OK, here’s v1.0. Most comments have been incorporated below. Further comments most welcome.
There are countless other strategy guides out there; however I thought that since FTR seems to attract a high proportion of beginner/low buy-in SNG players I would condense the thoughts of a number of posters into one post. These principles are aimed at $5.50/$11 normal and $6.50 and maybe $16 turbo tourneys (and the equivalents at other sites).
Note that these are supposed to be general ideas rather than specific ‘how-to’s’, so hopefully they are generally correct even though we might all be able to think of specific situations where another line may be better. For advice on specific hands it is best to post them. Also note that these are NOT in order of importance.
1) Play very tight early in the tourney (Levels 1-3) and even tighter in early position
Starting hand requirements have been covered elsewhere but suffice to say if you are playing hands like ATo UTG or QTs in the CO early in the tourney you are playing too loose. Similarly, you are probably playing too loose if you are limping hands like A2-A9o early in the tourney.
2) Loosen up as blinds increase and as the game gets shorthanded, particularly in position when it is folded to you
Blind stealing is key once blinds hit 75/150 at PS or 100/200 at PP. Never open limp at 50/100 and above.
3) Be aggressive
If you are going to play a hand, you should be raising preflop most of the time (e.g. if blinds are 50/100, you pick QJo in the SB, it’s folded to you, the BB has been playing tight, don’t just complete, RAISE!) The only times I limp preflop are early in the tourney with pocket pairs (playing for set value) or suited connectors in position and preferably with multiple limpers in front.
4) Early in the tourney, limp (and call raises) with low-medium pocket pairs (say 22-88) for set value
You have implied odds to play for set value on the flop with pocket pairs provided that the amount you need to call is 1/15 or less of the total chips you can win. Note that this is determined by the smaller of either your stack or your opponents stack. E.g. you pick up 33 UTG+1 at 10/20 blinds, open limp for 20 chips, button raises to 100, then CALL the raise as you have implied odds to play for a set. However, if you don’t hit a set on the flop, then NO SET = NO BET – see i) below.
5) Raise preflop 3x BB plus 1x BB for each limper with your big hands (e.g. KK)
At PS level 1 and 2 add an extra 1x BB to try to thin the field.
6) Push or fold preflop when your stack is <10x BB
Standard raising is usually bad when you have <10x BB.
7) Bet your strong hands
Don’t slow play! If you hit a set or two pair on the flop, in general don’t check/call (e.g. if you have 55, everybody limps, you limp from the button and the flop comes A85, bet bet bet! You will get paid off by some idiot who limped with A3 soooooted.)
8) Make sure that your bubble/shorthanded play is good and that you make +EV pushes/folds/calls
In particular there are situations when it is often +EV to push with any two cards (eg. it’s folded to you in the SB and either your stack or the BB’s stack is <10x BB). This is much harder than it sounds, particularly in the heat of battle.
9) Realize there is a big, huge, ginormous difference between pushing all-in and calling all-in
When you push all-in you add to the strength of your cards the chance that the other player will fold, when you call all-in you must be able to show down the best hand to win.
10) Generally bet between 50% and 100% of the pot at any stage
– An example where I would bet 50% of the pot on the flop is if I raised preflop, got called, missed the flop, my opponent checks, and I knew he/she was weak/tight. A half-pot bet is also a good sized bet if you flop a set against one opponent who likes to chase flushes and two of a suit come on the flop.
– An example of where I would bet 100% of the pot is if I raised preflop with QQ, got two callers and the flop came T 9 2.
11) Realize that at low buy-ins TPTK is often the best hand on the flop even when opponent lead into you after you have raised preflop
For example blinds 50/100, you raise to 275 on the button with AQs, BB calls, flop comes Q83 rainbow, opponent leads for 300 – push all in! The times when your opponents flip QT and you stack them far outweigh the times when they have a set or two pair.
12) Realize that low buy-in players LOVE to play A-rag
Blinds 25/50, you’re on the button with KK, 4 players limp in front of you, you raise to 350, get 3 callers, flop comes A94, SHUT DOWN, there is a very high likelihood that somebody has an ace and you are well behind drawing to 2 outs. Conversely you can take advantage of this on an A high flop if you have AK or a pocket pair which hits a set, you are very likely to get paid off by one of these A-crap donks.
It is the best single poker-related $79 (or $99 in the case of SNG Wiz) I have ever spent. It will help you learn #8 among other things.
14) Make the time to review your HHs/run them through SNGPT/SNG Wiz
If that means playing one less SNG then so be it, it is time well spent.
15) Post hands, if necessary post whole (trimmed) tourneys to get feedback
Some of the biggest improvements I have made have come about because I have had another player review my hand histories and give me feedback. Sometimes you have leaks that you miss but become bleeding obvious once someone else highlights them. Just remember to take the feedback on board! FTR is a friendly place and people are out there to help you. Just remember to take their feedback on board!
16) Realize that bad, horrible, appalling, one-outer beats do happen…
…and that the best way to console yourself is to be sure that you got your money in as a favourite – if you did, there is nothing else you can do, you effectively won. Your AA will be cracked by rubbish like QTs 19.5% of the time when your preflop push is called BUT the other 80.5% of the time you double up/take opponent’s whole stack. The question to ask yourself is “would I have played differently?” and if the answer is “no”, then be happy whatever the results might be.
17) Remember that poker is a long term game
Long term means thousands, not hundreds of SNGs. Do realize that even the best players suffer streaks of 10+ SNGs out of the money and 20+ buy-in downswings. Stick to your game and you will win money in the end.
a) Don’t get fancy at low buy-ins
ABC poker wins. There’s no need for fancy slow plays, check-raises, raises with air, stop ‘n’ go’s, etc. at the $5.50s. Wait for good hands and bet them hard – see #6 above. Conversely, if you pick up AK preflop and raise, get called, flop comes T74 rainbow, throw out a 1/2 pot c-bet, get called again, miss the turn, betting is often spewing chips unless you hit.
b) Never min-raise preflop
This is a waste of chips. At the low buy-ins the BB and often the SB won’t fold for another 1-1.5x BB. Plus if you have a strong hand like AK, over the long run you win by getting your opponent to put more money into the pot when you’re very likely ahead.
c) Don’t min-bet postflop
This is a complete waste of chips and achieves nothing. If you have a hand with which you’d rather not get any calls, a min-bet won’t get the $5.50 donks to fold. If you have a hand with which you would like calls, then bet more to build a pot. The best way to win a big pot with a big hand is to BET to build a big pot!
d) Almost never min-raise postflop
The only time I will min-raise is to induce a push over when I flop the ‘non-vulnerable’ nuts (quads or full house) and opponent leads into me.
e) Don’t worry about varying your play so people won’t get reads on you
They simply don’t pay attention, you don’t have a table image at low buy-ins. Also, don’t worry about playing with marginal hands so you’ll get action with your big hands – if someone else has a marginal hand like JTo you’ll get action with your AA even if you’ve folded the last 3 orbits.
f) Don’t call all-in with less than two pair if your flop bet is called and opponent pushes on the turn
Sure, sometimes you fold the best hand but more often than not opponent will have the goods.
g) Don’t bluff loose passive players who will call your preflop raises with crap then keep on calling to showdown with bottom pair
This is spewing chips. It’s similar to what Doyle Brunson said – you can’t bluff a calling station, you have to show them the best hand at showdown.
h) Don’t ever fold AA or KK preflop
Rarely fold QQ preflop unless there is serious action in front (e.g. raise, push and call) or there is some unusual bubble situation (e.g. it’s 4-handed, you’re second stack, the small stack has 2x BB and the big stack pushes).
i) Don’t get married to hands like AK and low pocket pairs that need to improve if you miss the flop
I’ve seen countless times when players limp preflop with 55, flop comes all overcards, bet, get called, miss the turn, bet again, get called again, miss the river, bet yet again, get called and end up losing a big pot to somebody who called all the way to showdown with TPNK. With low/medium pocket pairs, remember SET OR FORGET; with missed high cards like AK/AQ remember all you have on a missed flop is ace high.
j) Don’t play when you are on tilt, tired, drunk, stoned, grumpy, just had an argument with your wife/girlfriend/boyfriend, whatever
Recognizing when you are not playing your best and just NOT PLAYING is very +EV. Even more important, if you’re on tilt because you’ve just taken six bad beats in a row don’t move up buy-ins to try to recover what you’ve lost. There are enough sad statistics on Sharkscope of players who usually play the $6.50s, lose 4 in a row then proceed to spew even more money at the $16s, $27s and $60s…
k) Don’t believe “I can’t win at the $5.50s, I will win more by moving up and playing with players who respect my bets/raises”
This is plain wrong. Sure, players at higher buy-ins may play tighter and may well fold a bit more often to your preflop raises or postflop bets but there are so many other ways which they can pwn you – they will be MUCH more aggressive, generally displaying a good understanding of bubble play/ICM etc. If you can’t consistently beat the $5.50s over a few hundred SNGs then you will NOT beat the $22s, $33s and $55s.
l) Don’t get defensive when people reply to your posts saying you’re incorrect
Justifying a bad play to yourself won’t make you money, improving your play will.