Now we’re going to start playing some more poker. If you’ve gotten this far, you hopefully have several hundred SNGs under your belt. you’ve been playing tight, but you’ve still seen a lot of different situations and player types. you should now be experienced enough that you can start playing more hands in the first few levels. But first, I want to introduce a few new concepts.
CPR and CSI
Earlier, we were evaluating our stack size by the number of big blinds it contained. But this ignores the antes when they appear. To be more precise from now on, I use two important numbers: the cost-per- round (CPR) and your chip-status index (CSI).
Calculating CPR: The cost-per-round, as originally described in Kill Phil by Blair Rodman and myself,
is the amount of money it would cost you to sit through an entire round of play as the button makes one orbit around the table. It’s the total of both blinds and antes (if there are any). you can also think of it as the amount of money in the pot before anyone plays. For example, if there are no antes and the blinds are 25/50, the CPR is 75. If the blinds are 75/150, the CPR is 225.
With antes you have to add in the total of all the antes, so multiply the ante by the number of players and add it to the blinds. So if there are 4 players with blinds of 100/200 and a 25 ante, the CPR is 100 + 200 + (4 x 25) = 400.
Calculating CSI: your chip-status index, as defined by Blair and myself, is your chip stack divided by the CPR. Exact precision isn’t necessary; an approximation will usually do. For example, if the CPR is 150 and you have 1,085 chips, you don’t need to know that you have a CSI of 7.23. Simply knowing that it’s a little more than 7 is fine. We’ll use CSI from now on as our measure of stack size. It’s useful to note that if there are no antes, your CSI is 2/3 the number of big blinds in your stack.
The Rule of 5 and 10
Now that your poker skills are improving, you can drop the Rule of 2 through 10 in favor of the Rule of
5 and 10. This rule, devised by poker pro and author Bob Ciaffone, applies to small and medium pairs and suited connectors. This doesn’t apply to suited hands with one or more gaps. The rule stipulates
to always call a raise up to 5% of your stack and always fold for 10% of your stack or greater. Between 5% and 10% it’s a judgment call. If you have position on your opponents, if you have a good medium pair (77-99), or if you consider an opponent to be particularly weak, you can raise or call a raise for up to 10% of your stack. For example, with 7h 6h in early position, be prepared to risk 5% of your stack, but with the same hand in the cutoff or on the button, you can commit up to 10%.
Always remember when evaluating these percentages that you must consider the cost versus the smaller of the stacks between you and your opponent. If your opponent bets 150 off a stack of 1,000 and you have 5c 5s and a stack of 3,000, although his bet is only 5% of your stack you can’t call, because it’s 15% of his stack and you won’t be getting adequate implied odds if you flop a set. Because you’re vulnerable to a raise or re-raise when you enter the pot in early position, I advise caution in playing small pairs and suited connectors. If you have enough chips to raise within the confines of the Rule of 5 and 10, do so. Fold to a re-raise. If you only have enough chips to limp under the rule, just fold and save your chips for raising. Aggression is always preferable to passive play.
The Rule of 3 and 6
This rule applies to suited hands that are not connected (separated by one or two gaps) and to suited aces. Hands such as Td 8d, As 3s, and 9c 6c fall under this rule. With these hands you can always call for 3% or less of your stack, but should always fold if it costs more than 6% of your chips to play. In between it’s a judgment call. Avoid playing these hands from early position. If you have good position and have either a suited ace or a 1-gap suited connector, lean more toward committing up to 6%; with 2-gappers, stick with 3%.
Suited connectors are more difficult to play than small pairs after the flop. Not playing them at all in the first 3 levels in SNGs is a simpler approach and will cost you very little in expected value. I know an expert SNG player who plays 10 SNGs at a time in the $200-$500 range each and never plays suited connectors in the early levels, although he’ll push all-in with them in the later stages. The tiny bit of equity he gives up is more than compensated for by the fact that he doesn’t have to ponder difficult post-flop decisions while playing so many games simultaneously.
Bottom line: Playing suited connectors under the Rule of 3% and 6% can be fun and is good training for MTTs, but not playing them is also a viable option, especially if you’re playing more than one SNG at a time, an option we’ll review in an upcoming chapter.
Reverse Implied Odds
In Chapter 4 I defined implied odds as estimating the amount of money that you might win if you make your hand; it assumes you won’t put in any additional money if you miss your draw. The other side of the coin is called “reverse implied odds.” This applies when you already have a made hand, but there could be draws against you. In this case, you may have to put in additional money later if someone else completes his hand. It also applies in cases where you might be dominated and have to pay off multiple bets to see if you’re “good,” meaning you have the best hand.
Everyone has about 1,500 stacks and the blinds are 10/20. A player in mid-position raises to 60. The small blind calls, as do you in the big blind with As 5s. The flop comes: 7h Td Ac. The pot is 180.
Both you and the small blind check. The pre-flop raiser bets 90 and the small blind folds. You’re being offered 3-to-1 pot odds, so at first glance it looks like you only need to have a 25% chance (3-to-1) of winning in order to call. He could have a worse hand than you, like a pair of tens or some pocket pair. The problem is your reverse implied odds. Your hand is unlikely to improve and you have to worry not only about this bet, but possible bets on the turn and river. Are you going to call those bets too? This hand might get too expensive to call with top pair and a weak kicker. Note that if there’s no more betting and his bet of 90 is an all-in, you can probably call, since you only have to win 25% of the time to break even.
In addition to calling raises with speculative hands, you can now start playing more often before the flop. I recommend the following strategy as long as your CSI is at least 20.
If everyone has folded to you:
If you’re in a position where you sometimes raise and sometimes limp, you should occasionally do the opposite to disguise your hands. If you occasionally limp with your raising hands and occasionally raise with speculative hands, you’ll be much more difficult to read.
If you find yourself with very aggressive opponents, stop limping in early and mid position. Usually fold these hands, but occasionally raise.
If someone limps before you:
After a limper, you should play more straightforward. you should still occasionally mix up raising and limping, but less so compared to being the first one in.
Due to all of these pre-flop changes, you’ll find yourself in many more marginal situations post-flop where you’ll have a lot more opportunities to play draws. I encourage you to play the draws when getting good odds, but continue to stay away from medium hands that don’t have much room for improvement. you always want to be in a position where you know where you stand, not one that leaves you saying, “Maybe I’m ahead, maybe I’m not…”
Let’s say that the flop is Qs 7h 6s and my opponent bets half the pot. I’d much rather have a hand like 9s 5s than a hand like Ad 7d, even though the middle pair is more likely to be best. With the first, I know where I am in the hand and I have implied odds working for me. With the middle pair I’ll always be left wondering, with only 5 outs to improve. This is a reverse implied odds situation and unless one of us has a very short stack, I should fold the middle pair.
In the first few levels only play good made hands (top pair with a good kicker or better) and good draws. Marginal hands without good draws should be abandoned. There’s simply no reason to try and see if you’re good. Wait it out. Play the good made hands aggressively and play the good draws when you’re getting good (implied) pot odds. you can also semi-bluff by betting your draws. It’s called a “semi- bluff,” because you have 2 ways to win the pot:
- your opponent(s) can fold.
- you can make your draw and win the pot at showdown.
A normal bluff without much chance for improvement (or any bluff on the river) only has the first way of winning the pot. I recommend that you occasionally semi-bluff and rarely make a stone cold bluff (one where if you’re called, you’re essentially certain to lose the hand).
Blinds are 10/20 and everyone has about 1,500. You’re one off the button with As 5s. Two players limp before you and you limp along. The small blind makes a small raise to 60 and both the limpers call. You call, getting 5.5-to-1 on your call and great implied odds. The pot is now 260 and the flop comes Ks Qd 4s. The small blind bets 120 and both the limpers fold. You call. He bet less than half the pot. when I have a draw and am presented with good odds against poor or marginal players, I usually just call rather than try a semi-bluff raise. The pot is now 500 and the turn
is the 7c. The small blind checks. Here’s your opportunity to try a semi-bluff. He hasn’t shown much strength and, while he might have a good hand such as KK or QQ, it’s more likely he has something marginal, such as AJ, Qh Jh, JJ, TT, or 99. If he had AA, AK, or AQ, he would probably have bet more on the flop. The best time to bluff is when your opponent has either a very good hand or a bad hand, but not a hand in between, such as AA, AK, or AQ, in this example. A good bet size is probably about 70% of the pot; betting more is unnecessary because you aren’t worried about him having a flush draw (you have the nut draw, meaning the best possible draw) and most straight draws are to only 1 card. However, you shouldn’t bet less, because a smaller bet may look suspicious enough to him that he may decide to call out of curiosity with a hand such as JJ. You bet 350 and he folds. Your semi-bluff has worked. Even if he calls, you still have 9 outs to an unbeatable hand on the river.
Blinds are 10/20 and everyone has about 1,500. Again, you’re one off the button with As 5s. Two players limp before you and you limp along. This time it’s the button who raises to 100. Both of the limpers call. Now you’re only getting 4.4-to-1, but it’s still worth the call, despite being out of position against the raiser, because stacks are deep and you have good implied odds. The pot is 430 and the flop is again Ks Qd 4s. One limper checks and the other bets 200. Now you should fold your draw, despite the fact that he bet less than half the pot. The pre-flop raiser is behind you and there’s the strong possibility that he could raise if you call.
That possibility cuts down your implied odds significantly, making this a poor draw to chase. It was a good flop for you, but a bad betting situation. A much more common situation is for everyone to check to the raiser, allowing you to see what the limpers do and act last.
Level 4 and Higher (5 or More Players Remaining)
At Level 4 and higher, your CSI will rarely be above 20. And those times where you’re above 20, you’ll rarely if ever have an opponent above 20 as well, so you have to shift toward shorter- stack strategies. This means you have to stop limping, since it begins to get too expensive to call the bigger blind.
Plus, the blinds become more valuable to steal, which takes precedence over trying to see a cheap flop. Revert back to the raise-or-fold strategy you used in the $10 games.
Four Players Remaining — The Bubble
Play the same as the $10 games, but now I’m going to introduce the concept of prize equity, sometimes called prize EV or $EV. Prize equity is simply your expected value (EV) of the prize pool, or the average prize you would expect to win. your prize equity depends on your chip stack as well as the chip stacks of the other players.
At the start of the tournament, 9 players put in $20 to create a prize pool of $180. If everyone starts with 1,500 chips and everyone has the same skill level, your prize equity is $20. Later in the tournament, if 4 players are left and you’re the short stack with the same 1,500 chips, your equity is more than $20. Even though you’re the short stack, you have a good chance of surviving and making money.
Now imagine that only 3 players are left and you still have your 1,500. your equity is more than $36, since you’re guaranteed that (the prize for third place is 20%) and still have a shot at more. The equity that you can make in tournaments by doing nothing and letting the other players knock each other out is substantial and often underrated. you need to make your decisions on what’s best for your prize EV, not your chip EV. What matters is how many dollars you bring home, not how many chips you had.
An anomaly in tournaments is that chips don’t have a constant value. There’s a non-linearity in chip value, so each chip you gain is worth less than the chip before it.
This non-linearity of chip value exists because multiple places are being paid in the tournament. If you win all the chips, you don’t get the whole prize pool. That’s why your prize EV is determined not just by your own stack, but also by everyone else’s. When someone is eliminated from the tournament, your prize expectation goes up, even when you don’t gain any chips. Pretty cool!
This non-linearity gets more and more pronounced as you approach the bubble. What it means is that because doubling up gives you far less than twice your prize EV, you can’t rely strictly on pot odds to make your decisions—you always need to be more conservative than pot odds dictate. It’s possible that a certain decision on the bubble is positive in chip EV and negative in prize EV, and prize EV is
all that matters. That’s why you always call much tighter on the bubble or approaching the bubble, especially as a medium stack, where this distortion is biggest.
For a thorough analysis of prize equities, bubble effects, and how your decisions should depend on the prize structure, see my book Kill Everyone. It will give you more detailed insights and strategies for not only SNGs, but multi-table tournaments and satellites as well.
Three Players Remaining
- when your CSI is 20 or higher, you can limp with many more hands than before. Occasionally, do the opposite when you’re sometimes raising or limping. This helps disguise your hands and makes it much more difficult for your opponents to put you on a hand.
- Use the Rule of 3 and 6 for calling raises with suited connectors and the Rule of 5 and 10 for calling with pocket pairs.
- Be aware of reverse implied odds and when they apply (most applicable when you have a made hand with a pot that’s small relative to the remaining stacks).
- Occasionally semi-bluff with a draw.
- Tournament chips have a non-linear value, so each chip you win is worth less than the one before it. All your poker decisions should be made on your EV of the prize pool, not the EV in the number of chips.