Start Winning Single Table Tournaments Part I

Poker Tournaments

With the advent and explosion of online poker, a new type of poker tournament was born: the Sit and Go. While impractical in a brick-and-mortar cardroom, Sit and Go tournaments can be both fun and profitable online. A Sit and Go is a single table tournament usually seating 9 players (some sites may seat 10, but traditionally full no-limit tables consist of 9 players). There are also popular shorthanded versions with 2 or 6 players. At a full table Sit and Go, the top 3 will pay out with the winner earning half of the prize pool, 2nd place earning 30%, and 20% for 3rd.

As soon as the table fills up with registrations, the tournament begins. Not only are Sit and Gos a lot of fun, they’re essentially microcosms of full multi-table tournaments. Players can get in plenty of tournament practice without a significant time investment. Sit and Gos can also be extremely profitable for the consistent player. In this article, I want to introduce a simple Sit and Go strategy system that I’ve used to regularly finish in the money. This first edition will focus exclusively on the beginning rounds. My overall aim when writing strategy content is to keep it simple enough for new players to understand but still contain at least one useful tip or two for intermediate or advanced players.

At the beginning of a Sit and Go, all players are usually given between 1,000-2,000 chips and the blinds begin anywhere between 5/10 and 20/40 with the exact amount depending on the site’s tournament structure. At the beginning of the tournament, you’ll have at least 50-100 big blinds and the blind levels won’t increase for about 8-10 minutes.

My strategy is based heavily off of the current blind level as it is a crucial factor in determining your decisions.

1. Play conservative and avoid trap hands during the early rounds. I call the “early rounds” anything up to the 50/100 blind level. Essentially, you have plenty of chips compared to the blinds and aren’t under any pressure to win pots. At this level, I will play extremely conservatively because of the low blind level. With such small blinds there is very little reward in bluffing as most pots remain small. I would caution even experienced players about playing mediocre trap hands like K-Q, A-10, or Q-J at these stages, especially out of position.

It is difficult to get away from mediocre hands when you hit top pair, but facing aggressive betting from your opponents means that you’re likely dominated. Even hitting top pair with A-K may not be good on the flop when facing a big check-raise or reraise. With plenty of chips to spare early in the tournament, why risk your tournament life so early on? You’ll need those chips down the road for the increasing blinds so stifle your desire to gamble for a few rounds. By eliminating medium-strength starting hands from your game you eliminate difficult decisions that you shouldn’t have to make with such small blind levels. Neither blind aggression nor committing to pots with mediocre hands will earn you long-term Sit and Go success.

2. Hands with strong double-up value are a great play from late position. By “double-up value” I mean hands that are likely to double you up for a small investment. Good examples of these are pocket pairs and suited Aces. I will see a flop every time from late position with 2-2 or A-9 suited for only $40 or so. If I make my set on the flop and there is also an Ace or King on the board, I stand a great chance to double up against opponents overplaying their top pair. With suited Aces, your best hope is to hit the nut flush or draw to the flush and trapping an opponent with two pair, a set, or a lower flush. The benefit of playing pocket pairs and suited Aces over mediocre face cards is that you have a greater potential to hit much stronger hands that are often hidden from your opponents.

3. Remember that play is generally looser early on than later in the tournament. As the blinds are so small many players like to limp into pots from any position, eager to jump out to an early lead. Even a pot-sized raise in the first round might only be 40 or 50 chips, which looks miniscule to players looking to gamble. Because of this, I recommend mixing in raises of at least 5-7x the big blind when you have a premium hand like pocket Aces, Kings, Queens, or A-K early on in a Sit and Go. Avoid telegraphing your hand strength to observant opponents by occasionally making these larger raises with your lesser hands.

If you’re worried about scaring off your opponents you shouldn’t be. With premium starting hands your goal is to isolate the competition and face less than 3 opponents. The average win rate of any Hold’em hand decreases significantly as the number of opponents increases. Simply put, the odds of another player hitting more than your single pair are extremely high when several players see the flop. Check out our Texas Hold’em hand strength page to see the average winning percentages of every hand combination in relation to the number of players in the pot.

4. Don’t overvalue A-K in the early rounds. In most small-to-medium stakes Sit and Go tournaments you’ll see at least one overanxious player willing to go all-in preflop with A-K in the very early stages. While it is one thing to trap the habitually raising table bully with a possible smaller kicker most of these all-in situations occur with little to no possible logic or read. Players need to realize that A-K is just a drawing hand, albeit a very powerful one. Wait to see if you improve on the flop before committing a large amount of chips.