Sit-n-Go Strategy Guide Part 1
Several people have been after me to write down my thoughts on SnG (sit & go) tournaments. I do not claim to be an expert at one and two table tournaments; however I have enjoyed a great deal of success playing them. To clarify, my style of writing and teaching generally takes the form of me relaying my personal experiences, what follows is a strategy and system I use that works for me. I have a proven winning track record, however you should take my advice and strategies…….(along with anyone else’s) and try to understand the underlying principles and integrate them into a style all your own. Simply emulating or copying this style of play may or may not work for you. Now that I have sufficiently lowered your expectations lets begin.
What is a SnG? Generally speaking a SnG is a small unscheduled tournament that begins once all the seats at the table(s) are filled. There are several different formats, that vary from site to site, but the most common variety is the single table SnG. There are also two and three tables SnGs, which differ slightly in the payout and table dynamics…but overall the strategy for multi-table SnGs is similar to single table SnGs.
Why play SnGs? I feel that SnG tournaments offer an exceptional value and learning potential for tournament players. Generally, you get to play a whole lot of poker for a relatively small investment particularly at the lower limits. When I started playing poker online I did not feel comfortable sitting down at a $.50/$1 blinds NL table. I did want to play NLHE and was not aware of the micro limit games offer by PokerStars at the time. I decided for a $6 investment I could try my hand at NL and have the opportunity to play a good bit of poker without risking a significant portion of my bankroll. If you sit down at a $25 or $50 NL table, you can potentially lose a “lot” of money very quickly. However if you make a mistake in a SnG tournament you can only lose the $5+1 buy-in. There are a huge variety of stakes you can play in SnGs, but the beginning player usually starts at the smallest limits which are $5. SnG tournaments offer a great learning opportunity because you often get to try your hand at short handed or even heads up play. Where in regular MTT play it could be a very long time before you make a final table and it would be difficult to hone final table skills when you rarely make a final table. SnGs are mini tournaments with regular blind increases so you are forced to play, blind steal and manage risk – skills that are not so prevalent in a normal ring game where the blinds do not increase.
Right now you are probably saying; “yes Dave, we know this already….we already play SnGs and want some advanced techniques for becoming more successful players.”
Please bear with me; I have seen so many basic questions posted on FTR and on the IRC regarding SnGs that I wanted to write a comprehensive guide which covers everything from beginning play to advanced strategies.
Sit-n-Go Strategy Guide – Section 1
Soupie, a tournament player who I admire said; at the beginning of a tournament, ”Tight is Right” This bit of wisdom applies to MTT tournaments as well as SnGs. I realize that many people like to “limp” a wide variety of hands early in a SnG when the blinds are very low. I used to follow a similar strategy, but over time have come to realize that limping, hoping to catch lucky is not very effective use of chips. Occasionally you will flop a great hand that is well hidden and you will get paid off, if not double up. However, most of the time you will have simply wasted chips as the best case, or gotten caught up in a hand you should have never been involved in the first place. How many times have you limped with some suited two gappers only to flop bottom two pair? Initially that looks like a strong hidden hand, but when top pair bets out, you re-raise all in and the board goes runner-runner and pairs up by the river and you lose everything. Or top pair catches their kicker for the same result. Limping hands out of position and falling in love with a flop is a recipe for disaster. Some people may claim limping hands early is giving them valuable information about their opponents and how they play. I would say if you are observant you can gain just as much information about how they play and invest no money. Let the other people at the table waste chips or “donate” for the information, this benefits you in two ways. You get free information about how and what your opponents will play – in what position….and it will potentially cripple one of the players making them either desperate or a non factor as they will camp for big cards and wait to push all in, thus easy to avoid.
I am not saying don’t limp hands at all, but be mindful of what position you are in and what level the blinds are. I can’t count the number of times when I have seen someone bet $400 into a $40-60 pot because they caught a piece of something they should not have been playing to begin with. Is it really worth risking ¼ or potentially more of your stack to win a $60 pot? Play middle suited connectors, and low pocket pairs for a limp from middle to late position and be ready to let go if you come up against significant resistance. The beauty of 8-9s vs. K-To is that it is so easy to let go and you are not likely to get wrapped up in a hand ”you can’t get away from”
Do not worry about folding your small blind 4 times in a row…table image is worthless at this point (full or nearly full table when blinds are $10-$30) people are still settling in, the wild people are trying to build a stack early and the inexperienced are just playing the cards they are dealt….they are not noticing or caring about what you are doing at this point.
When you do get a premium hand in the early stages of a SnG, do not be afraid to play….and play it aggressively. Be sure you make a sizable PFR (pre-flop raise). When the blinds are 10-20 or 15-30 a “standard” 3x BB raise will not get it done. Your sitting there in middle position with A-A and you raise it to $40……low and behold…everyone and their brother comes in right behind you. Now you have five people seeing the flop and your holding 1 pair looking at a sizeable pot worth drawing at….chances are, in this situation your aces are getting cracked. If I catch a premium hand in when the blinds are low I generally like to raise 5-6x BB….make it somewhere around 100-150 to go. This will get their attention and limit the number of people seeing a flop. At this point winning the blinds is much better than getting outdrawn and losing your whole stack. Often there is someone who is going to call you regardless of your raise and you can then take those aces to them heads-up and do some damage.
Sit-n-Go Strategy Guide – Section 1 Summary
• Tight is right
• Do not donate or waste chips
• Do not limp hands out of position
• Let other people pay for information
• Be observant
• Do not fall in love with your hand
• Do not unnecessarily risk chips to win a small pot
• Raise big with premium hands in the early stages
Well there it is…..the first section. I suppose the most difficult part of writing is getting started. My plan is to write as many sections as it takes to relay the things I find important….for as long as people find it useful. Generally I want to cover:
Basic strategy, picking a SnG (1 or 2 table), moving up levels (bankroll management), advanced strategy, short handed play, short stack play and heads up play. So this has the potential to become quite long and involved. If you have specific topics you would like me to cover or discuss, please feel free to let me know. Thanks for reading -Dave
Sit-n-Go Strategy Guide – Section 2
I would like to take a moment to talk about decision making. On the face of it, when you think about the decisions you have to make in poker…..they seem fairly simple, and to a certain degree they are. You can check, call, raise or fold….pretty basic stuff, however when you start to consider the implications of your decisions things become more complicated. What decision should you make in a given circumstance….what factors should you consider….what information should you ignore. Are your desires for a particular outcome influencing your decisions, or do your fears of a certain outcome influence how you arrive at a decision.
As poker players we strive to make correct decisions based on incomplete and often deceptive information. What is extremely important is that we do our utmost to reduce or eliminate external forces or influences. Just because you want to win that $50 SnG because you could really use the money this week does not necessarily mean you should push all-in preflop with those aces. Your overall goal should not play a significant role in the decision you make in that hand, what does matter is position, stack size, blind levels, how many people have acted before you, how many will act behind you, what their past actions were, what are the likely to play….etc. The converse of this is playing in fear since you will not be able to eat this week if you bust out of the money in that $50 SnG (you should not be playing it, but we will cover that in bankroll management) will you be able to make the correct decision based on the information you have about that hand, or will your fear of losing influence you? Yes, these are of course extreme examples…..but I use them to illustrate a point. Do your best to eliminate external pressures, influences and hindrances to good decision making. Many of us are superstitious creatures; we look for patterns and try to make sense of randomness…..We want to believe that if we have had a run of bad luck – good luck is just around the corner. Just because you have not flopped a set on your last 9 small pocket pairs, does not mean that this time you are due. Just because you have bubbled out of your last 4 SnGs does not mean that you should step up to a $100 SnG because you are likely to win your next one….based on some sort of phantom probability you have concocted in your mind. Don’t laugh; I have heard all sorts of wacky reasoning and justifications for playing a hand…..or a whole tournament.
A whole lot has been written about achieving “the zone” or getting yourself prepared to play good poker. I won’t talk at length about this, other than to say that is important to good decision making to have a clear focused mind. Whatever it is that you do to prepare yourself to play, clean the kitchen, lift weights, mow the lawn, play with the dogs…etc do it. Take care of life’s tasks before you sit down and begin playing, and I recommend starting a pre-game ritual if you don’t already have one….something that on a subconscious level tells you body and mind that you are about to play some poker.
Sit-n-Go Strategy Guide – Section 2 Summary
• Decisions that seem simple, may be more complicated
• Limit external influences on decision making
• Separate what “is” from what you would like it to be
• Do not make decisions or predictions based solely on what has happened before
• Develop and faithfully follow a pre-game ritual
Sit-n-Go Strategy Guide – Section 3
I think I got a little ahead of myself, by laying out a bit of basic strategy in section 1. I simply wanted to provide a “hook” of sorts to get some of you interested in what I have to say, I will talk at length about strategy, but right now I want to discuss goals and bankroll management. If you do not know what games you are bankrolled for or what your goals are….all the SnG strategy in the word will not help you become a successful poker player.
Why do you play poker? Hmmmm….seems like an obvious and simplistic question. As simple as it is I believe your reason for playing is a huge factor in your development as a player. Whatever your answer is, it is important that you HAVE an answer. You may be a recreational player who enjoys playing poker for entertainment purposes. You may enjoy the game and have a certain amount of money that you can allocate to playing poker every week, instead of hunting or golf you choose to spend you free time and extra cash playing a popular game. This guide is not really geared to that type of player, I am focusing more on the “serious” player whose reason for playing is to make as much money as possible. Perhaps you want to purchase a vacation or some luxury item that you may not be able to otherwise afford…..perhaps you are interested in supplementing your income or attempting to make poker you sole source of income. If you do not know why you are playing poker….stop right now and give it a few minutes of thought and come up with a reason.
After you have a reason for playing you need to set up a goal and a plan to achieve that goal. You should sit down, figure out (write it down) what it is you want out of life. Put down both short term and long term goals then figure out how poker figures in to that equation.
Your goals should be as specific as possible. With specific goals you can clearly see what it is you want to achieve, and you have a specific plan of attack to achieve the goal. In making your goals specific it is crucial that you actually write them down so that you can refer to them on a regular basis. The act of writing programs your subconscious mind to work for you…..directing your mind towards your goal instead of pointing at the obstacles. The more specific you can make your goals, the greater the likelihood for success and the shorter the path to achieving your dream.
You should set reasonable and attainable goals where you see a realistic path to achievement. This does not mean that you should lower your aim because a rewarding goal/accomplishment has some level of challenge to it. The goal should be ambitious as possible, but still attainable….so it will give you motivation and sense of achievement when you get there. Achieving a goal is tremendously rewarding when you have clear reasons why you want to reach that goal….that is why it has to be a specific and individual/personal goal (your goal not someone else’s goal or expectation of you) Write down your specific/personal reasons…..and what the expected reward will be…..but most importantly you have to hold yourself accountable for working towards those goals. Boy, I wrote the word goal a whole lot in two short paragraphs, perhaps you now understand how important I feel this is.
For argument’s sake let agree that your goal is to make as much money as possible…for whatever reason. SnG tournaments are an excellent way to achieve that goal…..but what SnGs should you play? Well that is a very good and important question; my answer to you is in the form of a question. How large is your bankroll? Bankroll management is a term that is thrown around a lot on FTR, and my friend a500lbgorilla wrote an excellent post about bankroll management found here: Bankroll Management 101.
A general rule of thumb to follow when choosing a level of SnG to play at is 15 buy-ins. If you are just starting out you may be able to get away with 10 buy-ins but I would seriously shoot for 15. The reason for this is that as good a player as you are….you will go on a losing streak. It is inevitable, and happens to all SnG players in varying degrees. My personal worst is 9 consecutive losses (out of the money) when I first started. I recently went on a 7 SnG losing streak over a two day period. You simply must have a large enough bankroll to absorb such a losing streak when it happens. When I say buy-in I am referring to the tourney buy-in + the entry fee. I know a lot of people play at Party Poker, but if you are just starting out, your money will be better spent….at least initially at Poker Stars, or any of the other poker rooms that have a lower rake (tourney fee) for the lowest SnG levels. Party Poker’s lowest SnGs are $5+1 and Poker Stars is $5+.50….it does not seem like a big deal, but consider this: You are just starting out and have funded your poker account with $100 (IMO, the minimum anyone should start with) and you decide to play a good bit of poker this month. After 100 games you will have paid $50 more at PP than PS….that is nine more $5 SnG tourney buy-ins you would have had in your account, let me say that again…..that is nine more $5 SnG tourney buy-ins you would have had in your account……over time, pennies add up.
Another general rule of thumb taught to me by Soupie is do not risk more than 5-10% of your bankroll on a given day. As I see it that is the driving force behind the x% per day idea is maximize return while minimizing risk. If you risk no more than 5-10% of your bankroll in any one session, then you can not go broke when negative variance does strike. It may be slightly arbitrary, but the 5-10% bankroll risk per day is a figure that most people can “stomach”….if you have a bad session you have not lost so much that you tilt, or play your next session from a position of fear….you simply absorb the loss and move on – no biggie (play where you belong). If you risk less that 5% of your bankroll per day, you are not maximizing your time and earning potential….conversely if you risk more than the 10% per day, you may do significant damage to your ability to play properly funded in a single bad session.
Example: If you have a $500 bankroll and you have decided to risk 10% of that bankroll today ($50), depending on how much time you have to play you have several options on how to go about spreading the money around. You could play nine $5+50 SnGs, you could play four $10+1 SnGs, or you could play two $20+2 SnGs. I suppose you could say you could play a single $50+5 SnG, but this would be stretching two “rules”. $55 is 11% of your bankroll and at $50+5 you would only have a bankroll to cover nine buy-ins…..see how this works?
Again, many people find these rules confining or arbitrary, but they are designed to keep you out of trouble and maximize your potential return, while minimizing the risk. You can manipulate the rules as you see fit, but many people have no baseline or idea of what an appropriate level of play, bankroll and risk should be….and some people need “rules” to play by…at least initially.
Sit-n-Go Strategy Guide – Section 3 Summary
• What are your reasons for playing poker
• Set up short and long term specific goals
• Make your goals challenging but attainable
• Formulate a plan for achieving those goals
• Play at a level your bankroll can support
• Observe the 15 buy-in rule
• Observe the 5%-10% per day risk rule
Sit-n-Go Strategy Guide – Section 4
Alright, now we know what stakes we should be playing at, we now have to decide if we are going to play a single table SnG or a two-table SnG. There are three-table SnGs at Party Poker and affiliated sites as well but the two-table and three-table SnGs are so similar, I will simply refer to the two-table variety.
Single Table SnG
In the single table SnG category there are several different types of games to choose from. There are full table (9-10 players), there are 6-max and there are ”Turbo” varieties of each. At most sites in a “normal” single table SnG, the blinds increase at 10 minute intervals…(Party and Party skins increase the blinds after 10 hands). The turbo SnGs usually increase the blinds every 5 minutes…..twice as fast. The strategy behind Turbo SnG’s and regular SnG’s are similar. I generally prefer the 10 minute blind structure games, it gives a player a little more time to warm up to the table dynamic before the blinds get out of hand and force you to play. In most “normal” SnGs I will hang back, play very few hands and observe my opponents when the blinds are low. I will make notes on what types of hands they will play (if they show them), what position they play them in…..and how much they value a particular type of hand. Over time I have developed a tempo of sorts to my SnG game, and the 10 minute blind levels help me make good….not hasty decisions. I give myself plenty of time to complete each and every tournament so that I don’t feel like I have to make a move to finish the game because other things require my attention. I can’t even begin to list the times I have been short stacked, on the verge of blinding out only to patiently wait for my opportunity to make a move and a comeback.
This type of patient short stacked game is simply not possible in a turbo SnG. When the blinds increase every 5 minutes you do not have the luxury of waiting around for good hands…particularly if you have lost a couple pots and are short stacked. People call turbo SnGs a “crapshoot” while I don’t completely agree with that assessment, luck certainly plays a much larger roll in the outcome when the blinds increase twice as fast. The principles of good play still apply in a turbo SnG, but you will be forced to play more hands and push thinner margins to be successful. Many people choose the turbo SnGs because they are short on time…and/or simply prefer the fast paced high-action style of play. When I first started playing single table tournaments, I played about ½ normal speed and ½ turbo. I initially liked the turbo SnGs because they offered a bit more value than a “normal” SnG…generally the buy-in is a few dollars higher than a normal SnG, but the rake or entry fee is the same as its slower paced counterpart. So effectively you are paying the same fee and have the potential to win a larger prize pool. After a few months I realized my variance in turbo SnGs was significantly higher than it was in “normal” SnGs and chose to specialize in normal speed games.
The final variety of single table SnG is the 6-max. Short handed or 6-max SnGs follow the same blind structure as a “normal” full table SnG (increases every 10 minutes)…there are just fewer opponents at the table. Although the blinds increase at 10 minute intervals the pace of a 6-max game is fast. Since there are fewer players the blinds come around much faster than in a full table game. Consequently, you have to loosen up your starting hand requirements and play more hands. After a couple blind increases and particularly if an opponent gets knocked out early the 6-max games effectively play more like a turbo SnG than a regular speed SnG. Again the benefit of a short handed game is that the pace is fast and exciting and there are fewer opponents to beat. People who enjoy playing a lot of hands are drawn to these types of games. The big downside to 6-max, is that only the top 2 positions are paid. Therefore to get any return on your investment you have to place first or second. To be perfectly honest I have not played many 6-max SnGs and do not have many tips for playing short handed from the start. I am quite adept at playing short handed once a normal table is reduced to six people, but by then I typically have an adequate read on many players and a good understanding of the table’s dynamic. There is a refined set of skills required to play 6-max that I simply have not developed. This does not prevent me from playing them from time to time…I have even played a couple 6-max MTTs on Ultimate Bet and I am beginning to enjoy them. Once I have more experience with 6-max I will make additions to this section.
Two Table SnG
Two table SnGs happen to be my favorite type of SnGs to play. I generally try to play at least one per day…often I will play several. Two table SnGs come in two varieties…the “normal” (10 minute blind level increases) and turbo. If people thought a single table turbo SnG was a crapshoot….wow….play a two table turbo, talk about fast action once you eliminate ½ the players. The blinds increase so quickly and by the time you have eliminated 9-10 players the blinds are a significant portion of your stack. I typically avoid the two table turbos for the same reasons I avoid the single table turbo games. However, I truly enjoy the unique challenges of the normal paced two table SnGs. There are clear benefits to playing a two table SnG….they have twice as many players so the prize pool is twice as large. Although the prize pool is significantly larger the tournament entry fee is exactly the same as their single table counterparts….which provides an exceptional value. Additionally, in most cases the two table SnGs pay out to 4th position. The payout structure generally is: 1st Place: 40% 2nd Place: 30% 3rd Place: 20% 4th Place: 10%
The one exception I am aware of are the two table SnGs at Pacific Poker. At the smaller limits I believe they pay 5 positions and at the higher limits they pay only the top 3…..which I really like! While in the standard format 4th place does not pay a whole lot, you get your buy-in plus about 50% back. Although it does not amount to much money or a big win, that small amount can make the difference between a winning or losing session. Two table SnGs do take considerably more time to play…usually 1 ½ to 1 ¾ hours vs. roughly 1 hour for a single table SnG, however the greater value and increased payout makes them easily worth the extra time, to me. The obvious challenge is that there are more opponents to defeat to get a payout, but another challenge is that in a two table SnG you absolutely have to remained focused. Why…you might ask….well, as soon as you have reads on the opponents and the table dynamic it changes!
As opponents start getting knocked out the poker room moves people from table to table in an attempt to keep the tables balanced, so that one table is not disadvantaged by having to play short handed in thereby paying more blinds. Once 9 out of 10 opponents are knocked out of the game the table is consolidated to a single “final table” therefore you will have a read on some of the people, but not all of them and the table dynamic will completely change. Another challenge of a two table SnG is that there are more chips in play. Once you get down to short handed play, the blinds are typically lower (compared to stack size) than a single table SnG. Often you will have a large stack, a couple middle stacks and a couple small stacks. This, in my opinion, is how new players become good players…you are exposed to varying situations and styles of play from game to game. How do you play from a small stack, how do you play as a large stack, how do you play a middle stack when a desperate small stack has position on you….etc. These situations make you truly pay attention and evaluate your play and you have to play a bit more strategically than you would in a single table SnG. What I mean by that is occasionally you will find yourself in a short stacked situation when there are 10 or 11 players left and there are still two short handed tables running. I will sometimes employ a stalling tactic, whereby I will take as much time as possible to make my decisions….essentially letting the time counter run down before I act. There are a variety of reasons for doing this, obviously I am hoping another short stack at the other table will bust out and we will then be consolidated at one table so the blinds come around slower. This small thing can often give you the time and breathing room you need to make a comeback. An added benefit of doing this is that you can sometimes “tilt” the table. People play SnGs for many reasons…but one big reason is that they do not have the time to devote to a large MTT. When you cut into their playing time by stalling, it irritates them, to say the least. Occasionally they will be so relieved that it is their turn to act they will make decisions much more quickly than they normally would…and hasty decisions tend to be bad ones. It also gets them angry at you and they will sometimes try to seek revenge by playing into you, so you wait for a big hand and watch when all the tilting players call your all-in bet just to knock you out of the game. I have doubled, and even tripled up like this innumerable times…then suddenly you are no longer the short stack. This is a controversial tactic and some people feel it is unethical, I am not here to teach you how to be friendly to your opponents…I am trying to teach you how to be successful and make money within the rules of the game. Until they implement hand-for-hand play in two table SnGs I will continue to do what is necessary to give myself every opportunity to win….I suggest you do the same.
**NOTE: There is another type of one and two table SnG I will address later, and that is the “Satellite” SnG.
Sit-n-Go Strategy Guide – Section 4 Summary
• What are the different types of SnG tournaments
• Single full table
• Single full table turbo
• Single table 6-max
• Two table SnG
• Two table turbo
• Differences and strategies for playing each
Sit-n-Go Strategy Guide – Section 5
As promised, I will write a little about the final type of SnG….the Satellite SnG. Satellite SnGs are a bit different from the normal type of SnG in that the payout structure is very small. Generally only the winner gets the prize…and occasionally 2nd place will get their buy-in back. They provide an opportunity to win a larger buy-in for a tournament you may otherwise not be able to justify with your bankroll. Satellite SnGs offer a great value for the dollar, but in the end they can be very frustrating as well. For example this weekend I played a few Satellite SnGs, one was at Pacific Poker…it was a 11+1 single table buy-in, and first place wins a $110 seat to the “Weekly Whopper” after an hour of solid play I took second place and received nothing for my efforts. On Poker Stars I played a couple two table SnGs which were $13+1 buy-ins for a $215 seat in the big Sunday Freezout. The first one I made a very bad call and went out in 8th or 9th at the final table…the second one I again lost heads up, I had my opponent exactly where I wanted him and he caught his card on the river to severely cripple me to the point of being all in to cover the blinds for three hands straight. I eventually lost and received $19 for the effort while my opponent received the $215 seat. All of the 17 other opponents got nothing. Again….these Satellite SnGs provide an excellent value because your ROI is very high….but you simple must win for it to pay off. Until you have gained a good bit of experience I would recommend staying away from these types of SnGs….particularly if you are just starting out. You time and money may be better spent in a regular SnG where even if you don’t win you will get some return on investment thereby building your bankroll. These satellites can take a toll on your bankroll, although they buy-ins are small….but more importantly they can take a toll on your self confidence. I have become very good at shrugging off disappointment due to being a MTT player, but bubbling out of 2 Satellite SnGs this weekend is still a bitter pill to swallow for anyone.
Reading opponents is an extremely important skill to develop. You may not be able to put your opponent on an exact hand but putting him on a range of hands is critical to making good decisions. I have often recommended writing down on a scratch piece of paper what you think your opponents are holding….even if you are not involved in that hand. In order to develop this skill you must practice and pay attention to what is going on at the table even if you are not currently playing a hand. I would encourage you….for at least 1 solid week to play one table at a time and write down your opponents suspected holdings based on the action and what is on the board….and every time a hand is shown take note if your read was correct, close or completely wrong. It may seem like an awful lot of work, but I promise you after following through with this exercise you will be a much better player. You will be able to follow the action, even if slightly distracted (important skill needed to multi-table) you will be able to pick up on subtle betting habits of opponents, whether his pause is a trap or whether he is actually considering a move. You will be able to tell whether your opponent is acting quickly and decisively or if he is simply using the “action buttons” to call or fold.
***Side Note***: I would urge you to refrain, or at least reduce your use of the “pre-action buttons” particularly in SnGs and Tournaments. When I multi-table it is sometimes necessary, but it gives your opponents information and you can miss out on good stealing opportunities. I have auto folded many hands in late position when I could have easily stolen the blinds because the action folded around to me. By doing this you essentially give the button or small blind the opportunity to steal and cost yourself 1 free orbit.
By writing down a range of hands your opponent may be holding, you begin to get a “feel” for how they play in what position….and with what types of hands. Once you are involved in a hand with that opponent and are forced with a decision you can replay the hand in your mind and draw on your past experience/notes of how this individual plays….and hopefully make the correct decision. People learn in many different ways…A proven method and one which I use is repetition. I can pick up a lot from reading, but it does not truly become real for me until I do it….over and over again. I have not spent a lot of time analyzing the intricacies of how and why I know what my opponents have….I have just done it so many time that I have learned to trust it. Over time you just learn what a TPTK bet looks like….you learn what a draw bet looks like, you even start to pick up on when people are likely bluffing or stealing (whether you can call the bluff or re-raise them is a different story) You will make bad reads….it just comes with the territory, some opponents are adept at switching gears and changing how they play hands, but people are creatures of habit and will fall into a comfortable pattern you will be able to pick up on if you pay attention. As you develop your opponent reading skill you should develop the habit of taking notes on them.
I strongly suggest, at least initially, keeping detailed notes about your opponents. Not notes that say; “this guy is a complete asshat, what kind of player gets this lucky” I have a few of those notes, but they are not productive and are generally a waste of time and energy. Productive notes are lists of hands they play in and out of position. What type of raises they make (do they vary the amount they raise with the strength of their hand). Do they call a lot, or fold easily under pressure and any detailed descriptions of how long they take to bet…long thinking pauses or decisive action? There is plenty of down time when you are playing a tournament, some people like to watch TV or browse the web, but until you become a very experienced player and even when you become an experienced player you should make notes on you opponents. Taking notes will help keep you focused on the action, it helps develop your ability to read players, and it helps you become more disciplined and focused in general. I find it amazing how many people you will run in to that you have played before, and having notes on them gives you an advantage. Yesterday I was playing a $50+5 single table SnG and there were 2 opponents I had apparently played before because I had notes on them. One note said something along the lines of: “be careful this guy will play ANY two cards if they are suited, he is a flush chasing fool” The note on the other player became very valuable for me. It said; “this guy will bluff a lot in position and will bet very strong/semi-bluff with second or bottom pair” Sure enough within the first level he was playing his usually hyper-aggressive game. The first hand I got involved with him he tried over betting 2nd pair but I smooth called him to the river where he simply gave up and checked it off to me. The other two times we tangled heads up I check raised him……once with the goods and once on a re-steal…both times he gave up. If I did not know his style of playing I would have easily folded two of the three hands to his aggressive betting….costing me a bunch of chips and ultimately may have cost me second place in the SnG. I will often sit and take notes on an opponent after I have been knocked out of a tournament early (Stars allows you to do this) If someone made a bad play or even put a good move on me and busts me out….I surly do not want to forget that valuable information I just paid for. I will hang around and make the note so the next time we meet I will have more information to go on. Part of playing good poker is being disciplined and developing good habit….taking notes on as many players as you can is certainly a good habit – it may lead you to make a good lay-down or give you the confidence to call a bluff.
Sit-n-Go Strategy Guide – Section 5 Summary
• Satellite SnGs
• Learn how to read opponents
• Refrain from using the “pre-action” buttons
• Practice, practice…practice making good reads
• Take as many useful notes on you opponent’s play as possible