There are different kinds of Sit N Goes (SNGs) and the strategy used in them will vary. A six person turbo SNG is played much differently than a slow paced double stack 90 person SNG. For the purpose of this article, I will focus on a larger SNG where there are a lot of players (say 45 to 90) and the blinds increase every 10 to 12 minutes.
The First Few Hands
Be prepared to watch donkeys in action! The first 10 hands often involve players going all in. This happens because some people want to start out with a significantly greater amount of chips than everyone else. If you have 4 players that go all in one the first hand, one of these will end up with $6000 in chips while everyone else will still be at $1500. This is a huge advantage. So your first option is to be a donkey, or be a spectator. I strongly encourage you to not involve yourself fin this luck fest unless you have an absolutely strong starting hand like AA or KK. If you decide to jump in a large pot with 8-J and solely rely on luck, I hope you lose. Seriously! This is not what poker is about at all. If you want a luck game, go play bingo. Poker is not a luck game, it’s a skills game.
Early stages of the SNG
At this point, your focus should be towards establishing a table image. You want to let players know if you’re tight or aggressive and you do this by playing a lot (or few) starting hands, by showing your cards, by betting vs calling vs checking vs folding. The idea is you want to project an image, thus you need to act like that in a consistent manner. Your true objective course is to take advantage of this image later in the game. At this point, take the time to study opponents, figure out who is aggressive, who folds under pressure, who steals pots from the button or blind positions, and get a general sense of the mood at your table. Regarding the blinds, there’s little point in stealing them in the early stages. Often you’ll have to put a lot more money than you should to get others to fold, and if you get a caller or someone that reraises, you’re going to make the hand very painful for yourself. Wait till the blinds increase before stealing them. Focus on image and try to gradually increase your stack by being selective.
Middle stage of the SNG
In this stage, you can take advantage of your table image. The blinds are starting to get more expensive and you should look for opportunities to steal them. Putting pressure on the short stacks is a good idea because they’ll often fold. If you are a short stack yourself, expect the aggressive players to bet into you. It’s a thought position to be in, but it’s also a spot where you can double up. Bluffing someone with a larger chip stack could prove fatal, but letting them bet into you when you have a great hand is a great way to earn chips.
Late stage of the SNG
You are getting close to a paying position. Let’s say top 8 players get paid and there are 15 players left, you’ll notice that everyone starts to tighten up. This is normal. No one wants to take a huge risk and get knocked out after making it this far. Everyone wants to at least get to 8th position. At this point, the blinds are expensive and it is a great time to steal them, especially since players are reluctant to take risks. If you are a short stack, your goal is to double up. You’ll tend to fold a lot until you get a good hand. It may never come, so pick a hand and go for it. Ideally, you can steal a few pots by going all in without getting callers. Bluffing a pot committed opponent would be a huge mistake because you know they will call you for sure. If you are a big stack, pressure the short stacks and force them to fold. Remember, some of them will grow desperate and will go all in without necessarily having an Ace in their hand. If you feel they are acting out of desperation, call them even with average hands and hopefully you will knock them out.
If you make this far, pat yourself on the back! You’re probably growing tried, as is everyone else, but fight it. Stay focused because this is where the money is. Your goal is to win first place. If you are a short stack that means you have to double up to even be a contender. Play tight and go all in with strong hands, try to see cheap flops from blind positions, or steal the pot from those positions when your hand is strong. Big stacks should focus on eliminating short stacks, stealing blinds, bluffing, and pushing people around. Being the table bully is a great job! But don’t be reckless! There’s nothing worse than doubling up an opponent.
You will also see collaboration amongst players to eliminate short stacks. For instance, let’s say they are 5 players left. The short stack goes all in for $15000, everyone folds except the SB who calls. You are in the BB position and the blinds are $1000/$2000 so you already have 2K in a 32K pot. Your hand isn’t that strong but it’s average. Let’s say you have 10-J for instance. You have $120,000 in chips and all you need to put in $13,000 to make the call. I like to gamble and call in this position. My primary concern is not necessarily to win the pot, but rather to eliminate the short stack. The more players in the hand, the less likely it is for the short stack to win. Also, I can afford risk $13000. If I lose it, it won’t cripple me.
What’s interesting in cases like this is that the players with chips left will just keep checking. They both have average hands, they don’t want to put more money in the pot and battle it out, they just want to knock out the weakest player because that way, everybody benefits. If you knock out the fifth player, then you can’t finisher lower then 4rth. You are securing a better payout for yourself and for everyone else left so it is truly in everyone’s interest to collaborate on eliminating short stacks. Of course, once in a while this backfires and the short stack triples up. It happens, and it’s the risk you have to take when getting involved in these hands.