is important not to become irritated – especially against the mega loose â€“ and in the concrete situation makes a bad call. For example A2 is always a bad call to an all in as it basicly never has good equity vs any hands (only good vs other hands that includes 2′s and how many can you count there?)
Hero has seen Villain go all-in several times from Cut Off, and Button with semi-high to high blinds with about 10 x big blind (either in the same game or earlier SNGs). Hero is in the big blind with KQs with the 1500th Blinds 100/200. 6 players left. There is folded to the Maniac Villain, who sits on the button with the 1800th He pushes all-in directly. SB folds. Hero in BB calls. He shows AA. What just happened here?
Firstly, I have sinned against me my own guidelines – Why? I have here adjusted Hero’s calling range as I know Villain goes all in on bascly any two card – against him is KQs a monster if he has a King or Queen in his hand, I am in 80% of cases huge favorite and against his normal range, I am also far ahead. Few times I’ll be far behind (though only against AK, AQ, QQ-AA). Ax is a coinflip, but when he goes all inn with basicly any two cards the position it is a must call. The point is that even though you might feel stupid by making a marginal call and just loses your remaining chips versus AA, then it was the right call oddswise. Just tough luck he had Aces. If Mr. Super Tight had sat on the button and made the same all-in with the same stack, it was a simple fold.
Up to 4 big blinds
Almost everything has to be played regardless of whether you should call a raise or go all in! You should preferably not have ended in this situation through the blinds lossses – in that case you have not played aggressively enough (‘gee I had no cards’ is not an excuse here – it is important you are able to raise weaker hands to steal blinds, whether it means you risk your stack at crappy hands). But on the other hand you can easily end up in this situation anyway (eg you’ve just lost a coin flip against a big stack – and you have 4 big blinds left). Here poker is purely a game of chance. You will most likely not be able to go all in without being called by at least the big blind, as he so often will have to good pot odds to fold so he will call your all-in with almost any two cards. This is so far ok, since your goal is to double – and it can not go fast enough! In this situation, there is no way to wait for serious monsters. To me my hand range changes significantly in relation to call an all-in – especially multiway.
Seven players remaining. Blinds 150/300. Hero’s stack 800th Location: button. UTG (4000) raises to 750, which are folded to Cut-Off (4500), who reraises All-in. Of course all monsters and semi-monsters have to call here. Incredibly, many players will call every ace here, this is as true if you are up against a single opponent, but here are two that have shown strength preflop, and if you call A2 here, you are most likely further behind than you would expect, especially if UTG calls. The typical scenario would be that here we are up against a pair and ace with a good kicker. Therefore, I fold the ace with bad kicker in that position because they either must hit 3 of a kind or two pair to win. To hit this is simply to difficult especially as the one players blocks the ace with his own ace In the other hand I will call virtually all other combinations of cards where the value is over 7, and all combinations which are either suited or connected (56+). The reason is that here you get a unique opportunity to almost quadruple (yes that’s my calculation). If we assume that the UTG folds becomes possible gain 750 + 800 (of 4500 we can win) + 450 (the blinds) = a profit of 2000. Meaning can get a stack of 2800 by investing 800, and unless you are up against an overpair to both of your cards your odds are extremely favorable and even against an overpair your odds are not bad compared to the stack you can win.
The point is of course now it is gambling time. And you should be glad if you have near the same probability of winning, as if you played on one of the colors at the roulette wheel including tips. It is however important to note here that my style of play differs from most good SNG players and they will usually wait for an above average hand to get it all-in with. Their approach is clearly the most sensible, but I hate to be short and will use every possible chance to triple rather than to improve my odds a bit to double
Pay attention to the detail – and use it!
Although you can not see the others’ expressions or facial ticks in online poker, there remains a big number tells! Firstly, there are many players who vary their preflop raise on the basis of which hand they have – especially weaker players. For example, there are many who clicksraises Aces and other goes the totally other way and make a huge preflop raise when they pick Aces often in fact I have seen players going directly all-inn for 1500, while the blind are 10 / 20. The point is not to comment on the stupidity of both moves, but to keep an eye on certain players who have special betting patterns and then note it – an all-in from a different player could also be a small pocket pair or Ace King. There are very different patterns, but it is worth noting that weak players more often change their betsizing depending on which type of hand they have. Noting special behavior has both saved me a lot of chips and made me a lot of money in the long run!
There are way too many who limps in early position at semi-high and high blinds, which can mean very different things. A few players limp AK, KK and AA to disguise the strength of their hands. If you notice this, put a note on that player and avoid going into the trap with semi-strong hands. Another group limps their medium strength hands (QJs, KQ, A9 etc.) and then call an all in. (I can only emphasize strongly enough, if you do this! Stop it immediatly and you will improve your win rate significantly!). Note it and use it! Let him pay for your semi monsters AQ, AJ, 1010, but the for God’s sake do not push with weaker hands, unless you are so short that you are happy with a coin flip.
The most important and most profitable group to note on these limping types of players are called: Limp-Folders guess that is my own expression. This can and must be used with marginal hands that you intended to steal the pot with.
There may be many other tells also of another kind, such as talking – a few players start talking in the chat when they have a monster and so on … I will end here for now, and rather come back with a blog about bubble play, and what to do when you end up in the money. However, I will just throw a few exercises that I have used to strengthen my tournament games (both in relation to SNG’s and Multi Table Tournaments).
SNG strategy exercise 1
I play too many hands in the early game (for turbo-players). The usage of this exercise is for turbo player to strengthen his early stage game. It might be that the early game only lasts between 10 to 20 minutes of a turbo SNG. But there is much money to get if you master this early level in turbo SNGs. The exercise is that you go down to the lowest level possible in the normal speed SNGs. Here you have to follow the guidelines I have given in the part one of this article series. Take advantage of the structural mistakes of others and avoid all-in’s on marginal hands â€“ hands which are quite often nice to end all-in on after 15-20 minutes in turbo SNGs.
Poker strategy exercise 2
I’m too tight in the middle and end game ( for normal speed players). Too many good regular SNG players are playing a tight aggressive style of play and for good reasons. It is the very foundation for being a winning SNG player, especially at normal speed. Unfortunately, there are many who maintains the tight aggressive style way to late in the middle games and the end game. The result is often that these players have a tendency to be blinded out and too often play to weak when they end up in the money. If you belong to them, then I recommend you go down to the lowest level in Turbo SNG’s. Here the point is obviously not that ye are going to lose money, but this is a natural risk. But the essential factor is that you here are forced into difficult decisions at a relatively early stage becuase the blinds increase between 2 to 3 times as fast as in normal speed SNG’s. Play the 10 to 20 the first minute as usual and then adjust your game in relation to the points that are explained in this article. The goal is to loosen up your game and you will be forced to do so relatively early in turbo SNG’s. Be aware that variance has a more significant impact in Turbo SNG’s than in normal SNG’s.
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