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Single Table Tournament Strategy for Beginners

By Paul McGuire

Here are some basic tips on playing in ten-person single table tournaments, which are commonly called "Sit and Gos" or "SNGs". I recommend playing Sit and Gos if you do not have a lot of time to play online. You can win as much as five times your buy-in in less than an hour. Most SNGs pay prize money to the top three places with 50% of the prize pool going to the winner. SNGs are also a great way to gain experience playing short-handed.

Early Levels

There are two philosophies about what style you should be playing in a single table tournament: passive or aggressive. When I first started playing $10 SNGs on Party Poker a year ago, my buddy the Poker Penguin suggested that I avoid playing any hands other than AA and KK in the first two levels. It is an ultra-conservative strategy. You are choosing to fold marginal hands early and avoiding having to call big bets. You are essentially electing to wait for monster hands (and playing them strongly) and not moving all-in unless you have the absolute nuts, while the other players knock themselves out early. Survival is the key in the first three levels. Playing against seven or eight players early on increases your odds of winning and you are in a better position to make the money.
The other philosophy is to play hyper-aggressive and see as many flops as you can in the first level while the blinds are cheap. You are also looking to double up as soon as possible and aggressively push all-in with high pocket pairs preflop or with big draws on the flop in a multi-way pot. You will see a lot of maniacs who will try to double up on the first hand with any two cards! It's an all-or-nothing strategy for them and they usually lose. However, if you double up very early, you will be in the best position to win if you play your big stack right.
Pay attention to the players at your table. You will have to size them up very quickly. Find out who the best two players are. Then find the two weakest players. Keep your eyes on all four. Weaker and inexperienced players are harder to bluff. And better players will try to trap you and mix up their play. Never slowplay (unless you flop the absolute nuts) or try to trap in the early levels.

Middle Levels

There was a stretch when I never played anything out side a Group 1 hand (AA, KK, QQ, AKs) before the table was reduced to six players, and that's when I'd shift gears. I would always be close to making the money, but I never had enough chips to be a real contender. I had to rethink my strategy. Selective aggression is important as the blinds increase. You are going have to steal blinds in order to survive. You have to win small pots and avoid calling short stacks that push all in when you have marginal hands.
Level 4 is the most important stage of any single table tournament. At least a few players are knocked out with one or two big stacks and a couple of short ones. If you are in the chip lead, you want to use your stack size to bully people out of pots. If you are short stacked, then it's time to double up. The standard measuring stick for a short stack is 10x the big blind. I use 8x myself, but 10x is quicker and easier to calculate. You need to get lucky and beat a superior hand at some point to win any tournament. Pick a hand, hold your breath, and push.

Short-handed and Bubble Play

When it gets to four players, you will find that the better players will win regardless of their stack size. The key to short-handed play is aggression and position. Use both to your advantage. You will have to bluff to pick up blinds (and antes if applicable) in order to survive. You will have to loosen up your starting hand selection and hit flops. By then you should have a feel for the remaining players and go with your hunches based on the information you have gathered on them. You will have to win all your coinflip situations (example... 77 vs. KQ or AK vs. 99) in the later rounds in order to make the money. Your overcards will have to beat small pairs and vice versa.
When it gets to the bubble, players will tighten up to make sure they make the money and avoid playing marginal hands and fold to any raise pre-flop. That's the time to be aggressive and add to your stack. You are also in a better position to slowplay if you flopped a set or straight or smooth call any raises preflop with big pocket pairs.


To summarize, you should play smart and be patient in the early levels. Increase your aggression later in the tournament by stealing enough blinds and pots. Keep your opponents off balance by mixing up your style of play and hand selection. That is crucial. And lastly, avoid falling into any betting patterns especially post-flop. Some of your more savvy opponents will quickly pick up on your patterns and use that information against you.
The smaller buy-in SNGs on Party Poker are loose and wild. It's more like gambling than playing poker. Players will move all-in with anything and they bluff too much. The quality of play is better at the middle levels with a nice mix of good players and a few loose players. I usually play $30 and $50 SNGs on Party Poker and Empire Poker, where I discovered that patience and selective aggression pays off in the long run.

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