Sit and Go Poker Tournament Strategy

This is a topic that I have been meaning to write at length about but haven't got around to it. Before I begin, a little background, and an introduction to what sit and goes I am discussing.

When I began playing poker about three years ago-seriously approaching the game, as opposed to just for fun-I was playing no-limit cash games with friends. It was what we saw on TV. I then played in a tournament, my first ever mind you, and beat out about 25 drunks and took third. We were still playing but we had never structured a tournament before, and it was going to take hours to finish, so we chopped it up based on our current chip counts.

I then hopped online and started playing sit and go tournaments exclusively on TruePoker.com. It's a very small site with odd software, but it was the only site I knew of at the time. I started dominating those slowly, without even knowing what I was doing. I remember I was winning about twenty-percent of the tournaments I played, which was a good percent at the time.

In the past two years I've been playing at an online casino, I've logged probably 1,500 to 2,000 sit and goes. All from buy-ins as small as $10 and as big as $200. About eighty-percent of them have been from buy-ins under $50. So, I have a lot of knowledge of these games.

When I met Brett Jungblut, he got me started on Party Poker sit and goes. Their structure was similar to TruePoker's, and I immediately took off on them. I still maintain a fifty-percent cash rate at those little $10 sit and goes, and I hover around forty-five percent in the other buy-ins. Brett's advice on end-game play helped immensely and I was destroying these little $10 and $20 tournaments for about $1,000 a week!

Now the structure for any $30 and under sit and go on Party is pretty basic. 800 chips to begin, 10-15 blinds, and 10 hands per blind level. It's a fast structure and when it gets down to short-handed play, it's an all-in or fold situation generally. While it's a little more of a 'crapshoot' than say PokerStars sit and goes, it provides for easy competition. Plus, you can play 20-to-30 sit and goes in about a six-hour session easily.

Early on, the strategy is extremely simple: exceedingly tight. Brett Chen approached this topic in his last article, but I felt I needed to clarify a little. I think Brett might be losing too many chips early seeing too many flops. The strategy is to play really tight, simply because you're definitely getting action when you enter a pot. It's very rare to open a pot and not get at least one call at this level.

So, sit around and wait for a hand. In the first few positions and all the way until you get to the cut-off seat and button, don't even play anything but A K or big pairs. I will limp with A Q, and limp in on occasion with medium pairs (mostly during the first level, and after that, I tighten up and won't even limp with these). With J J, T T, etc, I will just limp and see a flop. You're goal is to flop a set or over-pair on a non-threatening board.

With a bettor in front, I will tighten up even more so and fold A Q and worse. A K I will re-raise regardless. At these levels, you can re-raise and still get action from worse hands. Big pairs I will play a little hard pre-flop in order to reduce the field, especially so if I have bad position.

In late position, early on you can limp with some hands for the minimum behind others, like suited aces, K Q suited, Q J suited, and maybe even other suited connectors. Small pairs are very playable here.

The goal is to let everyone else do the bidding for you. Get them to knock themselves out and get yourself short-handed, where you hold a bigger edge. When the blinds get ridiculously high, the game is simple: pure aggression. If you have a lot of chips, start putting pressure on the table when you're four-handed.

The best play you can make when it gets four-handed is the auto-steal. This occurs when there's a short-stack on the verge of being eliminated or all-in for the blind, and you're against two shorter stacks who have enough chips to wait for that other guy to be eliminated. When the short-stack player folds, you move in-no matter what. The blinds will often now be about 150-300 or higher, and the 450-plus chips to add to your stack is important. Pound the table while they can't call you unless they have aces, which happens rarely anyway.

When you yourself are short-stacked, start attacking the medium stacks. Let's say it folds to you in the small blind, and the big stack has about 3,000 chips, another guy has about 1,900, and the big blind has 1,800. You have the remaining 1,300 chips. Unless your hand is extremely weak, you should be moving all-in with regularity. If he calls, any two random cards aren't much worse than two-to-one against a calling hand. If he doesn't, you add a lot of chips to your stack.

My rule of thumb for when to start playing overly-aggressive is when the blinds equate to about one-fifth or greater of your stack. So if you have 1,500 chips and the blinds are 200-400, the blinds will increase your stack by forty-percent. I'd be moving all-in here with almost any two cards.

When you're the medium stack, I suggest sitting back and trying to fold into the money. Don't play anything but your better hands. The presence of a stack who can bust you, and leave you with $0 to show for your tournament, means you have to tighten up. They're liable to call with a big ace or any medium to big pair, so I wouldn't suggest pushing with just any two cards against them. Even when the blinds are really high, against the big stack, I'd be a little more selective.

When you're in the money, it's back to war. If you're the short-stack, start trying to steal the blinds quickly. If you are imminently short, then it doesn't matter what your cards are-just hope they fold, or you get lucky. When you're the big stack, put pressure on the number two man, if he has enough chips to wait out the short stack. You can steal his blind with regularity.

The best situations you can come across are those times when you're either three or four handed, and there's a stack with just enough to either post the blind, not enough to post the blind, or less than two blinds. In that case, if you're the big stack, you can put the second man all-in no matter what your hand is. The threat of being knocked out there, and the fact that he usually won't have a hand anyway, means his blind is for the taking.

Remember, tight is right early. Don't get involved unless you have a reason. Even if you double up on hand one, you can still make $0 for your efforts. When you get down to the end, start opening up and stealing the blinds you are so right to steal. Happy bluffing!

Jon Eaton

note by gank: Jon Eaton is an extremely talented online and real life poker pro living in Las Vegas. He has really come into his own the last couple years after I mentored him.

Sit and Go Poker Tournament Strategy

Since my last article on the topic, I have changed a few things in my game plan and added some new tricks to my repertoire. Last time I advocated limping in with a lot of pairs pre-flop, and calling a lot of raises with these hands. The general rule was if it doesn't cost you more than seven-percent of your starting stack, then it's a solid move.

The reason for this advice is pretty obvious. Seven-percent of your stack is a small risk pre-flop, and pairs that flop sets will double you up often. However, I think I need to address this topic a little more, as I have changed my opinion of these hands.

First, I would generally advocate limping in any position with any pair early in a sit and go. On occasion, this will create a problem, as many will peg you as weak-passive. It will also cost you a lot of chips if you're getting a lot of small pairs and seeing a lot of flops, and missing them.

The weak-passive label isn't as big a deal, as 90-percent of the players won't even notice. However, limping off a portion of your stack is a big deal. If you keep limping over and over, then you're just giving off chips, since only one in eight times you see a flop with these hands you will flop trips.

My new advice for playing small pairs is to limp with eights or better early in a sit and go from early-to-mid positions. From later positions, eights or better then become raising hands-but ONLY late position! I don't want anyone posting hand histories on the message board, showing me that they opened with two eights in first position. This is a bad play! You will rarely thin the field as much as you would require early in a sit and go to make raising with marginal pairs a profitable play.

As more people enter the pot, you can start limping with pairs again. I like to ensure that there's a few other people ahead of me who are willing to play with me, before I see a flop with something like two fours. The reason is that your hand loses value as less and less people see the flop. This seems like obvious stuff, but many players forget that a set is useless if it's not going to get paid off. You really want another player giving you action when you are that strong, and limping with two threes in first position and playing heads-up against the blind isn't desirable. The same is also said when there is a raise-I won't call it with the smaller pairs until at least one or more players do ahead of me.

As the sit and go progresses and seats become vacated, pairs become more valuable, as you are more likely to take the pot down pre-flop or with a bet on the flop. Short-handed play dictates you open your game up, but be careful-the same rules before apply. You don't need to gamble at all when you have a lot of chips!

What I mean is that even when you're six handed or so, you don't need to start opening with weak pairs like twos, threes, fours and fives. These hands will rarely hold up in a multi-way pot unless you flop a set, and even heads up pots are tough because rarely will you flop an over-pair.

If you have an absurd chip lead, then by all means, start opening up with these hands short handed and gamble with the smaller stacks that you can afford to gamble with. When I say absurd chip lead, I mean like having half or more of the chips in play when you are four or five handed. In this case, even if you are called and double up someone, you've still got a lot of chips.

Another strategic adjustment I've made is opening a little more often against loose limpers. For example, I used to just limp along with AQ or something like two nines when a player limped in front of me. Now, let's say I have either of these hands, and a player with a stack similar to mine limps. I have 725 chips and the blinds are 25-50. I know that this player limps a lot and I know that AQ or 99 is probably a favorite against this player, maybe even a substantial favorite. Before, I might have just limped here, or maybe passed with medium pairs. But now, I fully believe that putting in a larger than normal raise is profitable. Especially when you are in late position and only a few players are left to act.

The problem with just calling is you are putting in a decent chunk of chips (almost 7% of your chips, and there hasn't even been a raise!) and you're not guaranteed to take this pot down on the flop. You've shown no strength, and even if the other players check to you, it'll be hard to convince them you have a big hand if you lead at the flop. Even with what looks to be the best hand (like AQ on a 2 4 9 board) when it is checked to you, someone might look you up with a four or two or a weak nine or straight draw. You've lost the chance to pick this pot up by playing passively pre-flop.

I see this way too often in sit and goes, and I was doing it until recently as well. Now, when you see a player enter a pot that you believe to be weak, you need to put in a raise, say to 250 here, and hope to pick up the pot pre-flop. If someone jams the pot and goes all-in, well, you are stuck and have to pray your hand wins. If the limper comes over the top, you're in similar shape.

These calls with be judgment calls, but in the example given, I'd usually call every time. Your hands are just too good to fold, even if you strongly believe the limp-raiser has a good hand. Your pot odds are going to be around two-to-one or even better, and that's just too good a spot to pass up with AQ, AJ, 99, 88, 77, or whatever other hand you raised with. Limp-raisers don't always turn over big pairs, remember.

Also remember that the more limpers, the merrier. The first limper is the only one I ever worry about-everyone after that is just along because no one has raised yet. They will rarely call your over-sized raise. So, if a few others had limped in and I had the same stack with AQ, I will occasionally toss in that big raise.

This play isn't a definitive move to make. By that I mean you don't always do it. Use your head, as sometimes you will notice a lot of limp-raising going on, or that people will limp in and call big raises almost regardless of their hand or chip stack. You don't want to go kamikaze with two nines when five people limp, and they are known to call any raise!

One final topic I will discuss is the minimum raise and bet. This is the weakest play players will make in a sit and go, and I pounce on it. Let's say I was in first position during the 15-30 level and just limped with TT, JJ or AQ. If a few others limp and then a late-position player raises the minimum, I will often just jam the pot and make them make a tough call.

This is especially true if say a player to my left makes the small raise, and then a lot of players call. Let's say I limp UTG, second position raises to 60, and five people call behind me, including the blinds. Now, there's 330 chips in the pot and no one has shown almost any strength! Why wouldn't you push with JJ here' Unless you have a ton of chips and the pot doesn't represent much of your stack here, then I would probably move all-in every time with the hands I mentioned.

What does the minimum raiser have' Generally, very little. They often do this with small pairs, and hands like KQ, KJ, AT, AJ, etc. Rarely if ever does anyone do this with a big pocket pair.

The same can be said for the minimum bet. My favorite time to pounce on this is short-handed, when your opponent knows you likely missed the flop. Now, his bet is purely because he thinks you'll fold, not because he caught anything. Against someone who comes out betting the minimum on a ragged flop, I will often re-raise and push in some cases with any pair on the board. I will also push with big draws and even smaller ones, too. Use judgment even more here, as I will make this play against chronic weak bettors more often than the guy who has bet into me once for the minimum (for obvious reasons).

Remember, pounce on weakness. Pressure the stacks you can pressure. Pick up all the small pots you can, and keep putting on the pressure against the blinds! Those blinds are valuable late in a sit and go. Keep swinging!

Jon Eaton

note by gank: Jon Eaton is an extremely talented online and real life poker pro living in Las Vegas. He has really come into his own the last couple years after I mentored him.