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Poker Sit and Gos – Explanation and Strategy

SNGs – What Are They, and Are They Worth Playing?

With so many different poker formats available, it can be difficult, especially for beginners, to choose the best game to play. One of the most popular formats for new players are sit and go tournaments.

Today we will take a look at the pros and cons of playing sit and go tournaments(SNGs) and try to explain all the basic concepts you will need to understand before jumping into these games.

What Are SNGs?

Sit and Go tournaments (SNGs) are online poker tournaments that start when a preset number of players have signed up. SNGs can vary greatly in number of players, the amount of time blind levels last, prize distribution, buy in size and more.

SNG tournaments are sometimes played in the live arena as well, particularly at the WSOP, but they really started to be a significant part of the poker industry when online poker blew up in the early 2000s. Since waiting for scheduled tournaments to start can be a real hassle, the online sites introduced SNGs as a perfect alternative and the SNG grinders were born.

The Structure

When they were first introduced, SNGs were usually 9 or 10 man tournaments with 10 minute blind levels. As the time went on, new, different and more exciting formats were introduced until very few continued playing the “normal” speed or 9 man SNGs.

sit and go blinds

Blind increase structure of a standard SNG

Instead, most serious players nowadays prefer playing 6 Max Turbo or Hyper Turbo SNGs. While the faster structure of such tournaments does limit the skill factor of these games, players prefer the shorter overall game time which often leads to a higher hourly win rate for competent players.

Heads Up SNGs, especially Hyper Turbo with extremely fast blind levels, have become popular for the multi table grinders. These players simply try to get as much volume in as possible and profit from online poker rooms’ returns such as rakeback and loyalty programs. With recent changes to PokerStars VIP system, this way of grinding life is disappearing for many low-mid stakes HUSNG grinders.

Many players still also compete in the Turbo Multi Table SNGs where 18 to 180 players compete for a share of the prize pool. These tournaments often play more like regular MTTs, with more players than your usual SNG but still start up as soon as sufficient player numbers have signed up.

Return Of Investment And Hourly Rates

If you are serious about poker, you are in it for the money. The way to measure your winnings in SNGs is through Return of Investment (ROI) and the hourly win rate. Players often have varying opinions on which one is more important, but in general the higher your hourly win rate, the more money you will be making.

sng graph jorj

Segment of the graph of Jorj95, one of the most successful SNG players ever

Return of Investment is the percentage of the average buy in which you make per tournament played. For example, if you play $5 SNGs and your ROI is 10%, this means you are winning $0.50 per tournament played. This may seem low, but in fact the numbers in the modern game tend to be even lower for winning players and the volume is extremely important.

This is where the hourly win rate kicks in. No matter what your ROI is, the more tables you can play at the same time the more money you can make per hour. For instance, if you can comfortably play 10 tables at once without it diminishing your ROI than you will make a higher hourly win rate than playing just one or five tables at once. The top players in the game play much more than 10 tables at once as most of their decisions in SNG tournaments are fairly common and easy to make for experienced players.

The Phases

SNG tournaments can be characterized as having three important phases. The early, middle and late phase.

The Early Phase is the first few levels of the tournament. The stack to blind ratio is high as you will often start the tournament with 100 BBs and you will have little reason to get involved with anything but strong holdings as there is very little to steal in terms of blinds. This is the phase where you will let the fish hang themselves playing weak hands and own them when you get dealt the monsters. If you don’t get any big hands, preserve your chips, play well and wait for the time when blinds begin to matter.

The Middle Phase of a SNG tournaments starts with the introduction of the antes. Antes are very important in SNGs as they start to make the pots significant to steal. At this moment the average stack will have gone down to about 20 BBs and it will be time to start using your stack to steal chips relentlessly. The re-shove becomes an extremely powerful play in this phase as players will be opening hands they are not willing to stack off with, hoping to steal the blinds. You will have a lot of opportunities to steal chips and grow your stack without showdowns.

The Late Phase is usually on the bubble and in the money. From a monetary perspective, this is the most important phase as your mistakes will cost you the most here, and good plays will make you the most money. Learning a solid push-fold game will be extremely important for the late game, and a solid understanding of the ICM will be equally as important. If there is one thing to remember at this point is that you will hardly ever really be able to open/fold. If you are going into a hand you will usually be going All In.

Why Not Cash Games?

There isn’t really any downside to playing cash games in general, if you can beat them. However, from my personal experience, SNGs are an easier game to learn and an easier game to beat. Cash games are often very challenging on many levels, mostly psychological and the fact you will spend so much of your time playing very deep stacks translates into more opportunities for making huge mistakes and tilting your bankroll away in one bad session.

SNGs are less prone to such big mistakes and while you may not be able to win as much right away in them, you will also limit your losses and learn discipline by playing these games. Personally, I think that most money is to be won in the cash games, but SNGs are a perfect stepping stone on your road to a successful cash game player.

Final Thoughts

I often hear people asking if it is still possible to win money playing SNGs and the answer is definitely yes. The game requires solid knowledge of mathematical concepts such as ICM and general shoving ranges, but once learned it can be quite a consistent and good source of poker income and can even help improve your MTT game.

The increase in the average player skill we have seen in recent years has led to the variance being a bigger problem than ever, so be prepared for some serious downswings and upswings. Yet, if you use proper bankroll management and play in the games you can actually beat, there is absolutely no reason SNG tournaments should not be a profitable game for you.

(If you’re serious about improving your poker game, check out the Upswing Lab! Top poker pros Doug Polk and Ryan Fee collaborated to create this A to Z training course aimed at improving anyone’s game. Check out our testimonials page here!)

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