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10 Tips for Sit & Go Success: Assessing Structures and Speeds

10 Tips for Sit & Go Success: Assessing Structures and Speeds
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  • The blind increases shouldn't be a blind spot. Figure out what sit & go structures are best for you.

  • Starting stacks, level lengths, and blind/ante increases all greatly affect your sit & go strategy.

Just as with regular multi-table tournaments, online sit & gos feature a wide variety of structures and speeds. If you plan to approach SNGs not simply as a fun diversion but want to win consistently and try to make some real money playing the format, it's important to be able to assess the different structures and learn which ones best suit your playing style.

Some players thrive in shallow-stacked, "turbo" or "hyper-turbo" sit & go formats where a lot of the decision-making over the course of the SNG ends up happening preflop. Others do better with deeper-stacked, slower-paced SNGs where there is comparatively more "play," meaning there are relatively more postflop decisions to be made.

Here are a few thoughts to consider as you assess the various structures and speeds in online sit & gos.

Don't Play Blind About the Blinds (or Other Format Details)

Online poker can be an interesting environment sometimes, attracting a lot of casual and recreational players who aren't always all that focused on strategic considerations.

Sit & gos are especially attractive to this type of player, given how easy it is to find a game and start playing right away — one of the big "pros" of SNGs discussed previously. And more often than not, this type of player isn't paying a lot of attention to the structure and speed of the SNG he or she has joined.

Imagine such a less-than-thoughful player logging in to his favorite online poker site. He quickly finds and joins a SNG, not noticing when clicking through that it is in fact a "hyper-turbo" and not the "regular" SNG he normally plays.

The starting stack is 500 chips, and for the first level the blinds are 10/20. The player watches as an opponent opens the first hand from middle position with a raise to 50 and the button calls. Having been dealt {K-Clubs}{9-Clubs}, he decides to call, and then flops a gutshot and backdoor flush draw. He check-calls a small-seeming continuation bet of 50 from the original raiser, then when the turn is a blank he check-folds to another bet.

The hand takes more than a minute to complete, and after folding the small blind on the next one he's surprised to see the blinds going up to 15/30. Already down to 390, he's dealt three junk hands in a row and has to fold them all after players raise preflop ahead of him. Suddenly it's Level 3 where the blinds are 20/40, and he's got a sub-10 BB stack with the blinds are approaching him again.

Not being aware of the super-fast pace of blind increases, nor being particularly attentive about the relatively shallow starting stack, the player's seemingly innocent, loose play on the very first hand has already put him in a position of being less likely to make the money.

If you're at all serious about the game, you should never simply register for and start playing a sit & go without giving yourself an idea of the structure. That's true of all poker formats, actually, whether it's a SNG, a multi-table tournament or a cash game. Don't get involved in a game and then have to make a strategic blunder as a way of learning the rules!

Different Sit & Go Structures and Speeds

When assessing sit & go structures and speeds, there are three primary factors to consider:

  • starting stacks
  • length of levels
  • schedule of blind/ante increases

A reminder — in this series we'll be focusing most of our strategy advice on "standard" nine-handed sit & gos in which the top three places cash. Glance at any online poker room's lobby of games and you'll see a lot of other formats, including those non-standard payouts for single-table SNGs (e.g., six-handed SNGs, "knockout" or bounty SNGs, ten-handed "50-50" or "Double-or-Nothing" SNGs that pay half the field, satellite and "step" SNGs, and so on). Obviously you want to be aware of these other strategy-affecting details whenever jumping into a sit & go.

Assessing SNG Structures and Speeds: Starting Stacks

All online sites vary how they set up their structures for sit & gos and tournaments. For simplicity's sake, we'll look at the three most popular kinds of standard SNGs — regular, turbo and hyper.

The true depth of a starting stack is entirely dependent on the size of the blinds. In other words, starting with 1,000 chips at 10/20 is identical in a practical sense to starting with 10,000 chips at 100/200 — you're still operating with 50 BBs.

When it comes to starting stacks, most "regular" SNGs allow players to begin with stacks that resemble what is used in most multi-table tournaments — i.e., 1,500 chips. With the first level usually featuring 10/20 blinds, that means starting relatively deep with 75 BBs.

The "turbo" SNGs also often feature the same starting stack — 1,500 chips at 10/20 — with the only big change being the shortening of levels.

Meanwhile "hyper" SNGs (a.k.a. "hyper-turbo," "super turbo") cut the stacks down considerably while keeping the same 10/20 blinds for Level 1. The most popular starting stack for these is 500 chips or just 25 BBs.

From a strategic standpoint, there's a big difference between starting with 75 BB and 25 BB. With 75 BB that player in the above example wouldn't be nearly as affected dropping five big blinds on the first hand as he was when starting with just 25 BB.

Assessing SNG Structures and Speeds: Length of Levels

For some online poker sites a "regular" SNG features levels lasting as much as 10 minutes, while others feature seven- or eight-minute levels. Online poker plays a lot faster than live, meaning players get to play more hands per hour (or per minute) online.

Tournaments and SNGs generally play a little slower than cash poker games, although you still generally move at a quick pace online. Barring long tanks or other variables, you'll be able to play at least a hand per minute on average in an online SNG and perhaps more, meaning around 10-15 hands (or thereabouts) per 10-minute level.

Usually the "turbo" SNG will cut the length of levels in half — e.g., from 10 down to five minutes. In a nine-handed turbo SNG, you might only get through a full orbit or just a little more before arriving at the start of Level 3.

"Hyper" turbo sit & gos often feature just two-minute levels, which can sometimes translate to just two or three hands. To counteract the temptation for players to stall their way through levels in hyper SNGs, online sites also have implemented measuring levels not by time but by hands played, often adding hands to later levels to give a little more play when they get closer to the money. For example, some hyper SNGs will begin by having players play three hands in Level 1, then four hands in Levels 2-3, then five hands in Levels 4-5 and so on.

The faster the levels, the quicker stacks become shallow, meaning players need to recognize when the structure calls for them to "shift gears" and become more aggressive with their betting and raising. This applies both to the big stacks who will want to ramp up their pressure on those who have become short, and to the short stacks who will need to look for spots to double and get themselves back into competitive positions as the SNG moves closer to the money.

Assessing SNG Structures and Speeds: Schedule of Blind/Ante Increases

Unsurprisingly, the different types of standard SNGs feature gradually "steeper" increases of blinds and antes as you move from the "regular" to "turbo" to "hyper" formats.

Regular SNGs in which players start 75 BB deep generally take about three levels for a starting stack to be cut down to less than 20 BB, and about six for that starting stack to be worth less than 10 BB. Of course, by then the number of players remaining will have shrunk and the average stack will have gone up, meaning you might still have (say) three players fighting for the top prize with stacks of 20-25 BB (e.g., an average stack of 4,500 at 100/200).

As noted above, turbo SNGs often start with the same deep stacks as regular SNGs, but the acceleration of the pace by the shorter levels is ramped up a little more by steeper increases that become especially evident the longer the sit & go lasts. In other words, the differences aren't huge for the first three or four levels, but the jumps typically get bigger after that, hastening the end more quickly.

Hyper SNGs feature even more dramatic jumps, with blinds often having quadrupled (at least) by the fifth level. And with levels lasting only two minutes, it's not unusual in hyper SNGs for practically everyone still around by the 10-minute mark — aside, perhaps, from a big chip leader — to be in the "danger zone" with less than 10 BBs.

Finding the Right SNG Format For Your Game

Assessing the structure and speed of a sit & go means noting all three of these factors — starting stacks, length of levels, schedule of blind/ante increases — in order to calculate how much patience the SNG allows players to have when it comes to starting hand selection, postflop maneuvering, and everything else beyond "push-or-fold" decisions based largely on starting hand strength, stack sizes and position.

Understanding the schedule and speed of a SNG can be a great advantage to those able to anticipate the moment — typically coming after a new level begins — when the tournament shifts away from permitting as much "play" and toward more of these crucial preflop decisions. Not understanding the SNG's structure and speed can likewise be a great deficit.

Also, knowing your own style and abilities as a player can help you be smarter about selecting the most suitable SNG format, and thus one in which you stand to profit more consistently. If patience and/or postflop play are strengths for you, the regular, slower SNGs are your best bet. If you enjoy playing a looser game have a bigger edge preflop, the faster, turbo and hyper SNGs will likely be more favorable for you.

Also in this series...

Ready to start giving sit & gos a try? Put these tips into practice at 888poker.

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