There are many different poker variants and formats. Even in the context of no limit hold’em, we are offered the choice between cash, sit-n-goes (SNGs, sometimes referred to as single-table tournaments or STTs) and multi-table tournaments (MTTs).
Of the three, SNGs are typically regarded as the most niche, possibly because finding them live outside of the WSOP has become increasingly rare. However, the format offers several attractive features, from bankroll building to vital final table practice for MTT players. In this article we’ll take a look at the attractive reasons for investing buy-ins and time in SNGs, as well as giving a brief overview of how you can beat them.
SOME SNG HISTORY
The origin of STTs probably dates back to the earliest years of the WSOP. The cunning organizers realized that a $10k entry fee for the main event was an obstacle for many players, but that offering a single-table, winner-take-all qualifier for a main event seat would both attract a broader range of players and expand the event.
The online boom opened another front for SNG play, where they rapidly became a popular variant. Interestingly, they were also the first poker format to be analyzed deeply through GTO methods. The reason for this is simple. Much of a typical SNG is played at a relatively shallow stack depth, such that the mathematical analysis is simplified. Essentially one can restrict a GTO solution to the single street of preflop play. And in the mid-2000s, early training sites like PokerXFactor did precisely that, so that by the time the decade was out, many players were declaring that SNG play was solved, and that it was time to move on to something else.
It should be noted that there’s a significant difference between a game being solved, and the typical player knowing what that solution is. That said, online SNG specialists did see there ROIs being consistently eroded thanks to easily-applicable strategies being provided by training sites, to the point interest in online SNGs waned. Parallel to this, fewer card rooms offered the format in a live setting, with the net result being that SNG specialists became an endangered species.
WHY PLAY SNGs?
Given this history and the assertion that SNGs are solved, you may wonder why we would go to the trouble of discussing this form of poker at all. Here are a few reasons why we think adding SNGs to your repertoire may be advantageous, even if your ultimate goal is not to become a specialist.
First, SNGs can be a great way to build your bankroll. Most sites offer turbo variants that take around thirty minutes to complete, but still have enough play to give a significant edge to a studied player in real money poker. (We’d recommend avoiding the hyper-turbos, which tend to be more of a crap-shoot, although some players claim to generate a decent hourly rate thanks to their speed.) This fast pace simply allows you to play a lot of SNGs, particularly if you multi-table, so that you can combat variance through the best available weapon: pure volume.
Following on from the above point, the most common reason for a player to be in the bankroll-building phase of their poker career is that they are relatively new to poker, or at least to profitable poker. Generating a positive win-rate in SNGs can be achieved through a simple strategy ideally suited to an inexperienced player. We expand upon this below.
MTT Final Table Training
In many MTTs, the significant money is in the top three prizes. Consequently your long-term MTT ROI can be significantly impacted by how well you negotiate final table play. In a live setting, it’s staggering how many players will take a poor final table deal, then confidentially explain afterwards “I had to take a deal, I suck short-handed”.
Leaving aside for a moment why anyone deficient in short-handed skills would play a format that requires them, it is nevertheless the case that gaining final table experience is difficult. Particularly for newer players, one simply doesn’t make a lot of final tables in large-field MTTs to get this important practice. SNGs provide an ideal solution to this conundrum
Time And Flexibility
Many players enjoy tournament play, but have real-life schedules that make it difficult to participate in them. This has been exacerbated by online sites extending the period of MTT late registration to an almost comical degree. In a live setting, tournaments in which the juice is beatable invariably have slower structures, so that an entire day must be set aside to compete.
We know of many players pushed into cash games not because they prefer the format, but simply because the ability to both sit down and leave the table on their schedule is both attractive and frequently necessary for them to play at all. SNGs provide all the rush of the tournament experience without the time commitment and schedule rigidity of MTTs.
WHAT IS THE STRATEGY FOR BEATING SNGs?
Clearly a complete answer to this question is well beyond the scope of this article, but we can outline it here quite simply:
Play tight early and perfectly late.
When you sit down at a SNG, your one goal is to cash. A typical 9-handed SNG pays the top three places. The MTT mantra of “playing to win” is plain wrong in a SNG. You’re playing for third. Only once you’ve made the money are you playing to win. This is a direct consequence of the typical 50/30/20 pay-out structure.
Because of the rapidly increasing blinds, there is simply little to gain and a lot to lose by splashing about in pots during the early levels. This is particularly the case before the antes have kicked in.
What about this business of playing perfectly? This is the meat of the matter, and naturally the details require an entire training course rather than a couple of paragraphs here. But the principles are deceptively simple.
The rapidly-increasing blinds of SNGs mean that effective stacks are soon at 25bb or below. Between about 15bb and 25bb, you are looking for situations to 3-bet-shove over open raises. Once effective stacks drop below 15bb, you want to look for spots to open shove.
You may have heard the term “ICM pressure”. Roughly speaking, this a tournament phenomenon in which your opponent needs a strong hand to call a preflop shove. The effect is large in SNGs, particularly on the bubble, where your shoves will generate a lot of folds. This in turn is part of the motivation for the “tight early” philosophy. You can build your stack in the latter stages far more efficiently when the blinds and antes are large, and you repeatedly steal them.
Like so much of modern poker, it all comes down to knowing the right ranges. But unlike 100bb cash games, in SNGs that’s really all you need to know. None of that messy, postflop, multi-street stuff. Just perfect your preflop ranges using a tool like HoldemResources Calculator or ICMizer, and you really will be able to play the critical stages of these tournaments perfectly. And unless you’re playing high-stakes SNGs against specialists, you will find it simple to turn a healthy profit.