Fast SNGs Are Massively Popular – And Easy To Beat With Some Simple Strategy Adjustments.
Poker has been getting faster over the years, and the popularity of hyper and super-turbo SNGs shows us that this trend is set to continue. Starting with between 300 and 500 chips, and 3 or 2 minute blind levels – these games are not for the faint-hearted! The good news is that they are beatable with some simple strategy adjustments. For those who want to specialize, the mix of high volume of games and high number of bubble mistakes that your opponents make mean these games could become a big earner!
This article outlines a stage-by-stage Super-Turbo Sit N Go strategy. Like all my articles the focus is on mistakes, I’ll help you avoid them and show you how to exploit those that your opponents will be making. Remember, not all sites are equal when it comes to the number of ‘pro grinders’ compared to recreational players. Playing in the softest games can make a huge difference to your profits – see my recommendations for both US and Worldwide players in my Best Site For Super-Turbo SNGs article.
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I’ll start this article with some of the key drivers behind the strategy. Then outline how your stack size affects your choices, including the difference between 500 chip ‘Hyper Turbos’ and 300 Chip ‘Super Turbos’. Just to note that different sites use these labels interchangably, so I will specify when I am talking about the 500 chip games. Next a stage-by-stage rundown, from the early stages right through to heads-up at the end. Finally, there are some quick 'rules of thumb' for starting hand selection and push-call ranges.
Super / Hyper Turbo SNG Strategy – 3 Key Drivers
#1 – The Gap Concept: Sure, you need to be positive and aggressive in these super-fast games, however there is still a huge gap between the hands you can raise with and those you can call a raise with. The reasoning is simple, when you raise you are playing against unknown hands, when you call a raise your opponent has already narrowed their possible hands by the action of putting in chips – so your hand needs to be even better than one you might raise with yourself to account for this.
#2 – Position: Important in all poker games, and vital in Super / Hyper turbo games. Your starting hand requirements for early position, with several players still to act are much stricter than when you are on the button or blind-vs-blind. This is not so much a desire to play hands from the button (since there is very little post-flop play), key here is that fewer opponents gives you a better opportunity to steal.
#3 – Playing The Players: You will find ‘grinders’ in these games as well as recreational players and even complete fish. By adjusting your strategy to the players in the hand, you can beat these games over the long term. A great way of illustrating this is that it is no good pushing a wide range into a fish who will call you down ‘extra-light’ (sometimes with junk). Instead you need to assume a wide calling range, then work backwards from there to see which hands you can profitably shove with! If you get the calling range right, you can adjust to exploit it - if you get it wrong then the mistake was yours.
Hyper Turbo Sit N Go Strategy – 500 Chip Starting Stacks
PokerStars start players in their fastest SNGs with 500 chips, instead of the more common 300 chip stacks. At 10 / 20 and 15 / 30 blinds you will have a little more flexibility with your stack than in the Super-turbos at other sites. With 25 big blinds you can raise with the intention of folding to a re-raise, or even get a little post-flop action going with a continuation bet or two!
I recommend staying super-tight, even from later positions. The blinds are not yet worth stealing, and at the lower buy-ins especially a raise could easily be called in 4 spots – making your options unclear after the flop unless you hit a monster. Smaller raises are ideal, with a mini-raise conserving chips (though see my important caveats on these raises once you hit 10 Big Blinds or fewer)
What the bigger starting stacks do give you is information. By watching who plays ace-rag (or suited cards in general), you can often make good estimates of later all-in calling ranges. In my experience anyone who plays ace-rag from early position is very likely to call with those hands later, however horrible this looks from a math standpoint! Also look out for players who slowplay, and players who make different bets when strong and weak, also note those who shove all-in with more than 20 big blinds (these are highly unlikely to be strong players).
Super-Turbo SNG Strategy – With 10 Big Blinds
Right, on to the start of a game with 10 times the big blind (so, for the hypers BB = 50). What are your key strategy considerations?
Let me start with some simple numbers which illustrate that raising and then folding to a re-raise is usually a bad play with 10 times the big blind. This is due to the pot-odds you get on a subsequent call. Here is the (simplified) math with 10 BBs and a 2x the BB raise.
You raise from mid position to 60 chips (from your initial stack of 300), you are re-raised all-in and the blinds fold. There are now 60+45+300 = 405 chips in the pot and it costs you your remaining 240 to call. You are getting odds of almost 1.7-to-1 on your call, meaning you have to win only 41% of the time to break even. These odds are huge, meaning you have to call a lot more often than you might feel comfortable with! I recommend using PokerStove (a free odds tool) to compare winning percentages against ranges of possible hands an opponent might hold to become familiar with this area.
Of course, mini-raising will get folds a lot of the time – and balancing these raises with hands you might fold and those you would love to call (monsters like aces) with can be profitable. My advice here is to save this for when you have mastered the basic strategy and feel comfortable using it against the different types of players you find in these games. Mini-raising is a powerful method when used right, just make sure that you are using it in the right spots and for the right reasons... You only have to min-raise then fold a couple of times, and some opponents will take notes on this - exploiting it over and over in future games.
Your biggest danger is blinding away, it only takes a couple of orbits of the table for your stack to be pretty much useless. You need fold equity in super turbo games, and you need to take some risks to get it. Here the gap concept is your friend, when there is all-in action ahead of you then you are folding all but the strongest hands as a default. Conversely, when you are folded to in the cut-off (place before the button), the button itself or the small blind, you can push all-in with a huge range of hands profitably – especially when your opponent(s) are aware that they can not call you without a strong hand themselves.
Again, you should be watching the players – your job is to put them on ranges of hands that they will be pushing all-in with from the various positions, and those they would call an all-in with. For regular opponents you must take notes. Also look out for anything unusual, for example players who push all-in a lot then suddenly mini-raise – is this aces for that player, or are they just trying to steal and may fold to a re-raise?
Once you know the hand ranges of your opponents then you can use an ICM Calculator to work out your optimal play against them based on stack sizes and the number of players left in the game. My personal favorite calculator is SNG Wizard, this has a 30 day free trial and allows you to adjust stacks / ranges to get insights into the perfect play (math-wise) against different opponent types.
Super-Turbo SNG Strategy – The Mid Stages
By the time we hit the mid-stages there will be a mix of stack sizes, some people will have doubled up and others will be nursing tiny stacks waiting for an opportunity to go all-in. With the average stack only 4-5 times the big blind, everyone will be looking for an opportunity to win some chips fast.
Again, you want to be the first into the pot wherever possible, unless there are two deep-stacks then this will need to be all-in. Pot-odds again come heavily into play here, you will find situations where you need to call with pretty much any-2 cards.
For example, you have 1000 chips at BB = 100 and someone with 220 chips pushes all-in, it folds to you in the big blind and you look down at J-6 off! Here is the math, 150 chips from the blinds + 220 chips from your opponent = 370 chips, and it is costing you just 120 to call – that’s 3.1-to-1 odds, meaning you have to win only 32% of the time to break even. If we run PokerStove you will see that we can give your opponent would need to have a range of only the top 10% of hands to make this a fold – no short stack is that tight, making this an easy profitable call.
Mid-stage play sees a different use for the mini-raise. Here you might not mind fighting with the smaller stacks, but want to avoid an all-in with another big stack, a small raise can find out whether the big stack wants to go to war (usually they will not) without risking everything.
Your calling hands still need to be tighter than those hands you push all-in with here. However you need to be aware than many opponents will be pushing all-in with any 2 cards when folded to in position. Again I recommend using SNG Wiz to calculate your calling ranges for different stack sizes in these situations. This will give you a massive edge in these games and keep you profitable over time.
Super-Turbo SNG Strategy – The Bubble
Regular readers will already know that the bubble is where the money is made in SNG tournaments – and super-turbo games are no exception! There are some key differences between these games and regular SNGs. Firstly the stacks are shorter, your flexibility with a smaller or mid-sized stack is extremely limited. Proportionally big stacks can literally own a table of 3 or 4 opponents waiting for a smaller stack to bust out.
You are going to see some horrific calls, but let me start with the other big mistake – playing too tight for the game can also devastate your stack.
If you do not yet understand the Independent Chip Model (ICM) then I recommend you read this article. As most bubble mistakes concern changes in the proportion of prize pool equity each player has.
Actual hands you should push all-in with at the bubble of a super-turbo SNG depend on the calling ranges of your opponents and stack sizes – as well as the prize pool distribution. What I want to be clear about is that if you fold your mid-strength hand in a situation in which the math said you should shove all-in, then you are not ‘playing it safe’, you are in fact losing real profits over time. This is as big a leak in the games of many players as going crazy with any 2-cards, and repeated often enough will suck up all your profits!
When your stack is in the 5 Big Blind region you will be amazed at the huge proportion of hands you can profitably shove with. Please, get that trial of SNG Wiz, plug in some hand-histories and learn the most common situations… If there is one key to making big money in Super-Turbo games, this is it!
If you are the big stack then take full advantage by putting pressure on your opponents at every opportunity. If you are a mid-stack and there is a shorter stack about to blind away, then you are in a great position to put pressure on the other mid-stacks when folded to – and your leverage against the big stack can be bigger than you think too, especially if winning the hand would take half of their chips or more.
Super-Turbo SNG Strategy – In The Money And Heads-Up
No time to relax, once the bubble bursts there is often a feeling of relief – your focus should be on making the best possible decisions and maximizing your profits. Ranges are usually looser, especially from recreational players. You will get called more often and shoved into more too – just run the numbers through Wiz with wider ranges and you will soon settle into new calling and shoving ranges of your own.
Heads-up you are likely to have 7 to 8 big blinds or less the majority of the time. Your default can be based on SAGE (a simple and ‘unexploitable’ system for heads-up play, learn more here). If your opponent is very tight or extremely loose then you can tweak your play to take advantage of this. Tight players heads-up will lose a lot of money over time – so make sure you do not fall into this habit. With extreme short stacks, you can and should be pushing the majority of hands you are dealt when first to act!
Super-Turbo SNG Strategy – Starting Hands And All-In / Fold Hands
I left these extra pointers on starting hands and push-fold ranges to the end. First because this article was already long enough - and second, because there are so many variables which affect your choice of both hands and ranges. These include the ability of your opponents, number of opponents, stack sizes, blind sizes, stage of the game and the presence of one or more huge stacks or micro-stacks at the tables... and that is before we even get to softer factors like your table image and the flow of the game in previous hands.
Early position is a dangerous place to be in a Super-Turbo game, and smaller pairs or ace high hands with small kickers are very dangerous. Your opponents are desperate to call you, and will do so with some shocking hands – mucking those small pairs / ace-rag saves you the pain of being dominated (less than 30% to win) when you are called. Of course, if the oncoming blind is about to destroy your fold equity then any ace can look like a monster!
Late position is the opposite, with only one or two opponents you can get aggressive with just about anything and still have a positive expectation. You still need to adjust for the particular opponents and muck the weakest hands. Remember, if you steal every single time it is folded to you in position then someone will ‘take a stand’ soon enough – so some folds are useful.
All-In Or Fold Overview
As I have mentioned, you really do need an understanding of ICM to get the most from push-fold poker. As a guideline you should be calling with around 30% of the hands you expect your opponent to push with when holding 10BB stacks. For example, if you believe your opponent pushes 60% of hands from the button, then you should call with the top 20% of hands only. This is a starting point only, and many situations will be even tighter! It is never enough to just ‘beat your opponents range’, you need some extra. If this seems tight then you really need to study SNG Wiz now and see how tight bubble calling ranges can get when the math is taken into consideration.
Instead of calling all-ins, you should push all-in often yourself. You need to decide on your opponents calling range and use this as an estimate for how often you will be called. For example, if you believe a tight opponent only calls 15% of the time then you steal the blinds 85% and win a showdown against that tight range approx. 30% of the time with the top 60% of hands. Working out your gains and losses in chips is the first step, you also need to focus on the equity gain / loss as you approach the bubble.
Finally, and especially as you move up the buy-in levels and play against better opponents, you need to start working with the concept of equilibrium. For example, if I know that you are pushing x% of hands, I can calculate my ideal calling range to exploit this, however if you know that I am changing you can switch your raising range to Z% to take advantage… and so on. You need to stay aggressive and positive in hyper-turbo poker, but you also need to switch your game from time to time to prevent regulars from taking advantage of you!
Well, this turned into a very long article - just one last thing, a plug for my SNG course, 'Planet Mark's SNG Blueprint'. This takes players to the point of winning $16+ per hour grinding SNGs over 4 separate e-mailed parts. It is free (I made it to publicise this site) and keeps on getting amazing feedback. Grab your copy now!
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