By Donovan Doust
Sit ‘n’ go tournaments on FullTilt are quickly becoming one of the most popular formats in No Limit Hold ‘em poker. Originally the format was used for satellite tournaments that would allow players a chance to win a seat at a large buy-in event with a relatively small investment. Instead of putting up $1,000 to enter a major poker tournament, 10 players would each put up $100 plus a little something for the casino (maybe 10%) and the winner of the satellite tournament would win a seat at the larger tournament. Today, the sit ‘n’ go tournament format has taken the online poker community by storm. A sit ‘n’ go tournament is an impromptu tournament that starts as soon as a certain number of players are registered (most commonly 10) and is over when one player has captured every chip in play. Generally the pay out structure for a ten player sit ‘n’ go is 2 buy-ins for third place, 3 buy- ins for second, and 5 buy- ins for first. Sit ‘n’ go tournaments offer a great opportunity for players interested in sharpening there tournament poker skills by allowing them to practice early stage, middle stage, and late game strategy all with a minimal investment of time and money. They also offer an extremely lucrative opportunity for anyone willing to put in a little study time and practice.
Optimal sit ‘n’ go tournament strategy is much different than cash game strategy and offers less variance and swings than multi-table tournaments. You need a much smaller bankroll to play one table sit ‘n’ go tournaments than to play larger field tournaments. Because the players at sit ‘n’ go tournaments tend to be less experienced than cash game players, and due to the lack of published literature on proper sit ‘n’ go strategy, it is my format of choice. There are many exploitable subtleties to the format that will allow skilled players to make more money per hour with less variance (or swings) than any other structure within any given bankroll limitation.
Most internet poker sites offer a good selection of sit ‘n’ goes that can fit practically any bankroll size. The difference in skill level of your opposition at these games can vary quite a bit, for the sake of simplicity I will be addressing small stakes No Limit Hold ‘em sit ‘n’ goes, say $10-$50 buy in, ten player, events. We’ll assume 1000 in starting chips and blind rounds starting at 10- 20 and progressing relatively quickly. I’m going to list the most important concepts in sit ‘n’ go strategy.
Most small stakes sit ‘n’ goes are reminiscent of Wild West shoot outs. They could be described as loose-aggressive, high action games. Patients will be the most important element of long term success in the face of such “carnage”. Many of the players who are attracted to these games are the players who watch a lot of televised poker and believe No Limit Poker to be a game about bluffing, fancy plays, and all-in moves. When I refer to patients I am advocating an extremely tight playing style, particularly in the first two or three blind rounds. In the first blind round you should be folding almost every hand you get. You’re just looking for one hand to play to double up and or bust someone. When you finally do enter a pot you will be entering with a raise, not a call with premium hands, really only AA-TT, AK and AQ. When you play those hands you will be playing them aggressively, raising three to four times the big blind and trying to hit a flop and get all the money in. You will also play speculative hands in the early stages when you can play for a very small portion of your stack, never more than 8% and only from late position. When you play a speculative hand such as a small pocket pair or AXs, you will be looking to flop a monster or a draw to a monster so you can double up. You can also play good suited connectors like JTs or T9s from the dealer or cutt- off position.
When the blinds start getting larger, say the fourth blind level, you will have to start playing more aggressively from late position. You’ll also have to open up your starting hand requirements; your goal is to steal one round of blinds per orbit by raising in late position with hands like AJ, ATs, and 77. If you can double up one time in the first three rounds, you will then be able to succeed just by maintaining your blind position throughout the rest of the tournament. With all the wild players getting in massive confrontations over huge swing pots it is important to stay out of trouble when at all possible. Remember, when one guy busts every other player at the table and only the two of your remain, even if he has four times the chips you have, you are still guaranteed at least 3 buy-ins. That’s a very good result for the amount of time it takes to play your average sit ‘n’ go. Sit ‘n’ go tournaments are about survival. You have to protect your chip stack while looking for low risk opportunities to double up. Once you’ve obtained a comfortable stack, you have to maintain your chip position by looking to pick up some blinds with strong hands in late position. If you’re the type of player who likes to push small edges and play for first place, maybe these tournaments aren’t right for your style of play. The pay out structure rewards survival. You are penalized, mathematically, for winning a sit ‘n’ go tournament. You will have captured 100% of the chips and only be awarded 50% of the money. Let’s assume a pay out structure in which the winner takes all, you would only have to win 2 out of 10 tournaments to double your buy-ins and get a 100% return on investment (disregarding the house fee). If you win 2 out of 10 sit ‘n’ goes you without any 2nd or 3rd place finishes you will actually be losing money. Conversely, if you took second place in a winner takes all event 4 times in 10 but never actually won one, you would lose 100% of your investment, the same as a player who busted out first in all 10 games. If you place 2nd 4 times out of 10 with the standard sit ‘n’ go structure, you will turn a profit even without ever winning one. Any first place finishes are really just icing on the cake, if they come they come. The key, then, to sit ‘n’ go tournaments is to survive and thrive, let the money come to you. Really you should just be trying to make it ITM (in the money) 40% of the time. If you follow a very safe, tight-aggressive strategy, while looking for low risk opportunities to double up, and use position and aggression to maintain your chip position, you should be well on your way to beating these games.