ICM And Prize Pool Equity – In The Money Strategy

Once The Bubble Bursts You Have To Adjust Your Strategy Again – Here I Show You How

There is so much focus on bubble strategy in Sit N Go Tournaments that it is easy to think that once this part of the game is over the tournament has ended. In reality you still have some poker to play, and playing the ‘In The Money’ phase correctly can make a big difference to your returns.

I have broken this article down into the 2 phases. When there are 3 players left the ‘prize pool equity’ concepts still have some influence on your decisions. When you are down to two players your chips no longer change value, and you need to decide whether to play an exploitative or an ‘unexploitable’ strategy.

To repeat a theme which comes up often here at SNG Planet, your objective is not to ‘go for the win’ once in the money – it is to make the best possible decisions. Factors which influence those decisions will include your hand, stack sizes, tendencies of your opponents, how big the blinds are and prize pool equity - as well as the actions of opponents before you play.

In The Money Strategy – Basics Of Prize Pool Equity In 3 Handed Play

I’ll start by going through a simplified hand to show you how the 50% / 30% / 20% prize pool distribution will continue to affect your play when in the money – though to a lesser extent than at the bubble.

We have a $100 total prize pool and each player has 1000 chips (ignoring the blinds and antes). Each player is guaranteed at least $20 for 3rd place and has $33.33c in equity over the long run.

Now we let player A push all in, and put ourselves in the position of player B deciding whether or not to call.

We know how much equity player B has to risk, this is $13.33c (he has $33.33 minus the $20 for 3rd which is guaranteed). What about the gain?

Well, we can work this out using chip equity (or Cev) only - with 2000 chips compared to player C’s 1000 chips, the player B will (all else being equal) win the 1st prize twice as often. For every 100 attempts C will win $30 x67 times and $50 x33 times or $3660 total and B will win $30 x$33 times and $50x67 times or $4340 – I rounded the fractions to simplify, however player B wins $43.40 on average after doubling up 3-handed and eliminating player A.

In terms of risk-reward, he risked his $13.30 in prize pool equity, to win an additional $10.10… this means that any hand with which he calls the original all-in needs to be slightly better than the range of hands player A originally pushed with, though not by very much compared to the same type of situation pre-bubble where your hand needs to be twice as good. The major difference here is the $20 guaranteed for 3rd, which reduces the risk considerably.

Factoring In The Blinds:

One last thing to factor in – blinds. When these are large as a proportion of your stack then the ‘dead money’ can make a nice difference to your equity. Remember to take this into account when you calculate those calling and pushing ranges.

Don't Leave the Math to Chance: Knowing the math is not some optional extra these days, you are giving up a long-term edge for every incorrect decision you make. I recommend ICMIZER 2, a powerful calculator that will find tune you strategy, both in the money and on the bubble. You can try it out for free. see www.icmpoker.com for more.

In The Money Sit N Go Strategy – Other Factors Affecting 3-Handed Play

Stack sizes are the key factor in 3-handed play. Smaller stacks who were worried about busting on the bubble will now feel the urge to double-up fast. Players who have previously been timid might suddenly become super-aggressive, pushing huge ranges.

Taking notes can help, though a few pushes in a row is often a give away. Again, you should factor in your risk-reward rather than just call with a better hand. However you can often find situations where you can profitably call with a huge range of hands in these situations.

The opposite is also true – some players do not open their game enough. 3 handed any ace or king is a playable hand, and many more too. If you find someone who is waiting for a strong hand in order to defend their blinds then add them to your ‘buddy list’ immediately, these players are giving away money.

With stack sizes in the 8 to 15 big blinds range you should not be opening often with hands you can not defend. Again, against passive opponents small raises can be cost effective. If your hand is strong enough to play and not strong enough to defend an all-in with then you can push all-in instead and be profitable the huge majority of the time.

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In The Money Sit N Go Strategy – Heads-Up At The End

Once you reach heads-up, ICM and prize pool equity no longer have any effect. Once we are heads-up $30 for 2nd is guaranteed for both players, you are effectively playing an all-or-nothing match for the extra $20 which makes up the $50 1st prize. How often you win this extra over the long (skill levels being equal) will depend on your chip-stack, at this point your Cev (chip expected value) and $ev (prize pool equity) are equal.

Blinds are usually high at this point, though it is common to have 20BB stacks, the usual range is smaller. If you do have room for some post-flop play then remember that the button acts last after the flop and to make significant adjustments downward for hand strength – if you wait for a ‘decent hand’ heads-up you will be eaten alive by an aware opponent.

Unexploitable vs Exploitative Strategy

Your choice with heads-up play is whether to play in a way which your opponent can not exploit – which will win you the extra exactly in proportion to your chip stack. Or to take the risk in deviating from unexploitable play in order to win a greater proportion of the time.

If you believe that your opponent is more skilled or experienced than you are then it makes good sense to use a system which is designed to be defensive. The best known of these is called ‘SAGE’, it applies values to each card and gives you a table which you can use whether to push all-in or fold.

SAGE is a completely defensive system, by playing a mathematically correct way you ensure your own weaknesses are not exploited – however you forgo the chance to exploit any of your opponent’s weaknesses too.

An exploitative heads-up strategy is one which you adjust to take advantage of your opponents weaknesses. The easiest example is an opponent who plays too tight. Here you can push all-in wider than the equilibrium (math) would suggest, exploiting the tendency of your opponent to fold too often.

Another example might be an opponent who pushed all-in with mid-strength hands, yet limped or mini-raised aces, kings and ace-king. Since you can rule out those hands when this opponent goes all-in, you can profitably call with a wider range that the math might suggest – exploiting this players weakness in giving away their hands.

Aggression is the key in the late stages, you can not afford to wait for a hand – so put your opponent to the test early and often!

If you want to learn how to crush those SNG tournaments, I recommend my free 4-part course 'The $16 / Hour SNG Blueprint', this takes beginner to intermediate players through the steps they need to earn $16 per hour on average from the tables. It has had some excellent feedback, so grab your copy now!

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