I usually don't do strategy posts, because I suck too much. But I've taken one portion of my game over the last couple of weeks and focused just on that. And it obviously isn't my live play, as you can see from the last few posts on that. So here are my observations on the fishpond that is itty-bitty sit n go tourneys.
I play these all the time. Right now my schedule is: work, rehearse, get home about 10-10:30, log into Stars, play one or two $5 SNGs, sleep. These little tourneys are perfect for my schedule right now, since I'm directing a show and don't have a ton of time in the evenings to play.
For those unfamiliar with the structure (and if you are, how the hell did you find this blog?), a sit n' go tournament is typically a single-table (although all the major sites now offer multi-table SNGs) tournament with an unscheduled start time. Once all seats are filled, the tourney starts. I play mostly at Pokerstars, which has a 9-person SNG format. Party Poker and Empire have 10-person tables, but the tourney fee at Stars is only $.50 rather than $1, so even with the extra $5 in the prize pool at Party, the fee is higher, so you have to win a greater frequency to make profit. At these levels, it really does matter.
Payout in a single-table SNG (and that's all I'm talking about, so I won't refer to them as single-table anymore) is top 3. #1 = $22.50, #2 = $13.50, #3 = 9. There is no difference between 4th and 9th, except to bust out 4th you've wasted a lot more time to get your big bag of nothing.
Here's how I play them. This strategy doesn't necessarily work at higher limits, but I don't know, because I'm still building my online bankroll to be able to play the higher limits. It DOESN'T work on Friday or Saturday nights after 11PM, as that's when the drunks are out, and they will draw out on you every time, because God protects drunks and fools. I've kinda laid this out by blind levels/# of players.
Level 1-3 (7-9 players) - Usually in the first level of blinds you'll lose at least one player. If you have found a particularly lovely table, you'll lose 2-3 folks in the first level of blinds. If you do, mark these people on a buddy list and chase them down, because they will either be (a) good players that got a bad beat or, usually (b) people that play the early stages too aggressively and you desperately want to play against them more often.
The key to these first levels is DON'T BE A DUMBASS. Don't overvalue anything. Be willing to dump any hand. Limp never, unless you're the button or a blind. Raise with AA,KK,QQ,AK and that's IT. Dump anything else. Don't play bad aces, even if they're soooted. Especially if they're soooted. Frankly, just apply that line to your game throughout. But anyway. Accumulating chips in these early stages makes you feared, yes, but it also makes you a target, and you don't want to be a target. You want to be the quiet guy, watching everybody else play, watch their stacks flow up and down, then watch them fade away. Remember that #4-#9 get paid the exact same thing - NOTHING. So stay out of the way unless you have a great hand and a chance to send someone packing. Your goal here is survival.
Level 4-6 (3-6 Players) - Life on the bubble. Continue to stay out of the way. Dodge the big stacks. Don't get pissy when they steal your blinds. The blinds are still cheap enough to not matter, and if you haven't done anything stupid you've probably still got $1200-1300 in chips, which is 8-10xBB, more than enough to make moves in a tourney where there's only a total of $13,500 chips on the table.
These are the levels, though, when you begin to switch gears and steal a few blinds. Button steals are strong moves here, as are strong raises out of either blind, as long as you stay away from challenging the big stacks. Also stay away from challenging stacks that are short, but still big enough to cripple you if you double them up. Yes, you should take any opportunity to knock someone out, but pay attention to whether or not a short stack is going to feel pot-committed if you re-raise them with A10 preflop. You don't need to play a lot of hands. Actually, the fewer you play, the better. I typically play no more than 20% of my hands (including blinds) until I'm in the money. Don't call raises and re-raises unless you're holding the nuts, because someone WILL go all-in.
Note that I'm never even thinking about what my opponent has at these levels. While this is not a typically good strategy, half the time in these low-limit SNGs, my opponents barely are operating at Level 0 thinking, which makes my Level 1 thinking just good enough to win. And why think harder than I need to? Laziness is the mother of efficiency, after all.
When you get down to four players, if you've played solid poker up to this point, you should be 2nd or 3rd in chips, with one really big stack (about 50% of the chips in play) and one really short stack (about 5-8% of the chips in play). You should be able to time things right to pick off this short stack and then make the money. Once you hit four players, the short stack is wearing a target on their chest, so make sure if it's you, the target is Kevlar. Don't get cute. That's my mantra on the bubble. Don't overplay suited connectors, they're not even worth calling a raise when you know the big stack is pushing with an Ace-small. It's not worth being busted. So let it ride, and be ready to flip the switch when the fourth player is busted.
Late Game - 3 players - In the money. Your goal had been accomplished, you have now not wasted your time and money. Worst case, you're profitable for this tourney. Now flip the switch, give it a little nitrous, and your previous rock-like demeanor goes into hyper-aggressive mode. You were playing to make the money. Done that, bought the T-shirt. Now play to win.
Aggressive raises preflop are the way to go here. Yes, you will watch your stack bounce like a Superball, but it will overall continue to grow. Previously unplayable hands are now worth 4xBB raises, because your opponents are off-guard. You will show down next to nothing for the first ten hands of 3-handed play, because if you have junk, you toss it preflop, but suited connectors, any two painted cards, any ace-middle or suited kings or aces are raising hands. If you get a re-raise, dump it unless it's a premium hand. Don't be afraid of the over-the-top push, expecially against the other middle stack. They won't have made the shift, and are playing for 2nd place money. You don't care about 2nd, you've locked up profit, now you want first.
Really, don't show down many hands here, you want folks to think you're raising with junk when you have the nuts, and think you have the nuts when you've got rags. DON'T flash your cards when your opponent folds. NO MATTER WHAT. Time Warner Cable won't send me Constantine if I don't pay-per-view, why would you give your opponent information they haven't paid for?
Exceptions are when you have MASSIVE Implied Tilt Odds - a concept I stole from Phil Gordon's book. If you have a good chance of throwing a tight opponent on tile by flashing a stone cold bluff, by all means show the Hammer.
I'm not suggesting that you raise every hand, or go all-in every time you have an ace. Just open very wide the gates of playable hands, and push with your bullshit as often as you push with real cards. You still will have to exhibit good decision-making, especially when your opponents get pissy about this tactic and re-raise you all in. That's usually a good time to fold and tighten back up for a few hands.
The key to think about is that for the first few levels, you just want to stay out of the way, accumulate a few chips to hold your own, and make the money. But once you make the money, it's balls to the wall, full-tilt boogie until you drag the last pot, leaving your opponents to wonder where that 6-1 chip lead they had went.
I'll be back later for heads-up stuff, but I'm still dialing in my heads-up strategy, so once I figure it out, I'll share it with you.