We all love playing tournaments. The thrill of winning and the anxiety of sweating every hand at the final table can be an exhilarating experience. The problem with most poker tournaments is the time they take to complete. If you’re like most people who have jobs, kids or some sort of life, finding the time to play a long poker tournament can be hard to do. This is where sit-n-go’s come in to play, and the $1-$20 buy-in ones are pretty easy to beat with a good low limit sit-n-go strategy.
Almost every poker room today offers these types of games. A sit-n-go is a smaller, shorter version of a poker tournament. They come in many different formats. Depending on which site you’re playing on, you can choose from single table 9 mans, 18 mans and even 180 man games. The 180 mans have become somewhat famous on Poker Stars due in part to Shaun Deebs epic run a few years back. He made a nice living playing these games and eventually achieved Super Nova, one of Poker Stars most prestigious accolades – check out our 180 man turbo sit-n-go strategy to help beat those games. A sit-n-go allows players to experience a tournament in a shorter time frame. They play much the same and the strategy is similar. Of course the two are not exact, but this is as close as you can get to playing a poker tournament without spending 10 hours of your life in front your monitor.
How Your Low Limit Sit-N-Go Strategy Should Evolve
For the sake of this article we will be using a single low limit sit-n-go table as demonstration. Most strategy is the same for all variations with small tweaks here and there, but the general concept applies to all formats. The game starts when the pre determined amount of players register. In this case once nine players have bought in, the game will begin. Blinds will start off very small and increase gradually as they would in a tournament. Your goal at the beginning stages of a low limit sit-n-go is to not bust. I know this should be your ultimate goal and may sound a bit confusing but hear me out. Most of the time the weaker players will be very active early on and spewing chips all over the place. They try to bluff and are very hard to get to fold. Because of this we are going to be very reluctant to play any type of non-premium hand.
Let the other players bust each other out. Our goal is to make it to the last 5 or so players so that we may use our skills to reach the final three. In a nine man sit-n-go the payouts are the top three spots. Busting out early is always bad, but in this case it’s even worse. Since we only need to beat 5 other players to make it into the money there is no need to be playing recklessly. I’m only playing my top 5% of hands at this stage. This includes AA-KK-QQ and AK. Everything else, I’m folding. If its limped around to me and a few other players limped in I will play small pairs looking to hit a set, but other than that there is no hand worth playing. This may be a bit overwhelming to hear, but trust me, if you’re playing too many hands, you can easily lose all your chips and have to start all over again.
The middle stages of the game are when the blinds start to get around 40-80. We can now open up a little and start to play more hands. We should now have a semi decent read on what types of player are at the table. If we spot a loose player we know there is no chance of bluffing him. If we see a nit that is folding a ton, then it’s blind stealing time. I still advocate a very tight style of play at these stages. Even if we folded every hand up to this point, we will still have around 1200 chips left, (most sit-n-go’s start with 1500 chips). With 1200 chips left we can still do some damage and are in good shape to make a run for the money. We have also established our image. To anyone paying attention, we are now an uber nit. This allows us to start stealing blinds and pots. When we do raise, our opponents are likely to give us credit for a hand.
There is no set of hands I recommend playing at this point. There are too many factors that will determine what we do at this point to have a pre defined hand list. I will advise to keep playing your premiums and to add in hands such as KQs AQ and AJs. Also, if I am going to play a small pair I am always raising. No more limping in at this point. When we play small pairs at the early stages the blinds are so small that it’s cheap enough to limp in and see a flop. The blinds are not worth stealing so raising and having to fold on the flop or to a 3-bet is just wasting equity. However, now that the blinds are bigger, they are worth going after. It’s all about risk vs. reward. Obviously our reward is very small in the beginning compared to later stages.
Once we make the bubble, which is defined as one player left before the payouts begin, we can now start to play aggressive. In most cases we are left with a short stack compared to the blinds. What this means is that if the blinds are 100/200, and we have 1900 left in our stack, than we only have enough chips to get it all in with our hand in most cases. Therefore, if we are playing a hand we are almost always never folding. There are situations where we can fold if we raise with a stack like this, but that is a little more advanced and will come with practice.
The good news is most of our opponents will also be on a shorter stack. There may be one guy with a huge pile from going on a nice run but in most cases everyone will be on a short stack. Since everyone’s goal should be to make the money we can begin to exploit this by stealing the blinds. Players will be reluctant to play a hand that isn’t very good if they risk busting out. You must never call an all-in unless you have a good enough hand that has showdown potential. Never should you be calling all in with suited connectors, king high, etc. I see this mistake a lot and it costs you money. A player will raise with trash and have no choice to call it off because he already has so much in the pot and be left a huge underdog.
Most of our play will be against the blinds. If there is a player with similar stack sizes in the blinds, our plan is to raise all-in almost every time if it’s folded to us. There are two stipulations to this. The first is if a player in the blinds is a calling station. Our raise will not work and we should only be playing better hands. Not saying to play only premiums, but we can’t be shoving and in this spot. The other situation where shoving any two cards is a bad idea is when a player in the blinds or anywhere at the table is on a super small stack. In many scenarios we will find ourselves on the bubble with one player who has very few blinds left and is close to busting out. Our best course of action at this point is to wait it out and hope they bust. Playing a marginal hand and busting out before the short stack is one of the worse mistakes you can make in a sit-n-go.
In The Money
Once we make it in the money we have to start playing very aggressive. The blinds will hit us almost every hand forcing us to make moves to stay alive. Folding weak hands and letting yourself get down to 3 blinds or so is a huge mistake. I’d rather shove any two cards and lose than let myself get down to 2 blinds and blind out. If we have a big stack we punish the other two players by raising every hand forcing them to fold because neither wants to bust before the other. This same concept applies to bubble play as well. On the bubble if we are a big stack we can raise almost any hand building a huge stack to take into the money and give us a much better shot at winning. Now if the other players will call you with anything our best bet is to step back a little and tighten up some, but most of the time we will be able to get away with it.
When heads up play begins both players are almost always short stacked. If we have a very short stack, we have to play any hand regardless of what we have or how our opponent reacts. Heads up play is somewhat of a crap shoot in a sit-n-go since both players will be looking to get it in with marginal holdings, so don’t be upset if you lose. The important part is to make sure we are not playing too weak and only looking for good hands. As long as you are taking the initiative and trying to win the blinds build a stack or double up, you should be fine. In the long run you will come out on top.
If you noticed, I haven’t discussed any post flop play. This is because there won’t be much post flop play if you play a sit-n-go correctly. If you’re playing a lot of post flop poker, you are most likely playing too many hands. This is an easy fix however. Just tighten your range of starting cards. There will be times when you need to showcase your playing skills. For the most part we are either betting hands when we have something or folding when we don’t. The reasoning is because it’s too costly to risk chips on a bluff. This is especially the case at lower limits where players don’t fold. Against tighter players we can attempt a continuation when we have nothing, but if we get called, we should be shutting down unless we hit something on the turn and evaluate our situation form there. For the most part you can safely get away with fit or fold poker since the majority of our decisions will be pre flop, our post flop weakness will not mean much.
This is a very basic outline of low limit sit-n-go strategy. There way too many variations of the game and variables while playing to explain an exact strategy. This would take a whole book to teach and that probably wouldn’t be enough. One good aspect of low limit sit-n-go’s is the fact they are very easy to learn and at lower limits take only basic strategy to be a winner. I recommend playing the lower stakes games and getting your feet wet before even contemplating tackling the big games. Keep reading articles on Plenty Poker to gain more skills and wisdom to start moving up the ranks.