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Basic SNG Strategy

Basic SNG Strategy, Beat Sit n Goes With Our Easy To Use Guide
To How To Profit From Online SNG Tournaments


SNGs are small poker tournaments and are a great way for players new to online poker to build up their poker bankroll. However, many players miss out on profits by failing to correctly understand the strategy changes at different stages of Sit N Go tournaments. This Basic SNG Strategy guide will give you a high-level overview of those changes to get you off to a winning start at the tables. I will also provide links to some of the more detailed articles on specific strategies for those of you who want to take their game one step further.

First I briefly describe the key difference between chip stacks and strategy in poker cash games compared to SNG tournaments. Next I'll go stage-by-stage through a 1-table tournament to show you how your strategy adjusts. Finally we give those players who are looking to improve their profits some ways to get more detailed information.

Basic SNG Strategy – The Central Concept, Chips Change Value!

In a poker cash game (or ‘ring game’) the dollar value of the chips you have in front of you is 1-for-1, if you have $10 in chips then they are ‘worth’ $10. In a SNG tournament the value of your chips will change as the tournament progresses. As opponents bust out and chips change hands your average ‘equity’ in the prize pool (average winnings if the game were played out 100’s of times canceling out chance factors) will be in flux. Key to profitable SNG tournament play is to keep enough chips to have ‘fold equity’ – the ability to get opponents to fold their hands, without this your chance of surviving the all-important bubble will be significantly reduced.

Here is a simple demonstration of the changing value of chips in a SNG tournament. Imagine a standard payout of 50% for First, 30% second and 20% for third place. We will use round numbers and say that 10 players compete for a $100 total prize pool and start with 1000 chips each. At the start each chip is worth 1c, no hands have been played and everyone paid $10 for their 1000 chips (not counting the site’s fee for simplicity here). Yet the winner will have all 10,000 chips at the end, and only receive $50… making the value of each chip 0.5c. Another way of demonstrating this is to imagine 4 players left, one has 9970 chips and the other 3 have 10 chips each… three players get paid and we expect the big stack will win. This leaves one prize of $30 and one of $20 divided among the holders of 30 chips – each chip is now ‘worth’ an average of $1.66c!

There is no need to worry about the mathematics just yet – simply understanding that your chip stack changes value will give you a huge edge over your opponents. We have described this first since it has a big effect on your strategy, right from the first hands that you play.

Basic SNG Strategy – The Stages Of A SNG Tournament

One of the first things you should change when playing SNG tournaments rather than cash games is to tighten-up, especially during the early stages. Hands which may have been marginally profitable in a cash game will now cost you money to play. The reason? Back to the prize pool equity again – in a SNG tournament the chips you lose are more valuable than the extra chips you might win. On top of this you must avoid losing your ability to make opponents fold during the later stages – playing a few pots early can easily diminish your stack to the point where you are no longer a danger to the big stacks when it gets to the bubble… this is fatal and should be avoided by playing solid starting hands from good position only during the early stages.

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Mid-stage SNG play involves fewer opponents and higher blinds, at this point you must increase your aggression to stay ahead of the blinds and keep your stack competitive for the approaching bubble. Middle stages involve stealing blinds, re-raising and taking the opportunity to win those small pots. Time for calling is gone, you really want to be the player who is putting pressure on your opponents to have a hand – play positive aggressive poker, especially when nobody has yet entered the pot.

When just one player remains to bust before the paying places you are said to be at the SNG Bubble. This is where most of your profits will come from, and they come from understanding the risk vs reward in terms of prize pool equity for all-in situations. We will illustrate this with an example of 4 players, each with 2500 chips and a $100 prize pool. In our example 2 players fold, player A pushes all-in and player B needs to make a decision of whether to call or fold.

If we look at the risk side of the equation, player B is risking the $25 in prize pool equity he will take home on average. What about the reward? Here is where things get interesting. Doubling of B’s chips can not mean doubling of this players prize pool equity. Since 1st place is $50 and there are still 2 players in the game, the ‘average’ expectation can not be +$25 here… sure, the big stack will help B win more often, but players C and D can double up easily enough and complicate things.

In reality the gain for B from calling and winning is only around $13. So the risk is $25 and the reward is $13 – not only does B need to win the hand, he needs to be better than a 2-to-1 favorite over A’s hand to make calling profitable. Very few hand match-ups are more than 65% against a range of decent ‘shoving hands’. What this means is that calling all-ins on the bubble is often costly – even when you hold a reasonable hand. The answer is to be the aggressor whenever possible, having an opponent fold and a chance of winning the pot when you are called is a powerful combination!

 - If you would like to understand this math better we will direct you to our Introduction To ICM article which explains the ‘Independent Chip Model’ in more detail.

After the bubble has burst the remaining players are all in the money, and you must now change your strategy once more. Since the blinds will be high, all-in bets are still normal here – however you are far more likely to be called – and so must take this into account when deciding which hands to play. Remember that the presence of a mini-stack who has already folded means an opponent may not want to bust before the min-stack does, giving you an excellent opportunity to steal! At this stage of the game, hands go up dramatically in value – any two picture cards, any ace and any pair should be played positively.

Basic SNG Strategy – Final thoughts

To summarize, Basic SNG Strategy is about understanding that there are various discreet stages of 1-table tournaments. You will need to adapt to changing game situations and understand how your equity – or share – of the prize pool is dependant on the payout structure of the game as well as the number of opponents and chips you hold. When you reach the bubble these factors become even more important, here understanding prize pool equity will give you a huge advantage over your opponents – the bubble is where the majority of your SNG profits will come from.

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