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Hand Selection In Sit ‘N Go Tournaments – Part 1, Early Play

By Marc Weinberg

Sit And Go tournaments, which I will refer to as SNG’s in these articles are an online poker phenomenon, and in my opinion they’re one of the many excellent reasons to play poker on the Internet. They are tournaments that start as soon as the maximum number of entrants have bought-in, and they run continuously on all the big sites. There are short-handed SNG’s (with anything from 2 to 6 entrants), single-table SNG’s (by far the most common format, with either 9 or 10 players), all the way up to multi-table SNG’s. I would like to focus on single-table tournaments that consist of 9 or 10 players. All multi-table tournaments where there are 20 or more opponents require a very different strategic approach.

Which type of Sit and Gos should you play?

Single table SNG's

My favorite type of SNG comprises a single table where you do not have to worry about new opponents coming to your table, or conversely, for you to be moved to a new table during the tournament. Staying put is a key feature, and a tremendous advantage for a strong player. You are now able to get a good read on your opponents and play accordingly.

Maximize the ratio between your stack and the blinds

It is vital for you to note the ratio between the size of the blinds and the size of your stack. Basically, if you are a strong and skillful player it is an advantage to have that ratio be as big as possible, which means small blinds and big starting stacks.

A SNG where everyone starts with 1000 chips is very common in online poker. But I prefer those poker rooms that give you 1500 or even 2000 chips (you can find this at high-limit SNG tournaments) to start with. It simply means that you can be more skillful and creative without reducing the tournament to a series of mindless all-in races where it’s 55%/45% at best every time.

Your goal is to finish in the money, not necessarily with lots of chips

The key in any SNG is advancing to the payout structure. Once you get into the final 3 of a typical SNG you are assured of a positive return on your investment, and in many ways the tournament now starts anew. It’s like the regular season has ended and you have made the playoffs. It doesn’t even matter if you had the best regular season record (you currently have the most chips), although that certainly helps. The playoffs are an event all in themselves, as the three remaining players vie for top honors. If you are eliminated as one of the first 7 players you can’t make the playoffs and your season/tournament is over. In an SNG everyone left in that final 3 usually has a chance to win it.

Early play game plan

Loosen up your hand selection early on but be selective aggressive

There is a hand selection paradox that operates in tournament poker, and which is exacerbated when playing in an SNG. One might go so far as to say that recognizing this paradox is pivotal to making money in these games. Poker players know that when fewer players are involved in a pot the value of starting hands increases. If there are 10 of you at the table and you hold KQ you have a marginal hand. If you are heads-up KQ is suddenly a very strong holding. So, you might think that you should play KQ very conservatively early on in a tournament, but push it aggressively in the late stages. However, and here comes the paradox, it is more advantageous to play this hand aggressively EARLY in tournaments when the table is still full than it is when the table is short-handed.

In order to get to that coveted payout structure you need a game plan, and in my opinion you need to make yourself known and hopefully feared early on. This means getting involved during the first two levels of play (the first twenty hands), and pushing in a thoughtful controlled manner with those marginal hands. The one big advantage of this strategy is that the price is right to be aggressive. If the blinds are 10/20 you will be perceived as showing plenty of aggression by bumping it up to 75 with your KT suited, but practically you are showing very little aggression in terms of the total % of your stack that you are placing at risk. If someone comes over the top and makes it 200 to go you can then fold without it impacting your stack. But generally speaking, if you have position, you will take control of the betting action for that hand. You are now in a position to win with either a continuation bet after the flop or by actually hitting your flop. If you win the pot and get the opportunity to show your hand then so much the better – now you have established a reputation as a bit of a loose cannon, which you can then temper by folding for the next few rounds.

More importantly, your early betting activity establishes you at the SNG as a player who needs to be watched. You might be betting with nothing or have a big hand, but either way they know who you are.

This becomes very important in an SNG because as the blinds are raised relentlessly the rocks come under great pressure. Opponents realize that the rock has played in very few hands to date (some players fold every hand in an SNG until they are in the last five or even four) and is merely trying to survive, so when a conservative player suddenly pushes with a big bet later on he is far more likely to be called down.

The same is true of a maniac who has consistently raised numerous pots beforehand. It is hard for an opponent to respect a big bet by either of these two “types” in late stages of an SNG – unless their stack demands respect.

But let’s say you have shown selective aggression during the SNG and you now push all-in. I guarantee you that unless someone after you wakes up with a real monster hand you will get no callers. A good player who has AJ must lay it down in the face of your all-in because you have been both active and selective beforehand. Poker players have very good memories for betting styles, and that early betting activity a half an hour ago is not forgotten by any of the remaining players.

Remember that early on in an SNG it is a fine line – play in a few pots, and play those aggressively, but do not play in too many.

Adapt to the players at your table

Your hand selection should also depend on the context of the table, which is always different depending on who you’re playing against. If you’re at a table full of maniacs it should feel like your birthday. Watch three players go all-in at every opportunity, sit back and relax. In this case you should be very selective from the outset and let the other players do all the work for you.

The same is true if your SNG features a bully with a lot of chips. Let her knock out your opponents and avoid any confrontations by ensuring that you only play for pots where she has already folded. If your table is very conservative and tight early on you must try to dominate with position bets. It doesn’t matter what cards you are getting, you need to steal pots early and establish that table image.


So, your early hand selection will vary from one SNG to the next but the general rule is to show that you’re willing to play any two cards from the outset. Be bold early on, because the ratio of antes to your chip stack allows you to be bold. It will give you breathing room later on in the SNG when it becomes far more difficult to play marginal hands well, and if you’re hopelessly short-stacked down the line you will still be respected by your foes.

In future articles I will show you when to tighten up, and then finally when to get extremely loose and aggressive.

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