Making a Profit at SNGs

published on 07/25/08 at 2:10 pm

SNGs are the easiest games to turn a relatively easy profit for the savvy player. That’s exactly the reason why many poker strategy guides recommend them as very straightforward bankroll building ways.

Before we go any further: this article is about turning a profit at the SNG tables, it isn’t about how to get rich playing in low buy-in SNGs (because that’s what I’m going to discuss). If you’re looking for the big money, play in high buy-in MTTs because your investment/potential return ratio is much better there. SNGs (or STTs) offer a much smaller buy-in/payout ratio, but they do give individual players much better odds for reaching the money than any MTT ever could.

A typical MTT is a $1-$50 buy-in one (those which cost more usually feature much more aggressive play and harder-to-beat opposition), with 10 players (6 handed ones are kind of short handed so they too require a few strategy-tweaks). A regular 10-handed STT usually rewards places 1-3, which means there are 7 players you need to best to get to the money. Turn it around any which way you want to: that is not a superhuman feat. If you make it past the bubble, you’ll already make some money, so – in theory – you do not even need to win a STT to add to your bankroll.

Special “beginners” STTs feature more paid places (can be as much as 5 out of 10) but obviously, the payouts will suffer in this case.

From a strategy-perspective, a SNG can be divided into three stages: the opening stage, the bubble, and the money play.

The opening stage is the easiest to approach correctly: you need to play tight. Several factors tell you that you should act like that. First of all, because there are some pretty bad players in most of these low buy-in SNGs. As the tourney kicks off, many of them will adopt an all-or-nothing attitude and shove all-in on all sorts of drawing hands. Do not get in their way, these guys are out to beat themselves and I see no reason why you should step in to prevent them. Another – this time mathematical reason – is that the size of the blinds compared to that of the pots is small. Because of the pot odds that this situation generates, tight play should prevail. As the blinds get bigger and bigger in relation to the pot, you’ll need to gradually loosen up, right up to the point when the blinds will be so big that the pot odds will justify calling with just about any hand.

Anyway, the bubble is the most delicate stage of a SNG. As you approach it, play gets short handed, but not short handed enough to give individual starting hands a significant odds-boost. The blinds have already escalated so your stack is under pressure all the time. The best way to deal with the situation is to attempt to steal as many blinds as possible, and to win hands without showdown. The catch is, that while some players will be relatively easy to bully around (because they’ll be afraid to risk a bust on the bubble, so they’ll tighten up) others will fight back. This is where your player-reading skills will be called upon. On one hand you’ll be forced to take advantage of the pre-bubble situation, on the other hand you’ll risk running into a solid hand or a player who just refuses to be pushed around.

After the bubble bursts, I have an unhealthy habit of relaxing too much. Don’t commit the same mistake. Every player that you finish above in the tourney means significantly more money headed your way. Don’t be the farmer and settle for a cash finish. Always be the fox and aim to win. Some people just don’t have this “killer instinct” in them. These guys will have to work on developing it.

The same goes for the heads-up stage. At this point, the odds on starting hands as well as the pot odds will have been completely reshaped. Because of the huge blinds, calling becomes an option on just about any starting hand. Any call can mean an all-in though. Mind you that in heads-up play, the worst possible starting hand is no longer the 7,2o, but rather the 2,3 regardless of whether it’s suited or not.

Always sign up for a rakeback deal before you begin playing in SNGs. Every time you buy your way into one, you’ll pay a tourney fee. Rakeback will give you a nice refund on those fees, thus adding another little revenue-stream to your bankroll.

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