A Comedy of Errors
Crushing SNGs by Exploiting your Opponents Mistakes
Copyright www.sitandgoplanet.com 2007
We all know where the money comes from in Poker right? It comes from your opponents
mistakes! Fortunately there is one area of poker where there are simply more opportunities
to make mistakes than any other… Low buy-in Sit and Go Tournaments.
This eBook will go through the stages of a SNG highlighting common errors that your
opponents will make time and time again… In order to turn these errors into $$$ in the
bank each section will contain an effective counter-strategy. In no time at all you will be
crushing SNGs, clearing bonuses and cashing out again and again!!
This book assumes some familiarity with SNGs – if you are new to this area I suggest
taking a look at the structure over at Full Tilt Poker first. You can use ‘play money’ until
you are confident enough to make a deposit – as an introduction you can get a bonus
matching your first deposit up to $600 when you use our exclusive bonus code
We suggest that you read the entire guide before implementing any individual strategies.
The key concepts which link all of the sections are Fold Equity (having enough chips to
threaten your opponent with elimination – or at least major stack damage) and correct
Bubble play (the part of the SNG where the next person out does not get paid).
The Early Stages: Why ‘Tight is Right but Tighter is Righter’
Middle Stages: Opening up and Stealing Blinds
The Bubble: Why the bubble is the most important part of a SNG.
In The Money: Now its Time to go for 1st
Heads Up Play: Unexploitable HU Strategy and when not to use it!
An Introduction to the Independent Chip Model (ICM) and how this can
seriously improve your results
Reading the Table and Individuals
Common ‘Trap Hands’ and how to play them
Software Tools to further Improve Your Game
Bankroll Management and the importance of Bonus clearing
Which Is The Best Poker Site For Sit n Goes?
The Early Stages
Ok, so you have sat down in a $10+1 SNG at your regular poker site, the blinds are tiny
compared to the starting stacks and the usual collection of novice players have sat down
with you. What do you look out for? Here is a quick summary of the most common early
game errors… we will look at each one in more detail below and then look at the counter-
Playing too many hands, especially out of position.
Cold Calling Raises in Multi-way pots
Post-Flop Play; Calling too much and Bluffing too much.
Bet Size errors, Pot Control and Pot Odds.
Playing too many hands, especially out of position…
In an average SNG your opponents will be playing a lot of hands, some as many as 40% of
all hands dealt. This means that the flop will be seen by anywhere between 3 and 5 players
on average. Their logic is that it is cheap to see the flop and potentially hit a monster. While
this can happen the risks taken do not equal the chips gained! Let us look at a couple of
Example 1; You are first to act on the very first hand of a SNG, you are dealt two black
10’s – not a bad starting hand but not a great one. You decide to raise 3 times the big blind
to 60, everyone has 1500 chips to start…here is what happens.
- 3rd to act is Clive the Calling Station, he has KJ of hearts and calls because they are
- Fred the Fish in 5th Position has 44 and calls, the first 2 might be bluffing!
- Aggressive Andy is 6th and calls with 78 suited; he read in a book that suited connectors
are good hands…
- The button has A6 off-suit but is getting 4/1 on his call and has position so calls too.
- The Big Blind has the mediocre Q9 off-suit, however he only has to put in 40 chips into
a pot of 250 so makes the call.
The question is - what flop do you want to see here? Any over-cards, connected cards
(especially high ones) and suited cards have to be a worry. Of course 1 time in 7.5 you will
flop a 3rd 10… but hang on, what if there is another high card or even 2, can you be sure
that someone did not flop a straight?
Example 2; Fred Fish has A7 of Hearts in middle position, there are 2 limps ahead and he
also limps as does the button, not the Big Blind raises to 60 (3* the Big Blind) and the
limpers ahead call, the pot odds (200 in the pot 40 to call = 5/1) are huge so Fred calls,
button calls behind. The flop is 4A6 with 3 different suits… it is checked to Fred. The
question is what to do?? Is his Ace good? Almost never!! But people play these Ace-Rag
hands again and again!!
There are circumstances where it makes sense to speculate early. First let us be clear about
why playing too many hands early will lose money long-term. Sure you will get the
occasional double up, but most of the time you will not! Most of the time, say 3 out of
every 4 SNGs played, the people using this logic will find themselves with small stacks in
the later stages… as you will see later in this guide, this is not just a problem – it is a
disaster!!! The mid to late stages rely on an important concept – Fold Equity, if someone
gives this up in an attempt to double early they will end up losing money!
The effective counter strategy is ‘tight is right, tighter is righter’ here. Play only premium
hands in the early levels, either fold 1010 under the gun or raise enough to cut down the
field to a single opponent, fold AJs in middle position; fold AK if there is a raise and a re-
raise ahead. If you want to enter a pot then it should mostly be with a raise… if your hand
is not good enough to raise it is not good enough to play. Let the fish knock themselves out
with A7 and KJ suited – be patient enough to maintain your stack for the middle stages –
you will end up cashing more and more often.
There are some exceptions, situations where it can be correct to play a below-average hand
in the early stages. It is important here that you have the discipline to fold after the flop
when you miss – bluffing is never a good strategy early in a low-level SNG!
The kind of hands I refer to are medium to low pairs and high suited connectors (910s+) in
position (very important that you are last or almost last to act as it minimizes the risk of
being raised out of the hand pre-flop and also gives you an opportunity to see your
opponents act before you make a decision after the flop). Small pairs are great on the button
when there are limpers ahead – go ahead and limp behind, if you hit a set then bingo! Time
for a double up… if not then the hand is easy to ditch on the flop. Be more careful with the
suited connectors – top pair is not good enough to play a big pot. If you hit the flop hard (2
pair or a combo straight and flush draw) by all means bet, if not then keep that pot small…
Cold Calling Raises in Multi-Way Pots
This is a horrible play that you will see often in SNGs. Someone raises 3 or 4 times the Big
Blind and – boom – 4 people call. The question to ask here is ‘with what hands would it be
correct to cold-call a raise in a multi-way pot?’
- Small / medium pairs might fit the bill, but then again if the raise is more than 20% of
your (or biggest stacked opponents) stack then this is a negative expectation play –
remember you not only need to make the set but to get all of someone’s chips too… not
going to happen every time, in fact the rule of thumb to use here is make sure you have
12 to 1 odds from at least one opponent (do not count with 2 opponents stacks together
as it is very rare to stack 2 people at once!).
- What about the Ace hands… AK / AQ / AJ / A10 or even lower. Well you will hit the
flop 1 in 3 times with one card (assuming no-one is sharing your outs) but how do you
know if your hand is good? There could be a higher ace out there, 2 pairs, trips or a
number of draws… its going to cost you money to find out.
- Maybe suited connectors or high cards, again dangerous – you simply can not expect to
make a profit on such a call enough times to make it worthwhile – say you flop a flush
– even the greenest novice is going to stop putting money into the pot with 3 suited
cards on the board!
It comes down to maintaining your Fold Equity for the all important bubble once again.
The strategy to follow here is simple, do not over-call a raise in a multi-way pot – either
fold your AQo or re-raise that pair of Kings strongly enough to take the pot or get heads up
with a single opponent. With say 600 chips in the pot you should be trying to win it right
away – too many people try and get fancy hoping to extract more – don’t do it!!
Post-Flop Play: Calling too much and Bluffing too much
So we know that low level SNG players enter too many pots with too many hands without
proper regard for position… but what about after the flop? Well if Clive Calling station
entered a pot with A7 Suited and the flop comes 2 6 A you can be sure of one thing – he is
not folding!! This creates some good opportunities and some hazards, and also re-enforces
the point that it is correct to play super-tight early. If you are holding Ace King here the
solution is easy, value-bet, build the pot and take the guys stack. But say you have a pair of
Queens? We suggest making a good size (2/3rds of the pot) Continuation bet here, but
when you are called you must give up the hand, do not bet bigger on the turn hoping that
someone will suddenly decide their kicker is too low… its just not going to happen!! An
Ace on the flop in a low level SNG is the end of your high pair – simple.
Now we can have a look at the reverse situation, someone raises pre flop with their Q10
suited and misses… in a low level SNG you will see them bet and bet and bet to try and
take a pot. One thing to look out for is the ‘string bet’ that is a bet of the same size on each
street, might as well just type in the chat box ‘I missed please give me the pot!!’, bets which
double on each street are also worth looking out for, these usually indicate a weak hand –
but not one which has completely missed.
The strategy in the early levels is do not bluff!! Too many people will call to the end with
nothing more than Ace high (or even less). The continuation bet is another matter – you
should be making a good size raise on the flop most times when you took the lead pre-flop
and have been called. However if you have a missed hand and are called you must shut
down immediately! Make sure you do not continuation bet into more than 2 people with a
missed hand, there is just too much danger that someone caught enough on the flop to call
Post flop play is too huge a subject to cover in 10 eBooks, let alone one. Think of this as an
extension of the ‘preserve your chips’ strategy, if you are only playing premium hands in
good position you should not face too many tough post flop decisions. Some of the above
concepts will be expanded in the sections on ‘Trap hands’ and ‘Reading your opponents’
Bet Size, Pot Control and Pot Odds
This is where things get interesting… the errors made when betting are huge, an effective
counter strategy here can do huge amounts for your bankroll. Some betting ‘tells’ will be
covered in the ‘Reading Opponents’ section – here we will look at the common errors and
how to effectively counter them.
Firstly the min-raise, whether first into a pot or min raising limpers this move is completely
crazy!! As before we need to look at what kind of hand the min-raiser could have that
would justify such a move?
- A premium hand (AA / KK / QQ / AKs) why min-raise these? Anyone who would have
limped is likely to call the 20 or 30 more chips. Anyone who has already limped is
going to call the extra too… now there are 5 people seeing a flop – your Aces still the
best hand? Maybe, but premium hands are at their best when against a single opponent
pre flop for a big pot. You need to raise a good amount pre flop here, a min-raise is just
asking for trouble.
- A Non-Premium Pair? No No No! The value in these hands comes from hitting a set
and taking someone’s whole stack. Why commit more chips than you have to pre-flop?
After all there are 3 more betting rounds if you do hit, it is simply a waste of chips and
thus a waste of your precious fold equity to min-raise pre flop here.
- High Cards (AQ / AJ / KQs etc)? Again no benefit of bloating the pot pre flop, the thing
with these hands is it is easy to lose a big pot if you get out flopped. You should be
putting in a decent sized raise, narrowing the field to a single opponent and then either
taking down the pot on the flop or folding and moving on if you encounter significant
- Suited connectors? No again, your value is from flopping a hidden monster, this will
not happen very often so keep things as cheap as possible pre-flop.
If you see an opponent min-raising in a low level SNG you can be pretty sure they do not
know what they are doing – no hand justifies this play. The counter strategy here is simple,
find out what your opponent is min-raising with and re-raise them at the appropriate
moment. They will often fold but if they choose to play a big pot with that pair of 6’s pre
flop then we are happy to oblige…
Pot Control is the concept of adjusting your bet / raise sizes to create the right size of pot
for your hand. Obviously with a monster you want to create a large a pot as possible, most
opponents will do this (see ‘Reading your opponents’ section for a note on slowplayers).
The error that your opponents make is usually in the other direction; they play a big pot,
often out of position, with an average hand. Going back to the example earlier of the guy
with A7s – people will raise and re-raise here! Now think about the hands this guys
opponent could have, a better ace, trips, 2 pair etc etc – why build a pot with a medium
strength hand, your objective if you find yourself in this situation should be to get to
showdown as cheaply as possible.
A related concept is the bet after all the cards are out that has no chance of winning any
money. Here is an example, you have 10 10 and get to the river against a single opponent
with the board reading 8 6 5 9 J the last 2 cards put a total of 3 spades on the board. You are
in position and have been betting each street your opponent checks to you on the river.
Should you bet again? No! The reason is simple, you will only ever be called by a better
hand in this situation, is your opponent has a flush, straight, trips or maybe even AJ he will
call – or probably raise – if you have him beaten the likelihood is of a fold. Learning to spot
these situations will save you many chips over time and chips at the table soon translate
into $$$ in the bank!!
Finally for this section we will look at pot odds errors. The concept is this, if the odds you
are getting from the pot are better than the chances of your hand improving on the next card
you should be inclined to call. If the odds are worse than your chances of improving you
should be inclined to fold. Do not forget about implied odds here - the extra bets you might
win on future betting rounds if you do make your hand. For now we will look at common
errors in early play.
- Chasing draws against the odds. The amount of times people will call huge bets with 4
cards to a flush and one card to come is horrible!! Think about it, the flush will be made
approximately 1 in 4 times, if someone takes 2/1 odds on a 4/1 chance enough times
then they will go broke very quickly! Put another way for every time this opponent
makes his flush and doubles his stack he will lose his stack 3 times… can be frustrating
when someone outdraws you in this manner, learn to be happy about it – this is where
your $$$ are coming from!
- Giving odds to drawing hands. Here is the reverse, there are 1000 chips in the pot on
the turn and 3 spades out, Frank Fish with his pair of jacks wants to extract more value
from his hand and bets 200… Now the opponent holding the ace of spades and queen of
hearts has 13 outs, he will make a winning hand more than 1 in 4 times and is being
offered 6/1 odds on that possibility – over time his call will make chips even without
the possibility of more bets on the river. The counter strategy is clear, if you suspect an
opponent has a draw you must bet enough so they are making a mistake by calling,
whether or not they call and hit this time their call will lose money over time.
The Middle Stages
The middle stages of SNG tournaments provide even more opportunity for an unskilled
opponent to make mistakes. This stage can be described as when the blinds reach 10 to
15% of your stack. The mistakes made here are due to adjusting, or rather not adjusting, to
the new circumstances, less players and higher blinds. As you will see below there are 4
key aspects to middle stage play, loosening your raising requirements, tightening your
calling requirements, stealing blinds (which also includes the lucrative re-steals!) and
finally stack size awareness.
By this stage you hopefully have at least some reads on the table and individual players. If
not then please read the ‘Reads’ section of this eBook.
We will look at the raising and calling changes together, assume 6 or 7 players remain and
the blinds are now 100 with the average stack up to 1300. What does this mean for raising
requirements?? Well we can start with pairs, at a full table there is a reasonable chance that
one or more opponents wake up with a nice high pair, lets put it at 20% for the purposes of
illustration… at a full table your pair of 8’s in Early position may be playable for set value
here, be careful though you would not want a raise pre flop and 2 over cards on the flop!
Let us look at a 6 handed table instead, well 60% of the 20% chance means just 12% to
work with. Now there is an improved chance that your 8’s are the best hand. You need to
reduce the requirements for raising a pot to account for the reduced players, the chances are
reasonable (read dependant!) that you pick up the blinds with each raise… when this is
10% or more of your stack then consider it a success!
The main thing your opponents misunderstand in the middle stages is that the ‘gap’ concept
has become more important. You need a bigger hand to call a raise than to raise yourself at
all stages of a sit and go – as you go through the middle stages towards the bubble this
becomes more important. There are two reasons for this, both are important and both
illustrate why you need to be the raiser and not the caller!
Let us look at it from the perspective of taking the initiative. Fred fish raises in early
position (short handed which equals middle position at a full table) for 3* the BB or 300
chips, both of your stacks are equal at 1200 and you are in the BB with 88. You put Fred’s
range as any Ace, Any Pair or any 2 cards 10 or above and call the raise… seems
reasonable at the time – you have around 50% equity against Fred’s range. But hang on,
assuming you do not hit trips on the flop what are you going to do next? Leading out with a
bet could work, but here is the rub – what hands that Fred calls with are you beating, say on
a 2 over card flop? You could check and see what Fred does – but surely he continuation
bets into one opponent with his entire range – now what, you have to pay up to half of your
remaining stack to see if he fires again on the turn… no thanks!
The key to middle stage play is to be the raiser and not the caller. In fact you would not go
far wrong never cold calling a raise once the raise is 10% or more of your stack, if your
hand is not good enough to re-raise then why not throw it away. See the section on
common trap hands for some exceptions to this! In the example above you should be
thinking about what percentage of his range would Fred fold to an all in re-raise, not about
The mistake that most people make is not understanding that certain hands fall in value as
the blinds go up. These are small pairs, suited connectors, and suited aces that rely heavily
on implied odds to win the chips. They will not hit trips / flushes etc very often but the
reward is big when they do. Once the blinds get to 15% of your stack throw these cards
away… the maths just does not work, here is an example.
You have 1200 chips on the button, BB= 100, someone from EP with the same stack raises
to 300 and you call with 66. The Blinds fold so the pot is now 750. Here is what happens if
we replay 100 times.
14 times you hit the 6!
- 10 of these (being generous) you manage to get your opponents entire stack
- The other 4 times you take the pot as it is
86 times you miss and fold you your opponents continuation bet.
So the numbers looks like this:
10 * + 1650 = + 16500
4 * + 450 = + 1800
86 * - 300 = - 25800
Put it another way – each time you make this play you lose, on average, 15% of your
So, the correct counter strategy in the middle stages is to loosen your raising requirements
and tighten your calling requirements. This should allow you to take enough blinds to
maintain a healthy stack while not taking too many risks with your own chips. Some
opponents will play too tight as the blinds increase – look out for them and raise their
blinds with lesser hands, be prepared to fold to re-raises though, when a tighty raises it is
time to quietly exit the hand and move on!
Everyone’s chips come from somewhere on a poker table. The average low level SNG
player will not take stack sizes into account when deciding their play. You should do this,
particularly when it comes to picking up blinds. Try to avoid the big stacks – it is cheap for
them to call – and the small stacks, who might just take King-high and make their final
stand. The people to steal from are the medium stacks at the table; they are comfortable
enough not to need to take risks without good hands and will give up their blinds more
You also need to note your position relative to the other stacks. If the big stack acts directly
after you then stealing from others at the table will be very difficult. In this case you should
consider reducing the blind steal attempts and instead re-stealing from one of the medium
stacks when you are in the blinds. This has to have a balance – if you re-raise all in each
time someone raises your blind you will be called fairly soon, if you never defend your
blind then it will be taken each round leaving you short-stacked. The occasional re-steal
will cure this problem, remember not to do this with hands that can be easily dominated –
Ace-rag should never be used for a re-steal and small pairs are dangerous here (the hands
that might call you are often overpairs or aces with decent kickers – other hands are more
likely to be folded). High suited connectors, mid-pairs (99+) and AJ+ are all candidates
It has been calculated that up to 65% of a players profitability in SNGs comes from Bubble
play, more than any other part of the game you need to be aware of your opponent’s errors
and capitalize on them.
The first error that many players make is to misunderstand the true nature of the payout
structure… most SNGs pay 50% for 1st, 30% for 2nd and 20% for 3rd. So at the bubble it
makes sense to play for 1st right?? Not Necessarily… Look at those numbers again; the
jump from 4th (0%) to 3rd (20%) is exactly the same size as the jump from 2nd to 1st!!! This
actually makes a huge difference to the optimum strategy – forget playing for 1st and start
to think of the bubble as the place to maximize your equity in the prize pool, to do this you
need to cash first and then think about going for the 1st place.
The section on ICM (The independent chip model) will look into maximizing your equity
in the prize pool in more detail and will also show exactly why you must fold many hands
at the bubble even when you are fairly sure you are ahead of your opponents range. ICM
will add $$$ to your bankroll, but first lets understand some common errors and how to
Those errors are; Not understanding push / fold strategy and why the post-flop poker is
over, playing too tight, calling too loose, and not taking proper account of stack sizes and
The example I will use is this; 4 players remain, a big-stack with 5000 chips, 2 middle
stacks with 2000 chips and a small stack with 1000. The blinds are 300/150 with no ante as
yet. You are one of the middle stacks and pick up 10 K , the small stack folds UTG and the
big stack folds on the button you are next to act in the SB what is your line?
Without any doubt you should be pushing here, the other medium stack can not profitably
call without a top 2% hand – even if he knows what you have!! To be clear we can look at
- Raise 3* BB to 900, well if the other guy pushes you are now getting 2/1 on the call and
should probably call the all in based on pot odds alone.
- Raise 2* BB to 600, ok, he calls (getting 3/1 after all) and you miss the flop – now
what? Or you hit 2nd pair but an Ace also falls – what do you do?
The reason you push is to maximize your fold equity, it is what you have been carefully
preserving those chips for throughout the game! The other guy can not call, not because he
‘respects your raise’ but because the risk of busting out in 4th makes the call unprofitable –
why take a coin flip with a small stack in the BB for 30% of his stack next hand.
A common error is that people will take these chances, think about what happens if he calls
with say 88, you have a coin flip and one of you will bust. But who really benefits? The
small stack does!!! His precarious situation meant that in real terms he was holding 5% of
the prize pool at the moment the medium stacks went to war… afterwards he is guaranteed
to hold 20% whoever wins the hand, nice result!
To counteract people calling too light on the bubble you need to make an accurate
assessment of their likely calling range. By doing this you can work out which hands can be
profitably pushed. By factoring in stack sizes and aligning this with equity in the prize pool
you have a powerful edge on your opponents! This is difficult on paper – our suggestion is
that you invest in one of the available software tools that do this for you. These are detailed
in the ‘Tools’ section below.
In the above example the big stack actually made a common mistake, with the small stack
not in the hand he could have profitably raised any 2 cards. This would threaten both of the
other stacks with elimination if they called and lost – a big risk for 20% of the prize pool.
Be aware of stack sizes, if you are a big stack it can sometimes be worth keeping the small
stack alive just to exploit the fact that the other stacks can not easily call you!
The biggest mistake at the bubble is to call with easily dominated hands, never call with Ace-rag or
a tiny pair and you will not go far wrong. Make sure that you get maximum fold equity by pushing,
especially when a raise and a continuation bet will leave you pot committed (that is the pot would
be more than your remaining stack). Do not raise a stack that can easily call you (2* your chips or
more) without a good starting hand.
In The Money Play
Great, you made it to the money; a collective sigh of relief comes from the table. Now it is
time to go for first!! In the money play appears on the surface to be the same as bubble
play. There are many similarities including push / fold being the optimum strategy
(assuming our stacks are less than 10 big blinds), plus stack sizes and position are still
vitally important. The major difference is the change in calling requirements from the
previously tight players.
On the bubble a tight player is a goldmine, the error the same person will often make is to
push an average hand as soon as the bubble bursts in a desperate bid to double up. Be aware
of who these people are and call them down lighter (but remember – no calling with easily
Big stacks do not have the same amount of fold equity in the money. Be aware of this if
your stack is large, people who folded to your raises for the last 20 hands are now likely to
play for their entire stack with something decidedly average.
Heads Up Play
Ok, now just you and 1 opponent with equal stacks of 5000, the blinds are 800 / 400 and
you are first to act… what percent of hands should you be pushing here? The next hand,
your opponent pushes all in, you have K9 off suit… is this a call?? The answer, as always
in poker is that it depends!! Really this depends on your opponents range, however if you
can not put your opponent on a range or feel there is a danger of being outplayed you can
revert to what is known as ‘Unexploitable Heads – Up Strategy’.
Here is how it works, if you know you opponents likely pushing range heads up then you
can counter this with a perfectly matched (mathematically speaking) calling range. But
your opponent knows that you will do this and so adjusts his pushing range to exploit this –
gaining an edge! Not to be outsmarted you adjust again based on the fact that you know
your opponent has changed…. And on and on and on! Eventually we reach an equilibrium
range for both people – where neither has an edge over the other, this is known as the Nash
Pushing and calling in line with this range will make your play mathematically
Unexploitable. That is there is no change your opponent can make to his ranges that will
give him a mathematical edge… sounds good! However look at it this way, if your
opponent is too tight (or too loose) this might not be the optimum strategy; by playing
unexploitably yourself you are giving up the opportunity to exploit your opponents
Here is an example of the Nash Equilibrium hand pushing and calling ranges based on even
stacks of 5000 chips and blinds at 600/300.
SB Push Range – 65% of all hands, that’s 86 off suit and better!
BB Calling Range – 10 8 off suit and better!
We strongly recommend you get an ICM calculator to find out more about these subject, Sit
and Go Power Tools – detailed in the ‘Tools’ section below – has a detailed tutorial on the
Nash Equilibrium. A bonus to the edge that understanding ICM (see next section) will give
If your opponent is playing too tight then push more hands, if he is pushing too loose then
tighten up your calling ranges appropriately.
An Introduction to ICM
ICM stands for the Independent Chip Model, it is used to assign a $ value to your chip
shack in a tournament situation and to work out if a certain call has a positive or negative
‘expected value’ based on the stacks and the prize structure, if you see the term +ev or +$ev
this is where it originated.
Understanding ICM is the single biggest factor in improving bubble play. Once you
understand the dynamics of equity in the prize pool you will have a big edge on the average
opponent when it comes to pushing and folding correctly. Let us look at an example;
4 players left with even stacks of 2500, blinds 300/150 and a standard payout of 50% / 30%
/ 20% with nothing for 4th. Your BB, someone ahead of you pushes all in… somehow you
know he has AQ, you pick up 10 10 and are favorite to win the hand, should you make the
call?? NO NO NO NO NO NO NO!!! To understand why not we need to look at this
situation in terms of equity (ignoring the blinds here to keep things clear).
Chips $ Equity Chips Win $ Equity Chips Lose $ Equity
2500 (you) $25 5000 $38.33 0 $0
2500 (raiser) $25 0 $0 5000 $38.33
2500 $25 2500 $30.83 2500 $30.83
2500 $25 2500 $30.83 2500 $30.83
Here is the key point; the chips you gain from this ‘coin flip’ at the bubble do not increase
your equity in the prize pool enough to justify the risk. The maths is clear, by winning you
increase your equity by $13.33, and by losing you decrease your equity by $25!
It should be clear that to justify this call at the bubble you need to be sure you are more than
a 66.6% favorite…
What happens to the rest of the equity? It gets divided among the players who are not in the
hand… they are now sure of 20% as the bubble burst and have chances to reach 1st and 2nd
too – the loose call would spew the prize pool $ to the rest of the table.
Next we can look at the same example, but with a mini-stack at the table, someone who is
already out of the hand and has just 500 chips. The other stacks are equal. Now your equity
in the prize pool is higher to start with but you have proportionally more to lose, you could
be risking 32% of equity in this example in order to win another 10%... now you need to be
around 75% favorite to win the hand before you can even consider calling – and there is
only one hand that fits this description – aces!
We can not stress enough that learning correct bubble play with ICM is vital to profitable
SNG play. Once you have a solid understanding of this then you are in a position to work
out when not to use it! Do not make the error of ignoring this – even if you choose not to
follow this route yourself then an understanding of what your opponents are thinking is
vital. Check out http://www.sitandgoplanet.com for news of the best ICM calculators
available, information on a free 30 day trial of one of the top products is available there.
Finally a word of warning, many – if not most – of the people you are playing against will
not understand ICM. They will make calls at the bubble which are – when looked at
mathematically – absolutely horrible! Your task as a winning player is to identify those
people who will call too light and adjust your pushing range accordingly. Another tactic
can be to stay out of the way of loose players and let them take the equity risks, after all the
people not in the hand are the ones who benefit the most!! To summarize:
Aggression + ICM + Reads = Profitable Bubble Play!!
Reads: Individual Players and The Table
Reading players could be a whole book on its own, here we will concentrate on the main
categories found in low limit SNGs and look at how to adjust our strategy to exploit their
errors. Players can be categorized along 3 different axis, Loose vs Tight, Passive vs
Aggressive and Tricky vs Straightforward.
We are far more likely to find loose players in the early stages of SNGs, these are the
opponents who think any Ace and 2 suited cards etc is worth calling a raise with. Sure,
sometimes they get lucky but most of the time they do not – resulting in a lack of Fold
Equity later in the game and thus crashing out before the money. Since most players will be
loose you adjust by playing super-tight early, preserving chips for when you can really use
Tight players are also easy to spot. In the early stages they will play hardly any hands.
What you need to do is keep an eye on these players when the blinds move up, unless they
open their range to adjust to the smaller field their play becomes very exploitable, try to
steal their blinds more often than others (not every time mind!). What you will often find
with these tight players is once they do raise with a hand they can not fold it, for example
pushing all in on an Ace high flop with QQ, look for this tendency and use it to your
Aggression is considered a good thing in poker, play your hand positively and you win
more pots. That’s fine until you become predictable, look out for players who are raising a
lot of hands – if you have a premium hand or hit the flop hard let them dictate the betting,
they will continuation bet so often it is not worth leading out yourself. If your opponent is
overly aggressive let them fire the second barrel on the turn (assuming not too many draws
on the flop) and then check-raise them, as long as these opponents think they have a chance
of winning the pot they will keep firing!!
Passive players like to call instead of bet; they limp into pots and call bets afterwards with
bottom pair. Passive players can be weak (will fold to your bets) or the ‘calling station’
type who will call bets all the way to the river with their 66 even though there is an Ace on
the flop. Look out for these types, never try to bluff a calling station, if you do hit a hand
against one (again assuming no obvious draws on flop) bet in stages on each street – you
are more likely to get their stack without scaring them off with an all in re-raise.
Tricky vs Straightforward is something to take note of. Watch what players are doing when
they have a monster hand and take a note of it. Will they check and call your bet on the flop
with trips, waiting to check-raise the turn? Or will they lead out with a bet? Will they bet
smaller with Aces hoping for a re-raise or do they raise their standard amount?? The trick
here is to watch the betting patterns, a player who always checks his monsters suddenly
overbets the pot on the flop – you have a decent hand, its an easy call right… someone who
always limps AA / KK / QQ pre flop puts in a standard raise, great – you can now rule out
those hands from their range.
When watching individuals look for predictable behaviors, will someone always raise when
folded to when their stack is large? Will they usually call a raise from their big blind and
then fold to a bet after the flop when they miss? Will an opponent always minimum bet
with a monster hand regardless of position? Will someone always call a bet after the flop
but usually fold to a turn bet?
Watching the table together is another aspect of getting reads. There is some crossover
between the two areas. For the whole table try to assess the overall looseness late in the
game. As the bubble approaches the fact that your opponents may get all in against each
other is very important – it means that you can tighten your pushing range and make the
money by default more often. Conversely a tight / aggressive table at the bubble dictates
that you should also play aggressive poker, you need to stay ahead of the blinds here.
Another aspect of looking at the table together is to establish what bets are being called and
which ones induce folds. For example you might notice that a 3*BB bet gets called by 4 or
5 players but a 5*BB bet is usually only called by 1 or 2. This will allow you to adjust your
own bet sizes based on what kind of hand you are holding. For example a small pair relying
on set value needs lots of opponents on the flop, an Ace King does better against one
opponent as you have a greater chance of winning the pot with a bet after the flop even
when you miss.
Common Trap Hands
This section will look at specific hands that typical opponents make errors with, and advise
on how to capitalize on those errors. Poker is not an exact science – there is never any right
/ wrong way to play a hand. Instead we will look at major areas of bad play and suggest
some possible courses of action.
There are 2 common errors your opponents will make with aces. Firstly slowplaying
them… limping aces is quite simply a horrific play! In a low level SNG people will limp
behind with almost anything, high cards, suited connectors, small pairs – you name it.
Limping aces is likely to result in seeing a flop with 4 or more opponents – you are more or
less giving them a free shot to outdraw you. For every time you see someone limp aces and
cleverly trap an opponent with a lesser hand you will see them out flopped –resulting in the
player with the aces losing their stack!
Aces play best against a single opponent with a high pair, make sure you raise them pre-
flop and get heads up. The only exception is at a hugely aggressive table, where every hand
is raised and re-raised per flop. Limping here might give you the opportunity to re-raise all
in pre flop, if this is against a single opponent all the better. Watch for opponents who
always limp aces – when they raise pre flop you can rule out this hand and play against
The other common mistake with aces is the inability to let them go after the flop. If you
have 2 black aces and by the turn the board reads comes 6789 all hearts and you are re-
raised all in your aces are no good and must be folded! People who cling on when
obviously beaten are spewing chips.
Again 2 errors, we will start with the slowplay which is even more horrible than with Aces.
The problem with this is that so many players will limp in with ace-rag hands and small
pairs. You will seriously devalue your hand by slowplaying Kings – don’t do it!!
The next error is the inability to let them go when an Ace flops. Low limit SNG players
play Ace-rag so often that the chances your kings are good with an ace on the flop are
50/50 at best. You need to find out where you stand quickly – continuation bet or re-raise a
small flop raise. If you encounter resistance then quietly give up the hand, try to see a cheap
or free showdown or fold to a big bet. Conserve those chips for later in the game when you
fold equity is the most important factor.
Ace King is a strong hand and should be raised pre flop when first to act or with limpers
ahead. The biggest SNG error is calling bets when the hand misses the flop in the early
game. On its own this is just ace-high and not good in a showdown. The real value in AK is
two fold – it can not be easily dominated (only by AA and KK) and the ability to see all 5
cards, combined with fold equity, make this a great hand for raising late in the game.
Do not call with AK for all of your chips on the bubble unless you have a very specific read
on you opponent. Remember that being 50/50 to win a hand is a bad result at the bubble –
you are giving away your equity to others who are not in the hand. Raising at the bubble is
a different matter, most of the time you win the pot immediately and when you do not the
winning chances make up for this.
We already covered this in the early game section, people overplay their ace-rag hands all
the time… in the early game these hands are worse than junk and should be folded! The
chances of making the 2nd best hand are simply too high, particularly in a multi-way pot.
Take notes of opponents who play these hands and value bet your medium-high pairs on a
non-ace flop, it will make you money in the long run.
Be careful with these at the bubble too… yes you have an ace if called but the problem with
a small kicker is you will usually be a 30% / 70% underdog when called. Beaten either by a
bigger ace or a pair higher than your kicker. Calling with Ace-rag at the bubble is a horrible
mistake, make a note of opponents who do this and adjust your pushing range accordingly.
Pairs 10 10 to QQ are strong hands when played correctly. Most of the errors opponents
make with them involve not being able to get away from them early in the game, and not
taking the initiative in a hand later (calling rather than raising). Early in the game these
pairs play far better when there are fewer opponents. You should raise enough to cut down
the field. If you do this and a single over-card comes on the flop you can be reasonably sure
that your hand is still good. If you have 3 or more opponents with 10 10 and a Q flops the
chances are much reduced. The big errors are; Calling raises in multi-way pots, calling
raises after the flop in multi-way pots when over-cards come (especially aces) and not re-
raising with these late in the game, particularly against loose opponents. At the bubble fold
equity is king – fold equity + a strong hand is a great situation, re-raise with that pair of
jacks, enough to make your opponent aware that calling will risk elimination in 4th…
people who flat call raises instead are asking for trouble after the flop when over-cards
Small Pairs and Suited Connectors
Playing these for set value early is a positive expectation play – as long as it is cheap to see
the flop. Later in the game you will see people call raises for 1/5th or more of their stack
with baby pairs. This is an error as even when you hit a set and get lucky enough to take
someone’s stack it will not make up for the times you miss and have to fold after the flop.
Early in a SNG you will see opponents playing any 2 suited cards for a raise. Think if this
play mathematically, they will make a flush by the river 6% of the time. Sure occasionally
they get lucky and hit 2 pair or trips… however most of the time these hands either miss
completely or end up making very expensive 2nd best hands. Make a note of these ‘any 2
suited’ players, each time they make the play they are losing chips! Combine this with
reads on them to make sure you value bet their chips right into your stack!!!
Software Tools to Improve your Game
This section reviews some of the many software tools available, for a small investment it is
possible to significantly improve your play! If we look at these in terms of opponent’s
errors then the edge you are gaining is clear – you are analyzing hands to find leaks – your
opponents are not. You are understanding correct bubble play – your opponents are not.
You are calculating equity for hands against a typical range for an opponent – your
opponents are guessing. For the price of a few buy-ins you get an edge that translates into
real profit from the tables – win 3 SNGs that you would have lost otherwise and you
suddenly show a profit on your investment!
1. Poker Office
Pokeroffice is a multi-function application that can benefit cash game and tournament
players alike. Its main functions can be divided into ‘real-time’ and ‘historical’. Pokeroffice
can display statistics on your opponents while you play. These can include the % of hands
played; post-flop aggression ratings and the % of hands played that are eventually taken to
showdown. This is a great help to decision making at the table – for example there would
be little point bluffing into someone who took 90% of their hands to showdown! Historical
data takes the form of a database of every hand that you play. This can be configured to
show which hands win and lose you the most money, a great way of identifying leaks in
your game. There are also some nice charting functions associated with this tool.
Pokeroffice costs $79, click the link below for more information!
2. Sit and Go Wizard
Sit and Go Wizard is a great ICM software tool for players at all levels. This is used to
analyze your hand history after you have played and search for leaks. Any questionable
hands are highlighted and clicking on these then displays the mathematically ‘correct’ play.
This is undoubtedly the best ICM calculator for improving your SNG bubble play – You
will be ‘owning the bubble’ in no time. For more details + a 30 day free trial offer visit
3. Poker Stove
Poker Stove is a free mini-application that is used to compare starting hands against ranges
of opponent’s hands. For example, you have 10 10 and think your opponent could have and
Ace, any pair or any 2 picture cards – click a couple of buttons and you get the percentage
chance of your hand winning a showdown. This can be expanded for multiple opponents.
Available free at http://www.pokerstove.com
4. Sit and Go Shark
Sit and Go Shark is an advanced real-time advisor for SNG play. It claims to increase your ‘In the
Money Finishes’ to a massive 70%! It works by continually analyzing a large number of factors at
the table – these include: Cards, Position, Table Momentum, Betting Patterns of Opponents, Pot-
Odds, Number of Active Players and Blind / Stack size ratios. We are not sure exactly how ethical
this tool is – but it can certainly boost your profits. For more information on this tool including how
to get a free copy please visit:
Bankroll Management and Bonuses
We need to be clear on one thing; if you are playing any form of online poker without
clearing bonuses you are giving away money, lots of money!! With SNGs in particular you
need to be aware of which sites allow bonus clearing via these games, and focus on the
ones which give the most money back per game. Let us look at an example;
Fred Fish again, he is playing the $5+1’s at partypoker, 1000 of them in fact. He has an
ROI of 10% (winners can expect 20% depending on a number of factors – see below). Now
this means that over 1000 games he is making $1.2 per game or $1200 in total. However
now look at what happens if Fred switches to a site which gives points for each game
played… Poker Site X gives points equivalent to half of your fee when clearing a bonus;
1000 games * 50c bonus = $500, now Fred’s total is a more respectable $1700 – this is a
massive 40% increase in profits!!! Now imagine this for a higher limit player, someone at
the $20 level or even the $30, you simply can not afford to be giving this free money
Below is a list of sites which give generous first time deposit bonuses and regular reload
bonuses… do not make the same error of many of your opponents in losing this extra
money. The best method is to join 1 per month until you have cleared all the bonuses, this
will give plenty of time for the sites you have already played to offer you reload bonuses!!
$2000, $3000 or even $5000 extra a year is available to the professional and disciplined
player… make sure you have a plan to get as much free money as possible!!
Poker Site Sign Up Bonus Sign Up Code Reload Bonus’ Yearly Estimate
100% up to $600
Full Tilt Poker SNGPLANET $2k in 2006 $2600
Poker Stars 100% up to $50 FIRST2007 $710 in 2006 $760
100% up to $500
Titan Poker* SNGPLANET $1.2k in 2006 $1700
Free Money = $5060!!!
* Titan is unfortunately not available to US players at the time of writing.
Some common questions concerning SNG bankrolls are outlined below, there are many
different opinions on this subject – each have their own merits.
- How many buy-ins should I have at each level?
A good rule of thumb is to have 50 buy-ins at the level you are playing at, this will allow
you to survive through a run of bad cards without denting the ‘roll too much.
- How many SNGs at my level do I need to play before I can be sure I am a winning
We recommend 500; this is enough to give you a good idea and to eliminate most of the
swings caused by good / bad cards. Some people say 1000 or more.
- What is a good return on investment?
Aim for 20% at the very low limits and 15% at the $25+ level, if you can achieve this over
a large sample you are a winning player, if you do better then it is time to move up!!
Which Is The Best Poker Site For Sit n Goes?
Below is a summary of a number of the best SNG sites – written in an honest and
straightforward way to help the thinking player make an informed choice! 3 of the rooms
(Poker Stars / Full Tilt and Absolute are available to US players – for more detail on these
rooms and poker deposit options please visit http://www.sitandgoplanet.com )
1. Titan Poker (Not-US Friendly)
Use Bonus Code SNGPLANET for the biggest 100% up to $500 intro bonus at Titan
Titan Poker is part of the iPoker network of sites and has the 5th largest player numbers
around. There is only one word to describe Titan – ‘Soft’ – the standard of play is terrible
which makes it a great choice for those seeking to boost their bankroll. The promotions at
Titan are numerous including many freerolls, satellite qualifiers and monthly ‘cash back’
depending on the number of points you earn. The software is rather plain, but very easy to
navigate. For the softest SNGs Online use exclusive bonus code SNGPLANET.
2. Poker Stars (Accepts US Players)
Bonus Code – FIRST2007 for the 100% to $50 Sign Up Bonus
Poker Stars is the world’s largest online poker site. Their selection of SNGs, is huge and
you will never have to wait long for a game to suit you. The software is fast and easy to use
– you can even upload a personalized icon to display at the tables. While the lowest limit
SNGs have a good proportion of fish the higher you go the tougher the competition
becomes. Stars is thus recommended for those players looking for low buy-in SNGs (below
$10). The full review can be found at http://www.sitandgoplanet.com
3. Full Tilt Poker (Accepts US Players)
For The huge 100% to $600 Sign-up Bonus use Bonus Code SNGPLANET
Full Tilt Poker are fast catching Stars in terms of player volumes and game selection. In our
opinion the players are not so tough as the same levels at Stars. The SNG (and tournament)
selection is huge offering something for every preference and pocket. Where Full Tilt really
stand out is the software – looks great and really easy to navigate around. They offer great
freerolls (includes the monthly ‘Iron Man’ $100k freeroll) and the sign-up bonus us big and
quick to clear (Bonus code to get this = SNGPLANET). All in all a great choice for the
4. Absolute Poker (Available to US Players)
Use bonus code SNGPLANET for the full 100% up to $500 sign-up bonus
Absolute poker are well known for their bonuses. Sign-Up Bonuses, Reload Bonuses,
Monthly Top Up Bonuses and more! They are an independent poker site with healthy (and
growing!) traffic volumes. Until August 2007 the software was a weak point – however a
complete update changed this dramatically… now the platform looks and feels great, with
resizable tables for those wanting to play several SNGs at once. Use bonus code
SNGPLANET for the full 100% up to $500 sign-up bonus.
5. Party Poker (Not available to US Players)
Use Bonus Code SNGPLANET for the 30% up to $150 sign-up bonus
The original poker room and still one of the best – Party Maintain the 3rd largest player
volumes online since losing their #1 status after pulling out of the US. They continue to
innovate, offering a number of variations of the familiar SNG theme including the infamous
‘Steps’ which allow you to compete for $2000 as you climb the steps ladder starting at just
$3. A great choice for non-US players, the play is loose and the profits are there for the