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A smart-thinking guide on how to beat sit-n-go tournaments.

Sit-n-go tournaments, the most popular form of single table competitions spread online, can be highly profitable. Game details are posted (buy-in cost, number of entrants, prize pool distribution, blind and/or ante progression, etc.). When the required number of players have clicked in and committed (the ‘sit’ part) the tournament begins (the ‘go’ part).

Typically, a single table sit-n-go takes less than two hours to complete, thus a winning player’s hourly rate can be quite lucrative primarily because many competitors simply do not deploy a winning strategy. For those with bankroll concerns, the amount of investment is predetermined, and sit-n-go events are available from the cost of a good glass of ale to the amount one pays at an upscale pub for several bottles of champagne.

As I type, the sun has barely risen in Las Vegas and is registering players for 46 one-table sit-n-go events. Most are no-limit hold’em tourneys, but if you enjoy triple draw or any form of Omaha, you’re in luck. Clicking on “Multi-Table” reveals 21 upcoming events from 18-player affairs (four places paid) to 180-player events where 18 players cash in.

I have done well playing sit-n-go tournaments. Here’s the foundation of the strategy I’ve developed. Feel free to fine-tune the suggestions to fit your playing style.

Avoid Early Disaster

We cannot win a tournament in the early stages, but we can be eliminated. When playing sit-n-go events, this axiom is one to cherish due to the prize distribution (more on this later). I generally play to survive the first three levels, and then kick my game into gear as the blinds become more significant in relation to the amount of chips in play.

On a daily basis, I watch players make huge over-bets and raises with mediocre hands early on. They either win a tiny pot or get called down by a player with a big hand who takes all or most of their chips (unless the lord of poker luck steps in). Another common mistake is calling with draws without sufficient pot or implied odds. But, the most egregious error I see day after day is players calling off their chips with weak, poor potential hands. Today, during the third level play, I picked up pocket aces and re-raised a substantial amount. A player called quickly and showed A-2. What was she hoping I held? Even pocket threes is a 2-to1 favourite over A-2.

Classify Your Opponents

One of the reasons we shouldn’t attempt to steal blinds or get involved with marginal hands early on is to formulate a feel for our opponents’ propensities. We want to identify aggressive foes, cautious customers, tricky adversaries and those prone to making costly errors. We do this by observing all shown hands, replaying the betting and assessing the play of those involved. Winners in all forms of poker are perceptive players.

We will be looking to take big pots from the pushers and maniacs. These foes are susceptible to falling into our trap.

We can move timid players off their hands with aggressive play. Players who guard their chips too closely are targets when it comes to stealing blinds in the middle and late stages of a sit-n-go. They will lay down playable hands preflop and also fold to our check-raises or big bets on later streets.

Tricky players should be tackled cautiously, as they can be difficult to trap or attack. On the other hand, some are predictable in that they always try to make opponents believe they are strong when they really are weak and vice-versa.

Above all, we want to spot those who make big mistakes. They are generally loose and aggressive. They move in with too many hands and call big bets with second best holdings. Try to isolate them and capitalise on their weaknesses.

Look in the Mirror

Just as we are attempting to prioritise and target our competitors, some are watching us. If you have been absorbing GOM you are playing selectively and aggressively with creativity, imagination, and daring when the reward is worth the risk. So, our better opponents won’t want to tangle with us unnecessarily.

Along with categorising opponents, be thinking about how they perceive you and take advantage of their impressions by crossing them up. For example, if you have been itching to make moves with more than half the field gone, but have gone card dead and folded for a few rounds, your opponents will be wary when you enter a pot. This is your best opportunity to steal. Conversely, if you have been playing (and usually raising) with hands such as 8-8, A-10 and K-Q but yielding to resistance after missing flops, you have your opponents primed for a trap should you pick up a big hand preflop. They will want to look you up and try to force you out on the flop. Deftly reacting to your adversaries’ recognition of your current style will reap rewards. Paul Phillips, an excellent American tourney player, who is now semi-retired and raising a family once told me: “Be aware that you have two images: the first is derived from your innate tendencies and the second is the perception others have of your play based on your short-term actions.”

Throttle Back On Single Tables

I realise that I advised playing daringly when warranted, and I stand by the statement as a winning, overall tournament philosophy. But, the majority of sit-n-go events are one-table affairs. Typically 50 percent of the prize pool is awarded to the winner, 30 percent to the runner-up and 20 percent to the player who finishes third. Thus, it behoves us to gamble less than we would when competing in a winner-take-all scenario. Let’s say we’re playing a tenhanded $55 buy-in sit-n-go where finishing third is worth $100 and ‘bubbling out’ in fourth results in an aggravating loss of $55. Taking risk becomes a matter of importance based on the difference between finishing fourth and maintaining a chance for a piece of the prize pool.

Final Thought

In today’s most popular games, pot-limit and no-limit Texas hold’em, formulate the amount of your bets and raises carefully. Try to avoid allowing opponents to read the relative strength of your hands from the amount you click into the pot. At the same time, do not offer them the right price to draw when you have a made hand such as top pair and top kicker. Thinking about what you are attempting to accomplish before making each bet or raise is the way to improve your play.
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