Basic Sit N Go Strategy

written by: John Comments: View Comments

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Sit n go's are a low risk, high reward type of game. You buy in for little in comparison to what you can potentially win which is due to the pay out structures being so top heavy. When you do cash, you will earn at least double your buy-in and can earn as much as 50 times you investment depending on the specific sit n go you're playing. This alone makes sit n go's a great way to build a poker bankroll.   

Sit n go's are also rather easy to play. Although they are offered in different sizes and variations, you can still use the basic strategy that I have outlined below in order to build a solid foundation and at the very least become a breakeven player, if not a winning one. Just keep in mind that you may have to alter it slightly to accommodate for the size of the field you're in or whether you are playing a turbo or non-turbo game.

Sit n Go Basic Strategy

Independent Chip Model (ICM)

The first step to becoming successful in sit n go's is to have a simple understanding of what the independent chip model (ICM) is.

ICM is the amount of equity you have in the prize pool according to the number of players left in the tournament, how the chips are distributed and the payout structure.

In a vacuum, what this means is that the value of each chip is constantly changing as players bust out, the blinds increase and you get closer to the money. This is unlike a cash game where each chip is worth no more than its face value.

You won't really concern yourself too much with ICM throughout most of the tournament, although it really is the base for a majority of your decisions. The times that you will use it most is when you're on the bubble and have to make decisions that can affect whether you make it into the money or walk away empty handed.

For the purposes of this article, just be aware that each individual chip in a sit n go is not worth much early on, but increases in value as the tournament progresses.   

Tight is Right

Most sit n go's will start off with blinds of 10/20 and give players 1,500 to 2,000 chips to start which is the equivalent of 75 to 100 big blinds. Because of this, a majority of players have the tendency to splash around early on while it's cheap in order to double or triple up. As the blinds rise and the game progresses, these players will start to tighten up in attempt to make the money. While this may look or sound reasonable, the strategy to open up early on because it's cheap and tighten up as the game progresses is completely backwards.

The biggest reason why this approach is backwards is due to the amount of equity you gain early on versus the amount you earn in the later stages. To refer to my summary of ICM above, the chips you might gain early on are not worth all that much which means you don't actually gain that much more equity in the tournament from doubling up. So you actually risk more (your equity in the sit n go) by trying to double up than what you stand to gain.

The best approach to any sit n go is the "tight is right" mindset. In the earlier levels, say the first 3 or 4, you hand ranges should consist of only pocket pairs, AK and AQ. In the bigger sit n go's such as the 45, 90 or 180 mans, you might consider hands such as AJ, AT and KQ if you are more than likely able to play the hand against a fish and/or in position.

As the game progresses, much of the hands you choose to play will be determined by your stack size, the stack sizes of your opponents, table dynamics and whether you are near the money or not. Although this is all situation dependent, I'll try to cover it as best as possible throughout the rest of this article.

10 big blinds = Shove

As a general rule of thumb, any time you have less than 10 big blinds your options are limited to either open shoving or folding. The reason for this is that you do not have room to make a standard 3 or 4 big blind raise and fold if you miss the flop. This rule also applies if you have short stacks left to act seated to your left. If, for example, you have A7 suited on the button with 1,900 chips at 75/150 blinds and the small blind and big blind both have 900 chips, this would not be a raise, but it would be a shove. Although you have more than 10 big blinds, the players left to act do not. Another way to look at it is if you raise, they'll likely shove over you anyway which often times will give you odds to call. So, just make the situation easy and be the first to shove.

Now, with all of that being said, it's important to also realize that you won't be open shoving every time you have a somewhat decent hand and less than 10 big blinds. You're going to need to consider how wide your opponents left after you will call. Much of this will be based on their stack size. The closer they are to a medium (safe) stack, the much tighter they will likely be and the wider you can shove. If your opponents are on one extreme or the other (short or deep stack), then you need to expect that you'll be called lighter and you will need to tighten up your shoving range as a result. The whole idea with hand ranges is to put your opponents on a likely calling range and use that to determine what hands you can shove that are ahead of their calling range. There are tools to help you do this with my personal favorite being Sit n Go Wizard. 

Fold equity will also play a role in what hands you decide to shove. The more likely your opponents are to fold, the more fold equity you have and the wider you can shove. The more likely they are to call, the less fold equity you have and the tighter you should shove. Also note that the shorter that you get, the less fold equity you have. As a rule of thumb, you should be shoving (and calling) your widest at 5 big blinds because anything less and you have lost most, if not all, of your fold equity.

Note: Look for spots to take advantage of your fold equity to increase your overall equity in the tournament. For example, if you are the big stack at the table and are on the bubble, you can literally shove almost any two cards because no one wants to be the player to bust on the bubble. Additionally, ICM dictates that you can only call shoves with premium hands (most times QQs+ only!) while on the bubble. This is a great time to use your stack, exploit everyone and whittle everyone down to ensure a 1st place finish.

AK is Not the Nuts

AK is definitely the best unmade hand in poker. You'll notice that I said "unmade" hand.

Many players make the mistake of seeing AK and going "OMG, I got to get my money in preflop." The problem with this is that in most cases, you're in a situation where you are flipping (50/50) or worse. Again, in the early stages of a tournament, this is unnecessary and not worth the risk because your equity will not increase by much should you chip up.

In the first few levels of a sit n go, I will try to see a flop with ace king. If I'm the first to act, I'll come in for a standard 3 to 4 big blind raise. If there is a limper, I will generally raise to isolate the limper if it's almost guaranteed I'll be in position. I'll more than likely just call if I'm going to be out of position to avoid building a huge pot in a somewhat sticky situation.

Once I get to the 50/100 level, that's when I start to consider getting AK all in preflop. This is because by this time I only have 10 to 15 big blinds on average so my equity in the tournament is slowly diminishing and I'm almost to the point where I need to consider shoving anyway - so, this would be a good time to get my stack in with AK.

I use the same rule with all of my top aces as well as my smaller pairs. To summarize: I try to see flops cheap with hands that have tons of potential early on such as top pair, top kicker or sets, but don't stack off with them preflop. Only when it's getting late in the tournament and my stack is shrinking do I consider getting my money in before the flop with these types of hands.

Bubble Play

Bubble play is going to be the most important aspect of sit n go's to master because this is where you make it into the money or bust empty handed. In a nutshell, you are going to want to be super tight when faced with a raise or shove but can shove wide when you're the first to enter a pot since your opponents will need to be tight themselves.

To put this into perspective, if someone shoves on the bubble, there are times where calling with AK (and worse) or even QQ can be a mistake. If there is someone who is likely to bust out when the blinds go through them next, even calling with KK against someone who has you covered can arguably be a huge mistake in terms of ICM and your equity in the prize pool.

There are too many different bubble situations possible for me to give you a standard guide to playing on the bubble. What I can tell you though, is that when possible, you always want to be the one shoving on the bubble as opposed to the player who is calling. If you are faced with a decision to call a shove on the bubble, always err on the side of caution and call with only your top premium hands.

Summary of Basic Sit n Go Strategy

The thoughts outlined above are very basic and you may have to adjust depending on the game you're playing, the current progress of the sit and go and your opponents.

Overall, it's important to understand that you should be tight early on and loosen up as the game progresses. This means sticking to a tight hand range and avoiding sticky situations like playing marginal hands or flipping with hands like AK or smaller pocket pairs early on.