Bursting the SNG Bubble by Peter ‘Nordberg’ Feldman
One of the keys to becoming a successful Sit & Go player is learning to master bubble play. The last thing anybody wants is to be the Bubble Boy, which means you need to get the most out of every hand you play during this critical stage. If you make solid moves from good positions and manage your chip stack wisely, you’ll find yourself in the money before you know it.
Let’s say that you’re short-stacked with just five or six big blinds. How you play your hand in this situation depends less on your cards and more on your position and the size of the other short stacks at the table. For example, you’re in the small blind and the hand is folded around to you. If the big blind doesn’t have you covered by very much, it’s time to jam. This play makes it really hard for him to call because he’s risking his tournament in a very tenuous spot. You put him in a position where he’s the one who has to call you, and that’s a big advantage.
Now let’s change things up a little. Say you’re sitting on about eight big bets on the button and the chip leader is in the big blind. If the action is folded to you in this situation, you can be much more selective about the hands you play. You still have plenty of chips to work with before the blinds come back around, which means you can afford to try and pick your spots. Personally, I’d fold hands worse than Q-10 here, but I’d probably play KJ, KQ, any Ace, and all pocket pairs.
If you’re sitting on just four or five big blinds in this same situation, you’ll have to open up your game a little and play more hands. You’ve got to take some chances here and get your chips in, even if you may be no better than 50-50. Waiting isn’t an option because the blinds will eat you alive if you let them.
If you’re playing a medium-size stack, you have more room to play, but still have to be careful about when – and from where – you put your chips in the middle. Making a standard 3x or 4x raise with 15 or 16 blinds can still be risky because there’s a good chance a bigger stack will re-raise and try to force you all-in before the flop. You really can’t afford to make that call without a premium hand like Aces or Kings.
You definitely don’t want to call with something like AK or AQ because you’re just a coin-flip against any pair and are dominated by pocket Aces or Kings. Folding here is a smarter move, especially if there’s a short stack left to play behind you who is likely to call with a much wider range of hands and give you a better shot of making the money.
Of course, nothing is more comforting than having the big stack when you’re sitting on the bubble. As the chip leader, you can practice selective aggression and apply pressure to the smaller stacks. You especially want to focus on the players in second and third place, as they aren’t going to want to put their chips at unnecessary risk.
Because the shorter stacks are going to try to double up through you, you need to be careful about making loose calls just because you think you can afford them. For example, let’s say the small stack raises 5x the big blind from the button and the small blind folds. You’re in the big blind and it’s only four more bets for you to call, which means your odds are slightly less than 2-1. While calling here may in fact be the right decision, it’s not automatic as far as I’m concerned.
I recommend taking a few seconds to really think through the situation, even if you’re holding a pretty strong hand like A-8 or up, KQ, KJ, or any pocket pair. Think about your opponent and how he’s been playing. If he raises every time he’s in that spot, widen your calling range. But if he’s a particularly good Sit & Go player or playing tight, he may not play many hands and you shouldn’t call as frequently.
More often than not when I’m the big stack in this situation, I’m not just flat calling here. Instead, I’m moving all-in. This is particularly effective because it puts all of the other players at the table to a tough decision. Again, the players in second and third aren’t likely to get involved without huge hands, which lets me isolate the smaller stack.
In the end, winning a SNG is about using whatever edge you’ve got. When you’re down to the final four, take advantage of position and play your stack aggressively. Know when to back off and when to go for it. You’ll still be at the table – and in the money – when the bubble bursts.
Peter ‘Nordberg’ Feldman