Getting Started with SNG Strategy

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If you've ever had that itch to play a poker game but just didn't have the time to commit to an MTT or cash game, could be the answer! These poker tournaments differ from MTTs in that the blinds go up quicker, and there are fixed number of runners. Once all seats are filled, it's off to the races. There's no scheduled start time, like MTTs.

By far, the most popular version of an SNG is the single table format (STT). And, it's easy to see why. They provide one of the fastest ways to make a quick quid or two.

SNG Strategy: Main Components

Within this strategy guide, we break down 5 key elements to solid SNG play. There's little room for error because SNGs go quickly. In the blink of an eye, you could find yourself severely short-stacked or even on the rail.

We have picked out five key areas that we feel are important for you to learn.

It needs to be pointed out that there is a lot more to SNG strategy than these 5 Sit and Go tips. However, the above advice will form a good basis from which to build on. To do well at this game, you simply need to get a decent handle on these five strategy tips.

It's as good a place as any to start.

Starting/Opening Hands

The first lesson to take on board regarding opening hands is that they can dramatically change in value, based on stack size, table position and SNG tournament stage.

Starting hands like AA-JJ can be played strongly at all stages of the game. That said, you can't just wait for premium hands to play. In SNGs, the blind levels are much quicker than in MTTs. So, there is an element of survival here.

SNG vs. Cash Games Hand Ranges

Unlike in cash games, when you bust in a SNG that's it. No rebuys and no way to get revenge on that 7-2 hand that cracked your Kings.

There's also the blind levels in SNGs to consider. As the SNG tournament progresses, and your chip stack gets shorter and shorter, your starting hand range should change.

In a cash game, there is no need to open up or tighten up your starting hand range due to the blinds. At cash tables, the blinds stay the same from the start of a session to the end of it.

There's no threat of blinding out. And, if you bust in a cash game, you can easily buy back in and continue playing where you left off.

SNG Early Stage – Hand Ranges

Let's say that you're in a 9-Max $5 buy-in SNG. Starting stacks are 1,500 chips, and everyone is still about even. It's the third hand in, and you're dealt Pocket 77 on the SB. There is a raise to 2.5xBB from UTG+1 and one caller. What should you do?

Pre-flop, when heads-up against any random hand, Pocket Sevens is roughly a 66% favourite. However, you should bear in mind that this is the third hand of the SNG. You will be playing out of position and up against at least two opponents. Those factors alone will affect the odds of you winning.

Any overs on the flop will likely mean that your Sevens are no good. If you 3-bet, you could find yourself looking down the barrel of an all-in. This might not be the spot you want to choose early in a SNG to get all your chips in the middle.

In a the later stages of a SNG, Pocket 77 could be an all-in hand. Depending on stack sizes and how many players are left, you could easily find yourself 3-betting with the same hand.

SNG Late Stage – Hand Ranges

Say, you've made it into the late stages of a SNG, one off the money. You're second in chips at the table and wake up on the SB with Pocket 77 (again). A player UTG+1 with 1/3 of your stack raises 2xBB. Another player (about equal stacked with UTG+1) flat calls the raise and the Button folds. This is the perfect time to 3-bet. You don't have position on the other two players, but you do have a lot more chips. Also, you don't want the Big Blind to come in for a cheap flop.

In most instances, a healthy 3-bet with the Sevens will win you the pot. The difference in this scenario is that now you have a big stack, facing opponents who might be more inclined to fold.

Starting Hands by Position

By far, the most important factor that should determine which hands you should play is position. This beginner's standard list of (playable) SNG 9-Max opening hands by position will get you started on how you should play each hand pre-flop.

Early Stages - SNG Beginners Table
 RaiseLimp (multi-way pot ONLY)Reraise
EP88+ AJs+ AQo+66+QQ+ AKs
MP66+ A10+22+JJ+ AK
LP22+, A7S+, Q10+22+, A2s+, S10o+JJ+ AK

Sizing Your Bets

SNGs are a condensed form of MTT and a major strategy area, common to both poker formats, is bet sizing. However, the fact that you'll be facing a maximum of 8 opponents in a 9-Max SNG will affect how you size your bets.

Pre-flop Bet-Sizing

A good rule of thumb is to set your pre-flop raising according to the table dynamics. If 3xBB works, then go with that.

Pre-flop raising in SNGs tends to be more frequent and more aggressive than MTTs. In a full ring SNG, the average starting stack is 1,500. In MTTs, that number tends to average out at 3,000. With blinds starting out at 10/20, you are already facing an uphill battle in SNGs to get chips – and quickly.

In early MTT stage play, your pre-flop raises will be about 3xBB and drop to around 2.5xBB in the later stages. In SNGs, as a beginner, your raise amount should be consistent throughout. You don't want to raise too big and over-commit to a hand you might have got away from in a deeper-stacked MTT, with longer blinds.

Post-flop Bet-Sizing

Post-flop play is also more aggressive than in MTTs. The pressure to build up your stack is on, with shorter blinds and smaller starting stacks. When the blinds are small, you can almost c-bet every flop.

Let's say you're in a $10 SNG. It's the 4th hand (very early stages) in and you are on the Cut-Off with Ad-Js. Everyone folds around. You raise 3xBB and get called by the BB. It's heads-up to the flop. The flop comes down 7s-Qh-Jd. The BB checks and you c-bet 50% pot and get the fold.

In the later stages of a SNG, the normal 50%-70% standard c-bet might not be smart. You could find yourself facing an all-in or being raised all-in. With the much bigger blinds and smaller average stacks, your c-bet sizing should go down. A smaller c-bet (around 30%) can be just as effective and less risky. It will usually get the desired fold without having to put your whole stack on the line.

Now let's go back to our $10 SNG. We are down to 5 players (middle stages), and you are again dealt Ad-Js on the Cut-Off. Everyone folds around. With the blinds at 100/200 you raise 2xBB. The SB folds and the BB calls the min-raise. The flop comes down 6d-Kh-Jc. The BB checks and you bet 1/3 pot, this time round. The BB calls. You suspect they hold a hand like K-Q or K-10 suited. The turn brings a 6s and again the BB checks. You check behind. The river is a Qc. The BB checks once more and you check too. They showdown Ks-9s. Your flop c-bet didn't get the fold, but by sizing it at only 1/3 on the flop, you controlled the size of the pot. And the act of betting ensured that the out-of-position BB player didn't dare bet into you on future streets with a King with a weak kicker.

Finally, an important tip in SNGs is to choose your starting hands wisely. If it can withstand a raise, it can withstand an all-in – that should be your train of thought. If, not, muck it quick!

SNG Stages Play

There are three distinct stages of a SNG tournament, and your strategy should differ, accordingly. During the early stages, you will have the most number of opponents to beat, and the blinds will be at their lowest. On the flip side, in the later stages, you'll be facing fewer players and the blinds will be at their greatest point.

Early Stages

7 to 9 Players, 20BB to 75BB Average Stacks (Blinds 10/20 to 30/60)

As a beginner, a tighter more conservative play (TAG or tight-aggressive style) is easiest to execute and can be the most successful.

By taking fewer risks in the early stages, adopting a conservative style, you have a decent chance of making it to the money. Although maintaining this style of play might get you into the later stages, you'll probably be severely short-stacked. It won't give you first place, where the bulk of the money is at.

However, if your goal is to cash in as many events as possible, starting off in the early stages with this strategy is perfect.

Playing A10o – Early Stages

Say you're in a 9-Max $10 buy-in SNG. It's early stages, and you're dealt A-10 off-suit, under-the-gun. How would you play this hand? This is an easy fold – well, not so easy, but it's a fold. A-10 out of position is a trouble hand that can cost you a lot of chips – and perhaps your SNG tournament life – if you get it wrong.

Middle Stages

4 to 6 Players, 11BB to 22.5BB Average Stacks (Blinds 50/100 to 100/200

In the middle stages of a SNG, when several players have been eliminated, and the blinds have increased levels, you should be looking to “change gears”. If you have been playing a tight game, it's time to turn it up a notch.

It's this stage that will determine whether you make it into the money. Taking more risks will be crucial to your chances of survival. This is an optimal time to steal more blinds and pick on players who are still playing a very tight game.

Playing A10o – Middle Stages

You're now entering the middle stages, and again you're dealt A-10 off-suit, under-the-gun. How would you play this hand? There are a few options, depending on stack sizes and your opponents' tendencies.

If you have a bigger than average stack, a standard raise could win you the blinds. Whereas before you had 9 players to beat, facing 6 opponents or less, you could well have the best starting hand.

Bubble Play

4 players remaining, 17BB Average Stacks (Blinds 100/200 approx.)

In a 9-Max SNG, the bubble will occur with 4 players left. The following table outlines your strategic course of action during this stage.

 Big Stack more than 20BBsSecond Big Stack 10 to 20BB2 Short-Stacks less than 10BBVery Short-stacked less than 5BB
Aggression LevelSuper HighMediumMediumSuper High
ActionPressure Short-StacksAvoid Big StackAvoid Big Stack & Pressure other Short-StackGet all-in and try to double up
Goal/ ObjectiveMake it into the money with even more chipsMake it into the money with a healthy stack intactMake it into the money in second place, if possibleKeep doubling up until you have a decent size stack to make the money

It all comes down to your stack size. If you're Big Stack on the Bubble, this isn't the time to rest on your laurels. And, if you're severely short-stacked with blinds at 100/200, it's unlikely you'll be able to make the money by folding.

Bubble Stage Tips

  • No limping allowed – Whether you're big-stacked or short-stacked, this late in a tourney with money on the line, you should always raise when entering a hand. This is especially true when on the button.
  • Keep up the pressure – Especially if you're a big stack, with three short-stacked opponents, you should use their fear of busting before the money to your advantage. Keep up the pressure by raising at every opportunity.
  • Be committed – When you do raise, be aware that you may have to call an all-in. Make raises that make sense and that you can commit to when faced with aggression.
  • Don't double up opponents for the sake of it – You have to be wary of doubling up opponents by over-committing to a hand. Too many loose raises and calls can result in loss of your big stack power position.

Late Stages

3 players or less, 7.5BB to 15BB Average Stacks (Blinds 150/300 to 300/600)

Once you reach the late stages, you may already be in the money or just outside it (on the bubble). Either way you need to become much more aggressive and look to place as much pressure as you can on your opponents. The blinds are bigger and coming around even quicker. You'll be short-stacked and short on time in a hurry if you don't get active. So the name of the game, during late stage play, is aggression.

Playing A10o – Late Stages

You've survived playing A-10 off-suit in the early and middle stages, and now you're dealt it again in the late stages. This time round you're three-way and in second place. How would you play it? This is an easy raise and possible 3-bet – based on your opponents' tendencies.

Three-handed, you've probably got the best of it, and your strong 10-kicker could prove the difference up against any random Ace. Obviously you don't want to bust or double up the shorter stack, but A-10 is a much stronger hand when down to 3 players. Therefore, you should play it aggressively.

When to Shove

If you find yourself down to less than 10BB to 12BB, you should be shoving all-in pre-flop when you get something half-way decent. This isn't the time to be overly picky.

  • Early Stage – You can afford to be a bit choosier with the blinds at their lowest levels.
  • Middle Stage – You should look to push closer to the button or when it's folded around.
  • Bubble Stage – You want to survive into the money. Be choosy but don't miss your spots to push and possibly double up.
  • Late Stage – You've made the money, so it's all gravy now. You're probably pushing with any 2 cards.

One last tip about the pre-flop all-in shove, short-stacked: Be the first all-in into the pot. There's nothing more that screams, “you're dominated”, than a raise, an all-in behind and a call by you as a short-stack. You want to be the all-in raiser and not the caller.

Staying Aggressive in Position

This section follows on from what was just discussed in Late Stage play. There is an added twist, however. Using your position aggressively is what separates the average SNG player from the top-notch ones.

If you know anything about poker you'll know that, in many instances, “position” has more power than the actual holding.

All of the top players know how to utilise position in a poker game. Generally, this means becoming more aggressive the closer to the button you get. However, sometimes extreme but timely aggression in a multi-way pot can overcome being out-of-position.

Check out how poker pro, David Benyamine, uses a “weak” position to aggressively take down Jamie Gold.

Blind Stealing in Position

When you're “in position” (e.g. on the button) and it's folded around to you, your chances of winning the pot increase sharply. You only have two players to beat, and they are in the weakest positions at the table, the small and big blinds. Even if you do get into a hand post-flop, with either or both blinds, your odds are still quite favourable being last to act. Let's say that it gets folded around to you on the button and you want to nick those blinds. If you put in a standard raise, your two opponents will probably fold.

Just keep in mind that there is a delicate balance to stealing the blinds. Overdo it and you could be facing an all-in. Under use it and you'll miss out on opportunities to pick up “orphaned” blinds.

SNG Multi-tabling Strategy

The key to making money in SNG tournaments is by playing more tables, also known as multi-tabling. When you multi-table, you play more than one SNG at the same time.

Why is this important? In MTTs often there are big guaranteed prize pools with substantial overlays. Meaning that that the total number of buy-ins doesn't always cover the guarantee. In SNGs, the prize money is exclusively based on the amount of the buy-in and the pre-set number of runners. For example, in a 9-Max SNG with a buy-in of $5 + $0.50, the prize pool is $45, no more no less.

Now you could just double the number of hours you play but that could take away from the enjoyment. A better solution to increasing your SNG profits substantially is to up the number of tables you play at the same time.

A good way to get started multi-tabling is by adding one more table than you are currently comfortable playing. If you play one table now, play two in your next session. When you get comfortable playing two, add a third, and so on.

How the Maths Works

Say you manage to get up to playing four SNGs comfortably in a single session. You're crushing the tables at a win-rate of 15% ROI (return on investment) at the $11 buy-in level. Based on this rate, your average profit per SNG session would be $6.60.

4 (tables) x $11 (buy-ins) = $44 x 15% (win-rate) = $6.60 profit, playing 4 tables

Now you decide to add 4 more tables per session. You're up to 8 tables but with more hands to play and action to follow, you're win-rate falls to 10% ROI.

8 (tables) x $11 (buy-ins) = $88 x 10% = $8.80 profit, playing 8 tables

Even though your win-rate has fallen 5%, by adding 4 more tables, your profit has increased by a whopping 33%. And you didn't have to put in any overtime to do it!

A by-product of multi-tabling is that you can practise a Tight-Aggressive (TAG) image. TAG play is one of the most consistently profitable ways to play SNGs. By playing more SNG tables, you'll also stack up on invaluable experience as a tight-aggressive, formidable opponent.

Final SNG Strategy Thoughts

SNGs can be the perfect game for both amateur and pro players. Play 180-Max games to get more of an MTT feel. Jump onto a 9-Max table to get that quick poker hit you've been yearning for.

As for SNG strategy, this guide should put you in good stead to successfully play these types of poker games. Plus, if you're just starting out and in search of a good place to fine-tune your SNG tournament skill, you'll have all the necessary tools to get started right here.

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