Strategic play in SNG's

Carl Sampson 'The Dean'

There was a thread on SNG’s on the forum last week which gave me the idea for a topic for my regular articles on this site over the next few weeks. I don’t recall having spoken about SNG’s much on here before and certainly not in any great technical detail.

But I did play these full time a couple of years ago up to and including the $200+$15 level and did reasonably well. But one of the members made an interesting point last week (may have been Whammer) about how he achieved a higher ROI just by playing for higher stakes but focusing on a single table.

This is an extremely valid point with SNG play. I have mentioned recently on this forum about the underlying problem with NLHE cash games in that strong players can be seriously undermined by weak players using good short stacking strategies.

Well there is a similar situation in SNG’s in so much as it really doesn’t take an expert to play a half decent game and many books and websites teach decent SNG theory these days. I produced an e-book a couple of years ago detailing such theory which was sort of like a “Kill Phil” book for novice SNG players.

But if you want to move ahead of the crowd in SNG’s then you will have to understand them on a strategic level and then implement it in actual play. I did a lot of intense study on these things a couple of years ago mainly through boredom and a desire to try something new.

I realised after a few weeks that my SNG game although making money at the time would likely struggle as a result of too many people using similar strategies and in time to come I have been proved right. I think that automatic play fares worse in low-stakes SNG’s than it does in low-stakes NLHE cash games although I have no proof to substantiate this.

But after limit hold’em, SNG play is my next favourite form of poker and I am actually considering playing these again as a revenue stream. Many people have asked me over the years about the importance of ICM. Well of course ICM has its place in the arsenal of any good SNG player but I do feel that many players attempt to study ICM without fully understanding SNG’s on a strategic level.

Actually it is quite amazing when you think that I know considerably more about SNG’s now that I have stopped playing them than back then when I did. But a correct and thorough grounding in correct SNG theory will leave most players with a good feel of when to make certain plays and how to make them and then making good ICM decisions becomes something that can be done without much conscious thought.

It is very important if you want to truly play SNG’s well and if you want to increase you ROI to really plan your moves out several moves in advance. This is critical during mid and high blind play where making the correct move in just one situation can be the difference between success and failure in a particular tournament and even in SNG’s in general.

Let us take a look at an example to show what I will be talking about during the coming weeks. You have just taken a beat during four handed play when your aces were out-flopped by someone’s pocket tens. You have a chronically low stack of only 590 and the blinds are at the 200-400 level with a 25 ante. This is a $100+$9 tournament and you are now under the gun.

You see a Jc-9h and push all in with your remaining 590 and every opponent calls you and the hand is four way. You flop a jack but it gets checked to the river and someone hits a queen and knocks you out on the bubble. Many players would argue here that this play was automatic but is it?

It is true that the big blind will hit you during the next hand but let us look at a possible scenario here where you can actually increase your chances of winning the next pot. What about folding the J-9 and deliberately going into the big blind? When this happens and you have to post the T400 and a T25 ante then you are only going to be left with a mere T165 in chips.

But you have now created a situation where one of the other players could possibly give you protection by raising. Against three big stacks who only have to knock out a tiny stack to cash in this event then the an UTG raise by you will likely get called by at least two players and especially players who are experienced in SNG play.

But non of these stacks are going to want to mix it with each other and especially when there is the presence of a pitifully short stack who will likely be busted out very shortly. But in this situation you can easily see one of your opponents make a 3BB pre-flop raise and the other two players fold. This gives you the perfect opportunity to call and it doesn’t really matter what your hand is because you will not be that big of a dog and the range of a player who is attacking the big blind of a player who has only a further T165 behind is going to be wide.

Calling and winning this pot will put you up to a much better T1455 which puts you into a better position to create fold equity when you then decide to move all in. But yet how many players would have just stuck the J-9 into the middle in this situation because they were in the big blind next but yet getting into the big blind was precisely what you wanted to happen.

Being the chronic short stack like this gives you the opportunity to call a standard raise and it is the presence of this raise that gives you protection and allows you a better chance at getting this pot heads up. You could even call with utter rags and still not be that much of a dog but going all in for T590 when the big blind is T400 isn’t going to get anyone to fold at the higher levels and then you will also create a situation where your opponents passively check the hand down against you.

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