Low Stakes Sit-and-Go Tournaments

© 2006 Randy Saylor

Winning consistently at single table online tournaments is a realistic goal for moderately experienced players. Following a simple strategy for the beginning stages of the tournament can set you up for long-term success.

The tournaments in question are known as sit-and-go’s (SNGs). The name is derived from the fact that the tournaments have no set starting time. Once a predetermined number of players register (sit), the tournament starts (goes).

SNGs exist in many formats. Some sites use nine player tables, some ten. You can play shorthanded (five or six per table) instead. You can play Holdem (limit, no-limit, pot-limit), Omaha, stud, or HORSE. Buy-ins range from $1 to $1000. Some SNGs even have multiple tables (2, 3, 5, or even 20)

The general focus of this article is full table (nine or ten players), single table, no-limit Holdem games with buy-ins of $11 or less. A basic knowledge of the format and mechanics of SNGs and no-limit Holdem is assumed. Although these strategies can be considered at other types of SNGs, adjustments must be made. Players are usually better at higher buy-in levels (usually). You must use a wider range of starting hands in shorthanded events.

One other sit-and-go variation is the speed or turbo game. These tournaments differ from regular SNGs in the amount of time between blind increases. Because blinds increase much faster than the normal game, a player must adjust starting hand requirements and play more aggressively, for fear of being blinded down to a small stack.

Bring the Proper Attitude to the Table

If you haven’t already, stop “gambling” at poker. If you want to gamble, play dollar buy-in no-limit holdem and go all in with inside straight draws. If you want to consistently win at these beatable games, you must realize that this is a numbers game. Play your consistent strategy (with just enough variety to keep your opponents from getting easy reads on you), and the profits will come in time.

Here’s an attitude adjuster for you: imagine you own a casino. A regular craps player comes in and wants to always wager on “two”. With two dice, the chances of a two being rolled are 35-1, yet the house only pays 30-1. If $1 is bet 36 times, the player will (on average) lose $1 35 times and win $30 once, for a net loss of $5. This means that each and every $1 wagered on “snake eyes” has a +$0.14 expected value for the house. What would you do if that player won twice in a row? Would you still accept the wager? Of course. How about ten consecutive wins? Would you become reluctant to accept the bet? You shouldn’t. If the odds are in your favor, and you have sufficient bankroll to weather some bad luck, you know you will profit in the long run if your advantage remains intact and you don’t change your playing style due to tilt.

If you have fully developed this attitude, you will be willing to grind out your time at the SNGs, knowing that your profit will follow. The casino gains an advantage in games like craps because the rules are skewed in their favor. While you can’t adjust the rules of Holdem, you can develop skills and strategy that will put you at an advantage over most of your opponents.

Bring the Proper Bankroll to the Table

Remember our casino comparison? Besides having an advantage in the games, the casino has a virtually unlimited bankroll in relation to the betting limits. Unless you have a rich uncle, your bankroll won’t be unlimited, but a little discipline can provide you a margin of safety.

Generally speaking, a proper SNG bankroll should be 20-30 times the buy-in plus entry fee. If you choose to play $10+1 tournaments, you should set aside a minimum of $220 for your sit-and-go efforts. If you play a more aggressive style than recommended here, you might choose to start with $330 or more, to allow for the greater variance your style will create.

Remember, AA heads up, all-in, preflop is a 4-1 or more favorite over other starting hands. But 4-1 is 80%, not 100%. AA should win, but can certainly lose. If you are able to get all in with AA in this situation, you have made the correct play. Having a sufficient bankroll will allow you to overcome the situations when the best play doesn’t work out like you hope.

Bring the Proper Approach to the Table

Set yourself up for success. Eliminate the distractions. Turn off the television, close the web browser, and shut down the email client. Play one table at first. If you are experienced at multi-tabling other games, you can work your way into multi-tabling SNGs. If you do play multiple tables, make sure to stagger the start times so you are not trying to play two or more heads up at the same time.

Pay attention to what happens at the table. If a player strikes you as being rather good (or bad), make a note on them, so you have that information next time you face them. When you make the top three at your table, put a “$” in the notes for that player. If you encounter a regular opponent with lots of “$$$” noted, you have an idea who to watch out for.

In this weekly series:

Part I: Attitude, Bankroll, and Approach
Part II: From Ten Down to Four Players
Part III: The Bubble and ICM Calculations
Part IV: Heads Up Play

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