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Restoring the edge in online poker: Sit and Go's

By Marc Weinberg

One of the biggest differences between online poker and live-game poker is the fact that establishing a table presence is worth so much less in the online scenario than it is in your regular card room. A lot of poker writers believe incorrectly that these two environments are completely disparate, and these same writers love to state that playing online poker well does not mean anything when you sit in front of nine other faces who can see yours. I think that poker tournament results over the past two years show clearly that the experience gained from playing online is invaluable and does have a direct bearing on your overall play. You see thousands of hands, which you have to play for real money against real opponents, and this fact alone outweighs any of the perceived disadvantages of online poker play.

But, one definite problem about playing online poker is the fact that your opponents are so transient and temporary that it changes a fundamental aspect of successful play, namely creating a table persona, which is achieved through deliberate and usually false "advertising". In poker it is crucial to play unpredictably and in order to do this you first have to get your opposition thinking of you in a certain way. So, you might bluff aggressively early in a session and advertise this fact by showing your rags at the end of a hand. Win or lose you hope to inculcate that thought in other players' heads that you are a buffoon who has no business being in charge of real cash.

Then when you play a hand like a rock no one will be any the wiser. You also advertise through your betting patterns and any other actions you might take at a poker table, and most of these techniques are either unavailable to you online or irrelevant.

The reason they are irrelevant is that in ring games the composition of your table alters almost minute by minute. There are thousands of tables for any online poker player to choose from and he moves nomadically from one to the next. This means that strategies such as bluffing are of far less use to you in online limit games. Furthermore, when players do stay at the same table online they tend to be less focused than a typical live-game opponent. Online poker players like to multi-task, answering their phones or emails, surfing the net while they play, and even serious online players often like to play at multiple tables simultaneously. This necessarily means that they are paying less attention to you, and so your fancy moves of appearing unpredictable will have little effect on the outcome of a hand.

However, all hope is not lost, for online poker offers an easy solution that restores this critical edge for good players. That solution is the single-table tournament, also known as the Sit And Go. This is the only format in online poker where you can be assured that you will face the same opponents for the duration of the contest. No new faces ever gain access to the table and provided you play in Sit And Go tournaments where the initial stack size ratio to blinds and antes is reasonable you will have ample time to read other players as well as create your own (hopefully deceptive) image. Certain single-table tournaments are handicapped in this respect by online poker's love of speed. So-called "turbo" events and short-handed tournaments tend to diminish this skill, but only slightly. The real key is that players are not moved away and replaced, they are simply eliminated.

In my opinion Sit And Go Tournaments offer you a lot more than "final-table" experience. For one thing you start off level terms, which is never the case when you make an actual final table. In fact, Sit And Go's are only like final tables when you get down to the money positions. Before that they are a unique opportunity to play with all the guise and skill you would usually employ in a tough ring game at your card room. They also offer excellent value in terms of the rake and payouts, but let's leave that for another discussion. For now I am content to "advertise" the merits of the Sit And Go for serious players.

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