Are SNG Tournaments Becoming Tougher?

Assesses The Changing Poker Environment Which Might Contribute To Observations
That Sit N Goes Are Becoming Tougher… And Suggests Some Common Sense Remedies!

It’s a question that has been asked many times – and will undoubtedly continue to be asked for many years to come: Are Online SNG Tournaments Becoming Tougher?

There are several factors which are usually brought up in these discussions which might contribute to the toughening of the games. Here I'll go through them one by one assessing them as objectively as possible. While I'll agree that the games are not as easy as they once were, they are still very much beatable (especially at the $22 and under level).  The second half of this article looks at ways in which you can fine tune your games, and maybe you profit expectations, and get on with building that big poker bankroll.

Are Sit N Go Tournaments Harder? Contributing Factors Assessed

Here are the factors put forward by people on forums / blogs as to why the games are getting harder.

1. Training Sites: There are an increasing number of training sites catering for SNG Players. While these vary hugely in quality, what they will do is quickly plug the main leaks of losing / breakeven players and turn them into ‘super-tight early, push-late’ players. There is little doubt that a certain percentage of fish are becoming small winners, what I can not say is how long these trained players last at the tables. One thing I feel this contributes to is the amount of players who 'partially' understand strategy, but get lost when anything non-standard apprears. For example, people who know they should be raising the button when folded to, but still manage to make major errors when one of the blinds 3-bets. As sub-niche of this category are the staked players in stables who receieve training in how to grind and share their winnings with their coach / backers. At the lower buy-in levels you will find a lot of players with a very 'robotic' strategy in the 9, 18 and 180 SNGs particularly - along with some better players who have 'graduated' from the real grind.

2. Popularity Of ‘Grinding’: Go back a few years and the players with 12 or 16 tables were the exceptions. With improved computers and bigger monitors, learning to grind SNGs for a small profit from many tables is within the reach of more players. While the ‘burn out’ from this form of the game is higher, it only takes a few grinders to soak up the value from a lot of SNG tournaments. This is the key reason for me that the games are less profitable, there the same number of winning and losing players - only the winners are playing 12 games at once and the losers 1 or 2. This means the proportion of winners is higher, and the dead money in the prize pool smaller. One counter argument is that grinders play a fairly robotic strategy in order to get their volume high, if you are observant and take notes you will be able to exploit many of them. Of course, the obvious way to counteract the growth in grinding is to accept that the profit per game is smaller than it used to be, and learn to play more games yourself to make up for it.

Planet Mark’s Rec: The Easiest Sit and Goes Online are Over at America’s Cardroom!

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Instead of tables full of ‘regulars’ who know the math, bubble strategy and hand ranges, ACR Poker is recreational. Compare the fields to the bigger sites, and you will quickly see how soft they are for yourself.

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ACR Poker Mark's Rec

3. Books, Forums and Websites: The sheer amount of information aimed at varying experience levels is huge. Again, quality varies and is consumed at the reader’ risk. However, anyone seeking a solid education can find one! I agree with this to an extent, though you need to be aware that only around 20% of players will ever read a poker forum, and even fewer than this will contribute. Again, those who do read books / websites will often clean up their biggest leaks (aka, stop spewing chips!), this kind of education requires work on top though - and for me the majority of players will not put in the required effort.

4. Tools, Particularly ICM Calculators: While the original – and now horribly dated – SNG Power Tools was used by the elite few 6 or 7 years ago, now you are not considered serious about the game unless you regularly analyze your hand histories in ICMIZER 2. Even those who do not use ICM directly understand it – meaning the ‘huge’ bubble mistakes which used to provide much of the cash are fewer (though thankfully still there at the lower to mid limits at least). HUDs like Holdem Manager, which also keep databases of your own hands, make up for the lack of reads multi-tabling grinders have while stacking those 16 games. What these do is quickly highlight the fish (via their 'crazy' stats), those new players then become targets - which unfortunately often leaves them broke and trying a new hobby before they learn the basics of online poker - oh well!

Combined these factors have lead to the mid levels ($15 through to $55) at the larger poker sites becoming filled with grinders who are sharing the cash donated by an ever-shrinking pool of less experienced opponents. Fortunately there is still a lot of dead money in the lower limits - my personal belief is that you really only need to start serious table selection at the Pokerstars $15 Turbos and Full Tilt $26's. Below this level and at some of the softer sites the amount of recreational players trying out these games keeps them plenty profitable enough.

Are SNG Tournaments Getting Tougher? Planet Mark's View!

My view is that the above reasons for the games toughening up are partially true, but that the natural turnover of players and ‘market forces’  actually created a balance –  the games got tougher in the late 2000’s… but have now reached an equilibrium in which the motivated individual can easily rise above the competition... if (and this is my key point) they are prepared to work hard on their own game and not blame 'the donks' or 'bad luck'.

Players burn out from SNGs surprisingly fast, those who stop enjoying online poker are just part of the equation… most others move to the challenges of cash and / or MTTs after building a bankroll in 1-table  tournaments, in my experience grinding SNGs for more than 18 months is very rare indeed.

The equilibrium model hypothesizes that ‘too many grinders spoil the game’ and that some will naturally move on to other games or stop playing… which makes the games profitable again – attracting more grinders (and so on). This can result in temporary ‘waves’ of too many grinders, along with easier periods – over time there is a natural balance.

Still Think Sit N Goes Are Too Tough? Here Are Some Simple Solutions!

Here is where the profitable players and the rest diverge… talking about a problem is only useful if you plan on considering solutions – and then acting on them. Here are some common-sense ways in which you can counteract the toughening games and grab yourself a slice of the big profits still available in this form of the game!

1. Table Selection: Sharing a SNG with 7 grinders and 1 fish  is never going to be as profitable as playing a big group of inexperienced opponents. Even if you can beat the grinders it will not be for too much return, and will rarely make up for the positive expectation that they have against the worst players. Simply monitoring the winners, making notes on them (color coding where possible) and then actively avoiding them can make a difference to your ROI at the end of the session. Really, if you see 4 regulars signed up for the next 8 games waiting for fish, then go make a coffee and work on your hand histories for 15 minutes - waiting for session with a better balance of players will more than pay for your lost time.

2. Site Selection:This amazes me, it surprises me and to be honest it also frustrates me... We all love Stars and Tilt right? Great software, loads of games and, well, just about every pro SNG grinder out there too! Moving away from the forum herds can be very profitable, with many sites offering growing player bases and much softer games… if you can not find enough games at Intertops, BetOnline or Red Kings to fill your screen – how about thinking outside of the box and playing at 2 of these simultaneously?? Party Poker is amazingly soft compared to other Non-US sites. For US players the games at are crazy compared to the big international sites... yet people still keep sitting with a bunch of other grinders and wondering why they can barely do better than breaking even!

3. Training: If you do not yet have the bankroll to join Cardrunners or Tournament Poker Edge, then there are plenty of free alternatives around. There are more than 200 SNG strategy articles right here at SNG Planet (and not forgetting my Blueprint course!), forums and books available too. For some players, the faster you start looking at your own leaks and stop blaming others for your 'bad variance' the quicker you will become profitable... and once you have the cash to invest in software tools and training, you can quickly move your game to the next level.

3. Invest In Software: Many of the poker software tools available give players a large profitable edge at the tables. These work in various ways, such as keeping stats on opponent tendencies, giving you real-time odds information and even by analyzing your hand histories after you play looking for leaks. If you are serious about profits then tools should be seen as an investment, and not an expense! We have a categorized section dedicated to the Best Poker Software Tools – check it out now - these days, you will not make a long term profit in Sit N Goes without learning the bubble math, ICMIZER 2 is the best tool by far for this, and will pay it's monthly subscription many times over... see for info. 



  1. ACR Poker SNGs Review (A lot of games, progressive leaderboards, more regs than other US sites)
  2. Bovada Poker Review (Here is where you will find the softest games for US players)

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