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TLR’s Guide to All Things Turbo

It has been a while since I posted something that is more general then comments about specific hands, and I decided to try to come up with some dos and don’ts that are specific to turbo SNGs.

This is mainly targeted for mid buy in stars SNGs ($15+1 and $25+2) single table. It lends itself well into the mid buy in FullTilt turbos (FullTilt blinds go up every 3 minutes, but they have many more intermediate levels then stars). It does not work well with shorter interval turbos. Regarding stars 2 table SNGs – I will have a specific section on those.

From my limited experience with the $55+5 at stars they tend to be much tighter then the lower buy ins, so it needs its own set of adjustments. The low level SNGs tend to be much softer, so playing your good hands is more of a winning tactic there.

General thoughts

1.Turbos have more variance then regular SNGs because stacks are shallower. You have to learn to expect to have long losing streaks in turbos (10-15 are not uncommon). Therefore you should be bankrolled accordingly. I would recommend 50 buy ins for the level you will drop into. For example with a $1000 bankroll it is ok to play the $27, but once you drop to $800 (50 buy ins for the $16) drop back to the $16.

2.Turbos are a shallow stack game, this means that usually around level 5 (75/150 at stars) with 6-7 people remaining average M is 10 or less, it only gets worse after that. The practical affect is that in most hands in level 5+ there are two betting rounds – preflop and the flop. This means that in order to be successful you must have very good preflop skills. Turbos is not a game of elaborate traps and complex betting, you either get your money in preflop or on the flop.

3.In order to live you must be willing to die – It is a game of marginal edges – it is often correct to take flips, 60:40 or even 40:60 chances in this games.

4.Turbos are action packed – you can’t sit around waiting for good hands for too long. The major flow in turbo games is waiting for good hands and getting blinded out.

Players in turbos

I would say that overall turbo players tend to be aggressive, the action packed nature of the game tends to draw more aggressive players into it. But most players are either too loose or too tight.

Too loose – The major flaw of the players that are too loose is that they don’t understand position well, they play KQ the same from EP and the Button, and they usually either build a big stack or get knocked out early. Don’t steal blinds from them with junk, but don’t give too much credit to their UTG raises either. You beat them by having better hands.

Too tight – the too tight players are those that you see with 1200-1300 stack at level 4-5, then your M is getting low and they are forced to push marginal hands if they are decent or are blinded out if they are bad. Sometimes they double up early with a good hand and sit tight with the 3000 stack, and only start playing again around the bubble unless they have a really strong hand.

There are two main ways to make money off them – steal their blinds (the too tight players simply can’t call your push with J9, even if you pushed the last 17 hands and their M is 5), and check-raising their C-bet. You can’t pull that move too much, but if you do it successfully once per SNG it is a nice addition to your stack. Most too tight players know to C-bet their raises with AK,AQ etc.. but also know to fold when you reraise them.

The levels in the following section refer to stars levels:

Level 1-2 (10/20, 15/30)

In the first two levels you can allow yourself to play tight, there is nothing wrong with folding all those 10-15 hands and getting to level 3 with a stack of 1400+. However having a big stack is a major advantage in this game, so it is well worth it to take some risks in order to build a stack here.

The first two levels are the pretty much the only levels it is correct to limp preflop with speculative hands (mid SC, low-mid PP), since blinds are low and many pots are multiway.

I raise with a wide range from late position on hands that are folded or have one limper, and I raise a wide range from the SB if it folded to me. People at this level are willing to call 3BB raises and let it go if they miss the flop; so most of the times when you get called, you can take down the pot with c-bet.

Getting out of level 2 with 1700-1800 as supposed to 1300-1400 stack does not seem like a big difference but it is, it often allows you to survive a hand that is gone wrong (3BB PFR, c-bet and getting pushed at and folding) with a stack that leaves you with a fighting chance.
Another nice thing about opening your game up at this level is that the $16 always have 1-2 total idiots, and the $27s have their fair share of them as well. Someone will take their chips away; it might as well be you.

Level 3-4 (25/50, 50/100)

At this point usually there are 7-9 players around, so blinds still go up a bit faster than once per orbit.
This is where you need to open up your game, if you do not play any hand when this level go by your stack will be down to about 1200, with M<5.5, this is not good.
So you want to open up your game a bit. You will see less multiway pots here, so blind stealing is easier, it is also a stage in the game where preflop raise does not get people pot committed, so you actually have some fold equity when you come over the top. It is especially useful when you spot blind steals.

Lets say you are the BB with 75o, and CO raises you 3BB in level 4, and he is not a very tight player, you both have stacks of 1800.

Assume his raising range is: 55+, A7+, KT+.

Assume that if you push he will never fold AK, TT+, he will fold AQ,88,99 50% of the time and will always fold the rest of the hands:

Hand Probability % Win Stack if win Probability Expected stack 

TT+ 0.136364 0.15 3600 1 73.63636

AK 0.072727 0.35 3600 1 91.63636

88,99 0.054545 0.15 3600 0.5 29.45455

88,99 0.054545 1 2150 0.5 117.2727

AQ 0.072727 0.35 3600 0.5 91.63636

AQ 0.072727 1 2150 0.5 156.3636

55-77,A7-AJ,KT+ 0.663636 1 2150 1 1426.818

Total Expected stack = 1986

Since 1986 > 1700, this is an EV+ push.

Defending your blinds this way also sends a nice message for further steals and may allow you to keep your blinds. Don’t try it too much, once or twice per SNG is more then enough, but don’t be afraid to use this move either.

So you want to play this level more aggressively and open up your game here. You want to be the one opening pots and leading the bets. You very rarely want to call at this level.
Hands like SC and low PP lose their value, since you don’t see cheap flops in multiway pots. From late position I raise a wide range of hands if I think I can pick up the blinds.

Level 5-6 (75/150, 100/200)

At this point you are usually down to 5-7 players, stacks are getting shallower and the following cliché of poker magnifies itself – ‘Position and Stack are at least as important as your cards.’ At this point there are usually three kinds of hands – preflop raises that pick up the blinds, hands that end after a flop when someone folds, and hands that go to showdown with big pots, usually when someone is all-in.
The table structure tends to change a lot since a lot of hands move huge chunks of chips around, so you need to constantly readjust yourself to the table dynamics.

Good tight players open up their game here, so just because you labeled someone as tight does not mean he will remain this way. One very important point to pay attention to is who is trying to get ITM and tightens up and who is playing to win. Barring very specific situations you want to play to win, simply because in the long run tight passive game will not get you anywhere.

If you have a big stack you want to utilize it to steal a lot of blinds in position. If you have M in the range of 7-10 you can usually afford to attempt blinds steals and still fold to pushes, if your M is the area of 5 or lower, you want to push any decent hand that is folded to you in almost position.

Regarding pushing – I personally much rather push 2 medium cards then high card – low card combinations. For example I rather push T8 then A3 for the following reasons:

1. A3 is very easily dominated; people like to call raises with Ax or PP, all those hands, except 22 are dominating A3. T8 will usually leave you with 2 live cards.

2. All other hands that do not contain 2,3 are 60:40 or better vs A3.

3. Almost no str8 possibilities for A3.

As a general rule you don’t want to push into someone who has you well covered if you have the option to avoid it.

Level 7 (100/200 ante 25)

The most important thing about this level is not to treat it as the 100/200 level. Calculate your M again including the ante. With 6 players in the pot the starting pot is 450 compared to 300 in the previous level, however you don’t need to invest more money for blind stealing. So the conclusion is that you want to steal more blinds at this level.

The Bubble (4 players)


The bubble usually begins in the 100/200/25 or 200/400/50 levels. It is usually a game of preflop pushes, and you need to be involved at least once per orbit, usually if you fold for two orbits your stack has suffered major damage.

There are a few interesting situations that come up on the bubble that are worth noticing:

1. One big stack and 3 small stacks – the small stacks are usually afraid to bubble out and play only decent hands – as a big stack you want to push any hand that is folded to you, about 2/3 of the times you will pick the blinds. If you are the short stack don’t fall into the trap of folding your way ITM – stand up to the big stack early. If you double up as short stack you have a good shut of at least 2nd place.

2. One big stack, 2 medium stacks and 1 short stack – If you are the big stack again play aggressive, but try to keep the short stack in as long as possible, while running over the mid stacks

3. Two big stacks, two short stacks – Common logic is that the big stacks do not want to be involved in big pots until the shorties are out of the way, so if you are the big stack try to figure out if your opponents believes in that. If he does great, you can push him over a bit and get a lead for the later stages, if he doesn’t then you have to be more selective when playing at him. Don’t be afraid to get into a big stack war with a big hand.

Heads Up

One of the most amazing things about those kinds of tournaments is that most people are not loose and aggressive enough heads up. Blinds are usually 300/600/75, M is low, you want to play aggressively, you want to push a lot. If your opponent is also aggressive you can be more selective, but once you get to less then 3000 chips you need to push every hand.

Two table Sngs

Two table Sngs take only a few minutes longer then one table Sng, and offer a much bigger payout. The nice thing about them is that 4 people out of 18 (22%) are getting paid, as supposed to 33% on one table.

There are a few major adaptations that are needed for those tournaments:

1. They tend to be looser earlier for some reason, it is not uncommon to see 2-3 players getting knocked out in the 1st level. So you can usually play good hands early even more aggressively and get some action.

2. Once the tournament gets down to about 12-13 players, with blinds 50/100 or 100/200 there is a definite change in dynamics. At this point you must be concerned with building a stack before the tables merge. Getting into the final table with less then 2500 chips is very bad (average stack at the final table is 3000), so when you are down to the 10-12 people range you want to play aggressively, steal a lot of blinds and build a stack. I am perfectly OK at taking flips here to build a stack.

3. Once the tables merge the first thing you must do is realign yourself – watch the stack sizes at the table and where the big and short stacks are sitting, and readjust from 5-6 to 9 people game. However at this point blinds are usually 100/200/25 (average M = 3000/525 = 5.7) or 200/400/50 (average M<3). So you cant play it as your single table 9 people strategy, you need to open up in late position and steal the blinds at least once per orbit and preferably more. Since the stacks are shallow the table gets shorter very fast, taking your effective M down even more. Unless you have a really big stack it is clearly a push or fold game for most of the final table.

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