As you progress to higher and higher buy-ins, you’ll need more real poker skills. Beating play-money SNGs is pretty formulaic; you either get all your money in with a good hand or you fold. The $1 games use a similar formula, but we need to alter it a little, because our opponents’ strategies will be different. In the play-money games, our opponents didn’t care if they won or lost their play money.
They were trying to take 1st place or bust out trying. Coming in 2nd or 3rd and winning some play credits is meaningless. But for real money, coming in 2nd or 3rd wins you money. In the 9-handed SNGs, the payouts are 50% for 1st, 30% for 2nd, and 20% for 3rd. That means when it gets down to 4 players, no one wants to be the next one to bust, because if just one more player is eliminated, they’re in the money. The tournament is said to be on the bubble. People tend to be very cautious and play timidly.
In contrast, players are usually too loose in the early levels of the tournament and make bad calls with weak hands and draws. To take advantage of both of these weaknesses, we employ the following style:
Play super-tight early and wildly aggressive late.
you should play very few hands during the first 3 levels of play. The blinds are so small that they won’t be worth going after and you don’t want to risk the tournament without a great hand. Let everyone else knock each other out—it doesn’t matter if you fall behind in chips.
Throughout this book, I refer to the following categories of pre-flop hands when giving pre-flop advice. Note that all recommendations are for the specified category or better. For example, Category 8 includes not only the hands listed in Category 8, but all the hands listed in Categories 1-7 as well.
Those of you who may have read Kill Phil will notice a difference in the hand categories. This is due
to the fact that Kill Phil is a push-all-in-or-fold strategy, whereas this isn’t. When pushing all-in with
a marginal hand, it’s preferable to have a hand such as 76 suited than KT offsuit, because you’re less likely to be dominated by hands that are likely to call, such as AK. In Kill Phil, 76s is a Category 6 hand and KT offsuit is a Category 10 hand, whereas both are Category 7 hands in this book. It might be a good idea to memorize as much of this as possible, or to print a copy for easy reference when playing online.
These hand rankings are a useful approximation for tournament play. For a more detailed analysis, see the rankings developed by one of my co-authors, Tysen Streib, in our book Kill Everyone.
In Levels 1 through 3, you should play only the premium hands of Categories 1 and 2. If no one has raised before you, come in for a raise of five times the big blind. If people have limped before you, increase your raise size by one big blind for each limper. If a raise would be one-third of your chips or more, push all-in instead.
Blinds are 15/30 and you’re first to act with Qh Qd. You have 1,400 chips. Raise to 150.
Blinds are 25/50 and you’re on the button with Ah Kc and 1,000 chips. Three people limp before you. Normally, you’d raise to 400 (five big blinds, plus one for each limper), but because that’s more than one-third of your stack, push all-in instead.
If someone has raised before you, make a re-raise to four times the amount of their bet with your Category 1 or 2 hands. Again, if this is more than one-third of your chips, push all-in instead. If anyone else calls the initial raise before the action gets to you, or if the pot is re-raised by anyone, push all-in.
Blinds are 10/20 and you’re in the small blind with Ks Kc and 1,500 chips. Someone raises to 80. Raise to 320.
Notice that if you follow my pre-flop advice, you’ll never just call pre-flop. you’ll always be the one who puts in the last raise, unless you got to see the flop for free in the big blind. It’s very important to be
the one to put in the last raise pre-flop, as others will tend to defer to your show of strength. They’ll be more likely to check to you on the flop and to fold when you bet. It’s good to be the bully!
once you get to the flop, you’re looking to make top pair or better. With AK, you’re hoping that an ace or a king comes. If it doesn’t, just check and fold to any bet and be done with the hand. With a high pocket pair, you’re hoping that the flop comes with cards lower than your pair, giving you an overpair. If an overcard comes on the flop (you hold QQ and the flop has an ace or a king in it), be prepared to just check and fold. your hand might be the best, but it will be too expensive to find out. Players in the $1 SNGs are very loose and will call you with very weak kickers. Don’t try to bet with KK on a flop of A73. A player with a hand such as A2 will probably call you to the river. It’s much better to bet only when you’re fairly confident you have the best hand—you’ll be paid off by these loose players often enough to make the wait worthwhile.
If you’ve made top pair or better on the flop, bet the size of the pot if it’s checked to you. If someone bets before you, raise the size of the pot. Remember that when raising the size of the pot, you count the amount of your call as being in the pot before calculating how much to raise. If any bet or raise is 1/3 of your remaining stack or more, push all-in instead. If your raise is re-raised, push all-in.
Any time you bet or call one-third of your chips or more, you should consider yourself pot-committed. This means that you’ve invested too much of your stack to fold at any point in the hand. Usually, you’ll put in the rest of your chips on the turn or river, but you can check and/or call if you think that’s the best way to play the hand. But never fold, no matter how scary the next card is!
You have Ac Kc and raise pre-flop to 150. The button and big blind call. The flop is Qd 7s 2h and there’s 465 in the pot. The big blind checks to you. You should check. If the button bets, just fold. If he checks as well, check and fold the turn (the next community card) if someone bets, unless it’s an ace or a king. If an ace or king come on the turn, bet the size of the pot.
If this amount equals 1/3 of your chips or more, move all-in instead.
You have As Kc and the flop is Ks 8s 7d. The pot contains 200 chips and you and your opponent have about 1,400 left in your stacks. He bets 100, making the pot a total of 300. Normally you’d make a pot-sized raise here, which is a raise to 500. You need to raise 400 more, not 300 more, as the 100 you use to call the bet gets counted in the pot size. But 500 is more than one- third of your chips, so you’re pot-committed. Because of this, rather than raising to 500, move all-in instead.
You have Js Jc and the flop is Ks 8s 7d. Again, the pot contains 200 chips and you and your opponent have about 1400 left in your stacks. This time you’re first to act. You should check and fold if he bets.
You have Ad Kd and the flop is Kc 9h 8c. The pot contains 330. Your one opponent checks the flop and you bet 330. He calls. The pot now contains 990 and you both have about 1,000 left in your stacks. The turn is the 7c. He bets 400. You should fold. He probably called with a draw and it most likely came in. Save your chips for a better situation!
Other General Pointers on Levels 1-3:
Beware of check-raises! In $1 tournaments, a check-raise almost always means a strong hand, usually 2-pair or better. Always fold to a check-raise unless you have at least top 2-pair (AK on a AK7 flop) yourself. If you have AK and the flop is KJ4, fold if you’re check-raised. Stronger opponents may do this on a bluff with a hand such as QT, but rarely in low-level tournaments. Just fold.
Don’t slow play! Players call too often in the early levels. I’m recommending that you virtually never slow play or check-raise. If you have AA and the flop comes AQ8, don’t try to check-raise or just flat call. Bet or raise, then laugh when he calls you with QJ. The only possible exceptions are those exceptionally rare instances when you flop quads or a straight flush. Should this occur, you can slow play by checking the flop, but make sure that you try to get all your chips in on either the turn or river.
Don’t bluff! They call too often… they call too often… Just keep repeating that to yourself. When they’re too loose, you get paid off when you bet your big hands. But it makes bluffing a losing proposition. Just give it up.
Use caution and common sense when you flop a draw while in the big blind for a free flop. open-ended straight draws and flush draws can usually be called if you’re getting 3-to-1 pot odds or better. Inside-straight draws (gutshots) should always be folded.
Not all open-ended draws are created equal. Holding 98 when the board is 763 is a much better draw than when the board is JJT. In the first case, you’re drawing to the nut straight and you have two overcards. you might even win if a 9 or an 8 comes. In the second case, you’re drawing to the bottom end of the straight and the board is paired. Even if you make your straight, you could: lose to a higher straight; lose to a full house; or not be paid off, since the pair on the board scares potential callers.
Don’t worry about folding hand after hand. Sometimes you won’t play a single hand during the first three levels. That’s okay. The blinds are so small that you probably haven’t lost that many chips. The pots are generally small enough that it’s not worth risking getting involved unless you’ve got a premium hand. Get over it and let the small pots go.
Pay attention to how the other players are playing. Do they like to limp into a lot of pots? Do they always come in for a raise? After the flop do they call with weak draws? Do they make big bluffs? When they flop a set or trips, how do they play it? Do they bet, try for a check-raise, or just check and call? Take notes on how other people play. It’ll be time well spent.
Don’t assume that the other players are paying attention to how tight you are. Don’t think that just because you’ve been playing so tightly for the last few hands, it’ll let you pull off this bluff just once. They call too often… they call too often…
Level 4 and Higher (5 or More Players Remaining)
At Level 4 and above, you should often move all-in pre-flop or fold. you’ll almost always have 15 big blinds or less in your stack, which means that a standard raise of 5BB (five times the big blind) will be one third of your stack. In those cases you should adopt an “all-in-or-fold” mentality. Again, you’ll never just call pre-flop (unless the other player is all-in); you should always raise or fold. The blinds will now be worth stealing, so you’ll be raising with weaker hands than Categories 1 and 2. The best time to raise is when everyone has folded to you. If this is the case:
From the button or small blind, raise with Category 6 or better.
From one or two seats off the button, raise with Category 5 or better.
From an earlier position or if you’re in the big blind and no one has raised, raise with Category 4 or better.
If you have between 5BB and 10BB, raise with one Category weaker than normal. If you have 5BB or less, raise with two Categories weaker than normal
Fold everything else; never limp.
All of the above points are summarized in the chart below.
If one or more players have limped before you, act as though you’re in early position (push with Category 4, 5, or 6, depending on stack size).
If someone raises before you, push all-in with Category 3 or better. Push with Categories 4 or 5 if you have less than 10BB or 5BB, respectively.
Criteria for Raising Depending on Stack Size ($1 Games)
If you raise (but not all-in) and someone re-raises, your decision should be based on pot odds:
- If you’re getting 2.5-to-1 or better, call with anything.
- If you’re getting 2-to-1 or better, call with Category 5 or better.
- If you’re getting 1.5-to-1 or better, call with Category 4 or better.
- If you’re getting worse than 1.5-to-1, call with Category 3 or better.
You may need to do a bit of creative math in these situations. If the raise is most, but not all, of one of your stacks, you should figure the pot odds as if it’s all-in, since you’ll be pot-committed.
Blinds are 50/100, you have 1,800 chips, and are one off the button. Everyone has folded to you. You have 6c 6d, a Category 5 hand. Raise to 500.
Blinds are 75/150, you have 1,400 chips, and are two off the button. Someone limps before you. You have Ah 6h, a Category 6 hand. Fold. with less than 10BB, you need a Category 5 hand or better to push when someone limps.
Blinds are 50/100, you have 2,000 chips, and are on the button. Everyone folds to you with Kc Qd, a Category 5 hand. You raise to 500. The BB has a stack of 3,000 and raises to 1,500. Your strict pot odds are 2050-to-1000 or slightly better than 2-to-1. However, this raise essentially puts you all-in, so you should imagine that the raise is to 2,000 instead. That gives you 2550- to-1500 or 1.7-to-1. You need a Category 4 hand or better to call that. Muck.
Post-flop you should also be more aggressive if the chips aren’t all-in yet. Bet with top pair (any kicker) or better, usually all-in. If he bets before you do, you’ll need to consider the pot odds. you can always call with a hand such as top pair and a good kicker. Getting 2-to-1, you can call with top pair and a medium kicker. Getting 3-to-1, you can call with top pair and a weak kicker, middle pair and an overcard, or open-ended straight or flush draws (on the flop).
Four Players Remaining—The Bubble
Play as you did with 5 or more players remaining, except push with 1 category weaker and call with 1 category stronger than before.
Three Players Remaining
Category 6 Category 5 Category 2
Category 7 Category 6 Category 3
Category 8 Category 7 Category 4
Chapter 6 How To Beat $1 SNG’s
you’ve made it to the money! Give yourself a quick pat on the back and start trying to win the tournament.
My recommendation for heads-up play is simplicity itself:
If you’re on the button, push all-in on any two cards.
If you’re in the big blind and he just limps, push all-in on any two cards.
If he raises on the button, push with Category 6 or better; otherwise fold. If either of you has 4BB or less, call with Category 7 as well. If either of you has 2.5 BB or less, call with any two cards.
And that’s how you beat the $1 SNGs. Make sure you get a lot of games under your belt and are comfortable with playing before you advance to the $5 games. Remember, 10 games aren’t a lot.
- Play super-tight for the first few levels and let everyone else knock each other out.
- Don’t call pre-flop and rarely call post-flop. The right move is to raise or fold, not call.
- Never bluff in levels 1-3.
- Push aggressively when it gets short-handed, but call only with your strongest hands.
- Push every hand heads-up unless he raises first. The blinds you steal will more than makeup for the times a better hand calls you.