HOW TO BEAT THE $30 SNGS

we will now spend more time watching our opponents and trying to characterize their personality styles.

Levels 1-3

If you like to keep things simple as I do, keep betting about 70% of the pot size post-flop. This is an excellent default strategy and I know many winning players who routinely make this size bet, and only this size bet, on the flop. Keeping things simple has a lot to be said for it. If you consistently bet 70% of the pot with your made hands, draws, and c-bets, you’ll give nothing away about the strength of your hand based on the amount of your bet on the flop. An alternative tactic that some winners utilize is to bet somewhere between half the size of the pot and the full pot (so, with a 400 pot, between 200 and 400), depending on the flop texture.

What do I mean by texture? It’s the amount of draw potential. A flop of Js Ts 9s is at one extreme and flops such as Kh 7c 2d or Qs Qd Qc are at the other. Draws to straights and flushes abound on the first flop, but are nonexistent on the second two.

when you have a made hand that you think is best, betting serves two purposes:

  1. To extract value from lesser made hands.
  2. To make draws pay to see the next card.

The less likely it is that your opponent has a draw, the less important the second purpose is. At the lower levels you always bet full pot, because you could get a lot of value from people calling with bad hands. Furthermore, a full-pot bet was always enough to deny draws sufficient odds to chase. But now that you’ve had some more experience, you can adjust those odds based on how likely it is an opponent has a good draw.

With no straight or flush draws possible, bet half the pot, giving your opponents 3-to-1 pot odds, not enough to chase with a weak hand like bottom pair. on a draw-heavy flop like 7h 6s 5c (3 connected cards), As Ts 3s (3 flush cards), or Jd Tc 4d (2 connected cards and 2 flush cards), bet the full pot. That gives your opponents 2-to-1 pot odds, likely making it a mistake for them to call. Flops with some draw potential, such as Jd Tc 4s, 7s 7c 6d, or Kh Th 4d, require a bet in between, like 2/3 or 3/4 of the pot.

If more than 2 players see the flop, you may want to bet a larger amount to discourage overcalls, which get better odds than the original caller, if someone decides to call your bet.

It’s very important that you vary your bet size only with the texture of the flop and not with the strength of your hand. If the flop is Kh Th 4s, you should bet the same amount if you have KQ, 44, 88, or A7. If you change your bet size with the kind of hand you have, observant opponents may pick up on this and exploit it.

Exception 1: If you raise pre-flop with AK or AQ and you suspect that your opponents are weak players, always make a full-pot bet when the flop contains an ace. Many weak players can’t bring themselves to fold a pair of aces, no matter how weak their kicker. Extract as much as you can from these players before someone else does!

Exception 2: If you suspect that your opposition is weak and unobservant, you can try betting a smaller amount with your continuation bets that miss the flop. you can try to make those bluffs as cheap as possible, but don’t try this against better players.

Should you go with the graduated flop bet, depending on texture, or should you stick with the constant 70% bet, if you decide to bet on the flop? It depends on your feel and comfort with the game. you can win using either tactic.

Level 4 and Higher (5 or More Players Remaining)

once you reach the 4th level, drop your standard opening raise from 4BB to 3BB. Play will be a little tighter, so there’s no need to risk so many chips. The “move-in” stage starts at about 7 CSI, so any time you’re below that point, it’s all-in or fold. Most of the rules from the $20 games still hold, but you should start getting into the habit of characterizing your opponents and bending the rules where appropriate. What’s important to me when characterizing opponents in SNGs are 2 simple questions:

  1. How often does he raise from his position?
  2. How strong of a hand does he need to call my raise?

Answering these questions will help you decide if you need to raise or lower your requirements for playing any particular hand. The more often your opponents raise, the more often you should call. But the more often your opponents are willing to call, the less often you should raise. We’ll see that exemplified in the next section on bubble play, where characterizing your opponent becomes much more critical.

Four Players Remaining — The Bubble

From now on I’ll be talking about pushing and calling hands on the bubble in terms of “top % of hands.” This works much better than sticking to the hand categories that are optimized for early play. I making references such as “push with the top 20%” or “call with the top 15%.” To see which hands are in these categories, refer to Appendix C. Different hands are best for pushing compared to calling. Both of the lists in Appendix C, the hand rankings by % if you’re the raiser or the caller, have been optimized to be as accurate as possible in many different situations.

The bubble is the most important time to adjust your play based on the others’ playing styles. Let’s take an example where all 4 players have equal stacks of 3,375 and the blinds are 200/400 with a 25 ante. you’re on the button, debating if you should push or fold. How does your decision depend on how likely the blinds are to call? Since the big blind is more likely to call than the small blind, let’s see how often we should push as a function of how likely the big blind calls. The graph below assumes the small blind always calls 8% of the time (66+, AJo+, ATs+, KQs).

How Often You Can Push From the Button
when All Players Have 3,375 and Blinds are 200/400/25

As you can see, the right move varies quite a bit depending on an opponent’s style. If he calls 8% or less, it’s right for us to push with any two cards (100%). But if he’s very loose, we can only push our best hands. If he calls 20%, we can only push 13% (approximately 44+, AJo+, A9s+, KQo, K9s+, Q9s+, J9s+, T9s).

As our opponents become looser in calling, we need to be tighter in pushing. This makes sense, because the looser he is, the less often we’ll steal the blinds with no contest. But the opposite is true when he’s the one pushing. The looser his pushes, the looser we can be in calling him. If we switch places with the big blind, let’s see how often we can call depending on how often he pushes:

How Often You Can Call From the Big Blind Against a Button Push when All Players Have 3375 and Blinds are 200/400/25

There are a few wiggles, but it’s a surprisingly linear relationship. In fact, pretty much every time you’re getting less than 2-to-1 pot odds, the number of hands you can call will be a constant fraction of the hands he pushes. In this case, we could call about 1/6 of his push frequency.

Use the 2 tables below to show what percent of his range you can call, depending on your pot odds and the situation:

How High Are Your Bubble Effects?

Here’s how you read these tables. on the first table, find the stack sizes that correspond to you and your opponent. This will tell if your bubble effect is low, moderate, high, or extreme. Then look at the second table and find the pot odds you’re being offered and look under the appropriate column. The percentage listed there is the fraction of his pushing range that you can call with.

Example

You have 2,500 and your opponent has 3,000. That’s defined as a “moderate-bubble-effect” situation. This player goes all-in, giving you 1.8-to-1 pot odds. You can call with about 50% of the hands he’s willing to push with. If he’s pushing 60%, you can call 30%. 

You needn’t get fanatical about these calculations. A rough approximation will do. If you study these tables, you’ll get a good feel for the interrelationship between your opponent’s range of raising hands, the pot odds, and the bubble effects. I don’t expect you to do these calculations at the table. I certainly don’t. But you can examine your hand histories after the game and see if you made the right choices. That’s a wonderful way to learn this complicated subject. 

Important adjustment: If exactly 4 players remain and there’s a stack (not involved in the hand) with 1,000 chips or fewer, raise your bubble-effects category up one notch.

These tables are for when there’s a total of 13,500 chips in play (like there is at PokerStars). If you’re playing elsewhere, multiply your stack by 13,500, then divide by the total number of chips in play. That will convert your stack into a PokerStars equivalent.

These tables can be used any time 4 or more players remain.

With 3 players remaining, lower the category by 1 notch and don’t increase it if there’s a sub-1,000 stack.

When it’s heads-up, there are no bubble effects, no matter what the chip stacks. you can call about 1.5 times as often as the “low-bubble-effects” case.

The above bubble-effects table is a little simplified, but fairly accurate. If you’re interested in a much more detailed analysis, including how the effects change in different situations and tournament types, see the work on bubble factors developed by my co-author, Tysen Streib, in our book Kill Everyone.

Three Players Remaining

Use the same player adjustments and calling strategies that I’ve advised previously.

Heads-up Play

For the most part, use the same heads-up strategies, especially if your opponent doesn’t seem too aggressive. you may want to reference the following two charts for heads-up play, which are a simplified version of the detailed strategy in Kill Everyone. In Kill Everyone we present an unexploitable strategy, as long as your CSI is 8 or below, and there’s nothing your opponent can do to take advantage of you. The charts below will help you come close to this strategy.

Find your hand in this grid: Suited hands are on the top right, off-suit hands are on the bottom left, pairs are along the diagonal. The color-coding shows the CSI where it’s correct to push. As long as the short stack between the two of you is this CSI or shorter, push! Most players you meet are tighter than this strategy, both for pushing and calling. Therefore, against typical players you should push more often and call less often than this strategy suggests. However, the more skillful (or aggressive) your opponent is, the more you should stick to the above strategy.

These charts are a simplified version of the true optimal solution. If you want to learn the detailed solution, I suggest you pick up a copy of Kill Everyone. Reading it will provide you with the next steps in your development as a winning poker player.

Summary

  1. Either make a standard 70%-of-the-pot bet post-flop or vary your post-flop bet size according to the texture of the flop, not the strength of your hand.
  2. Start characterizing your opponents depending on how they play. Everyone has a weakness and you should adjust your play according to the best way to take advantage of the others. Be aware that people can change their behavior as the number of players goes down and/or the blinds go up.
  3. Push more often and call less often against tight players.
  4. Be aware of what situations constitute high and low bubble-effect situations. Play more cautiously when you have high bubble effects, but take advantage of people playing tight because of their own bubble effects.
  5. The minimum strength needed to call an all-in is a fraction of the number of hands your opponent is willing to push. This fraction depends on the pot odds you’re getting, as well as how high your current bubble effects are.
  6. Follow the equilibrium push/fold strategy for heads-up play against a good and/or aggressive opponent. Against typical opponents, push more often and call less often than equilibrium.
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