Welcome to the fourth in my Texas Holdem Strategy Series, focusing on no limit Texas Holdem poker tournament play and associated strategies. In this article, we’ll examine the "Sit and Go" tournament - the most popular online poker tournament format today.
When I first started playing in Sit and Go tournaments, I was beginning to think they called it "sit and go" because you sat down, played a little, then it was time to go do something else since you'd just been whacked and knocked out of the tournament! These tournaments can be really tough, since they're effectively like being at the "final table" of a regular tournament.
The recent popularity of playing online Sit & Go tournaments sometimes amazes me. On any given evening, you can try to jump into a Sit and Go (SNG) table on Party Poker, for example, and easily find yourself competing just to get into a seat before that table fills up, forcing you to go find another table (especially on lower-entry fee tables). I've seen times when it can take up to 10 attempts to get into a Sit and Go tournament table during prime time. That's because there are literally thousands of players across the world who are hungry to get into these tournaments and hopefully win some money.
All of the major online poker rooms now offer Sit and Go format games now, so you can find a place to play just about everywhere. You can think of these games as being very similar to small "satellite" tournament games that surround the bigger poker tournaments at traditional poker tournament venues. They also somewhat resemble play at a final table in a regular tournament, with one key exception - nobody at this table earned their way to this tournament table - they simply paid their entry-fee to play there. Because of this, the broad range of players and skill levels you're likely to encounter varies wildly - one of many challenges you'll face in Sit and Go play.
Generally, there are two types of Sit and Go tournaments offered. Single table and multi-table tournaments. Nowadays, there is also a faster game, sometimes referred to as "Turbo" mode SNG tournaments. In these games, the tempo of the tournament is much faster (blinds go up every 5 minutes instead of 15 minutes), with the blinds increasing much faster and less time allowed to make your decisions. This is a very challenging game format, but it does move along much faster than a traditional Sit and Go tournament.
You can also get into 4-player and heads-up (2 player) games, which just effectively puts you into the poker tournament final table, short-handed mode of operation immediately, so you can play the end-game out from there. I don't really prefer these games, though, since there are far fewer players and therefore the pool size available to win is much smaller and not as worthwhile.
In general, two-table Sit and Go's are much more profitable, since they begin with more players (18 to 20), making the prize pool larger and more attractive. Once you know how to play and win in these Sit and Go tournaments and can adjust your play appropriately, the number of tables and players really doesn't matter as much, since you'll be able to adapt your play quickly as the situation changes around you.
Some of my favorite places to play Sit & Go tournaments include Party Poker, Poker Stars and PrimaPoker's Captain Cook's poker rooms. There are many awesome poker rooms out there, with a wide range of players frequenting each of them. They are all very similar.
There are a number of different entry-fee levels to choose from, typically ranging from $5 up to $5,000. There is very little difference in playing in the lower limit games in the $5 to $30 range. When you get above the $30 threshold, the level of players you'll encounter improves dramatically. The poker room site typically takes a "rake", a fee of around 10% for hosting the tournament, and the balance of the funds go into the prize pool. In single-table SNG tournaments, the payout goes to the top 3 finishers. In two-table games, the top 4 places are generally paid.
In higher entry-fee games, you'll be playing against some very good players. In these high tier games, you'll encounter some of the best, most dangerous players around. If you're interested in getting into these high stakes games, one way is to win enough at the lower stake games so that you earn, or leverage, your smaller entry-fees into the bigger games, a traditional way that satellite games work and a good approach to take.
I play in a lot of Sit and Go tournaments and regular tournaments, both online and in casinos and poker rooms. Throughout all of this, I have finally learned how to win consistently at Sit and Go tournaments. There are some key areas that you must focus on and shore up in order to properly "shape" your play and end up in the money.
You'll need a well-rounded approach, though, to place in the money consistently at Sit and Go tournaments, including:
* Playing Position Correctly - you'll need to know how to use position in the Sit and Go tournament to your advantage, which hands to play in which positions and how to keep from losing your chips from poor positions. Earlier in the tournament, it's best to be more conservative with your play by only playing the best hands from the best positions.
* Adjusting to Changing Conditions - the key to winning Sit and Go tournaments is adjusting your play style and approach as the blinds and number of players increases. Done correctly, you'll end up in the final 3 in the money up to half of the time (no approach you can take will allow you to win all of the time). As the game progresses, you must adjust or the blinds will eat you up.
* Winning Heads-up Play - arguably one of the most misunderstood, yet most fun part of any tournament, is playing heads-up against another good player. Learning to play winning heads-up poker means the difference between being the Winner and 2nd Place - a huge difference in payout in all tournaments goes to the winner, along with the recognition as the champion, so you must learn to play great heads-up poker. In general, you must play much more aggressively heads up than you would otherwise.
* Beating Aggressive Players - see my article on playing vs. aggressive players, which will definitely make a difference for Sit and Go play, as it explains how to take advantage of aggressive and wild players, without losing all of your chips in the process.
* Online Tells - there are many different special tells that you can use when playing online. Do you know them? Do you use them? If not, chances are they're being used against you! For example, when players use checkboxes online and make a lot of their decisions ahead of time, then suddenly they're not using the checkbox (because they're taking longer), that could be a tell that they're having to think things through more, which could be a tell. If they use checkboxes and act instantly, chances are they don't have a very good hand, so didn't even need to think about it (just clicked the checkbox and now waiting on the next card).
* Successful Bluffing and Blind Stealing - one of the most important moves in poker is bluffing the opponents, and in tournament play, you must be capable of successfully bluffing in order to survive the blinds and antes and to win heads-up. You can't bluff weak players, so don't even try. You'll need to learn how determine the style or type of the players, so you'll recognize who to bluff.
The next time you're thinking about playing a poker tournament, give the Sit and Go a try. It's a fast-paced tournament, where you'll have the opportunity to experience first hand what it's like to play at that Texas Holdem poker tournament final table. You'll go through a sequence of fast play and changing conditions, starting from a full table of 10 players, progressing rapidly to only 5 to 6. Then, if you're a good enough player, you'll find yourself in the most dangerous position of all - where you're one of only 4 players remaining, so you're only one seat out of the money. The key goal is surviving to the heads-up phase, so you get a shot at being the tournament winner, who receives the bulk of the prize pool.
So, you can practice for bigger tournament events by playing in Sit and Go tournaments and that way you'll be very comfortable when you do make it that final table in a big Texas Holdem poker tournament, and you'll have a lot of fun and gain some great Texas Holdem tournament poker experience along the way.