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Sit-and-Go Essentials Part 1: Low-Blind Play
This is part one of a four-part series outlining everything the average poker player needs to go from sit-and-go rookie to steady, profitable sit-and-go winner.
Part one will focus on low-blind play.
One type of poker that has really gained popularity online is the single-table tournament (STT) - commonly known as a "sit-and-go."
Online poker sites have these running continuously. A new one starts as soon as it has enough players registered, so there's never any shortage of action.
Sit-and-go play is a completely different monster than cash-game play.
It's more similar to multi-table tournaments inasmuch as the amount of chips you have is finite. There are no re-buys and once your chips are gone, you are gone.
So you need to protect the chips you're given at the start.
When the blinds are low you should employ a very conservative strategy. There's no need to get overinvolved and risk tons of chips when the blinds are low.
If you have any chores to do around the house, than feel free to start up a sit-and-go or six and then go sweep the kitchen, vacuum the stairs and put your pot roast in.
By the time you get back you should be ready to play. Obviously that's a little extreme, but it's a more advisable course of action than getting all aggressive early.
Avoid Confrontation Early
In the early stages of a sit-and-go you'd like to avoid large-scale confrontations.
There's no need to run up large bluffs or overplay marginal hands. There will be plenty of time for being ultra-aggressive later, so don't worry.
What we're trying to do is stay out of the action early. While I advise you to play very tight, you should still be playing strong hands aggressively.
If you have a premium hand, by all means bring it in for a raise. I would never advocate anything different.
What I am saying is there's no reason to try to exploit small edges early.
Effective stacks $1,500. You have 9♠ 9♣ in the big blind. The blinds are $20/$40. There are four limpers to you.
In a cash game, this is a very easy raise. In a sit-and-go I would argue this is a check.
If you want to raise this hand, you'll have to make it at least 5 or 6x the big blind. You'll be out of position for the rest of the hand and there are four limpers in front of you.
For the sake of the example, you raise the pot to $240. The first two limpers fold and both the cut-off and the button call.
The flop comes Q♥ 4♠ 2♣.
This flop is fairly decent for your hand. Only one overcard and you took the lead pre-flop so you'll have to continuation-bet this flop.
You bet 2/3 the pot or about $500. The cut-off folds and the button calls.
Now look at the spot you're in. You've just put half of your stack into the pot.
What are you going to do on the turn? The pot is now $1,800. If you fire again on the turn it will be for all your chips.
How much can you like your hand?
The answer is probably not that much. Checking and folding is also a pretty bad move, as you have half of your stack in the pot.
This is why I advocate the check pre-flop while the blinds are low. It allows you to avoid a sticky situation like this one.
There are lots of situations like this.
With speculative hands that are most likely to be good now but are not a huge favorite, there's no need to balloon a pot to exploit some small edge you may or may not have.
The amount of chips you'll have to put into play to find out if you do have that edge is far too many to risk when your stack is finite.
Rather than trying to push your small edges now it's better to conserve your chips for the higher blind levels.
Playing Your Position
Just like in cash games, you should play tight from early position.
By playing tight pre-flop you simplify your decisions after the flop (see article Playing in Position). What you want to avoid early on in sit-and-gos is tough situations.
As you know, tough situations lead to you losing chips, so avoid those tough spots as best you can.
One way to do that is to play even tighter from early position. You have to preserve those chips you have because when they're gone, you're gone.
So avoid playing weak hands out of position - you'll just be burning money.
Fold All Dominated Hands in Early Position
If you're in early position you should fold all dominated hands. Hands like A-T, A-J, K-Q and worse should hit the muck.
They may look like decent hands but they're a trap for most players. As I've said above you want to protect your chips early so err on the side of caution.
You should still bring in your premium hands for raises. This is ABC TAG (tight-aggressive) play.
You want to be playing tight, but if you get a big hand, get aggressive. Don't be afraid to raise AA-JJ, A-K, A-Q etc.
If the table has been playing passive, you can also try to limp decent pocket pairs (TT-66).
Add Hands to Your Raising List in Middle Position
From middle position you should play a similar tight game.
You still don't want to get locked up in any battles out of position with marginal hands. Of course you'll still be raising your premium hands for value.
You can also add hands like AJo, AJs and KQs to your raising list.
You can start opening up your game a little bit more by limping pocket pairs and good suited connectors, but you don't want to to put yourself in situations where you're playing large pots with marginal hands.
Add Hands to Your Limping List in Late Position
From late position and the button you don't need to open your game much more than you already have in middle position.
You have a little more freedom, but you shouldn't be raising up your ace-rag hands or J-Ts just yet.
You can however start adding some hands to your limping range.
If you can get in cheap to a multi-way pot with a good suited connector or a pocket pair, that is a fantastic move.
You should be looking for spots where you can see a cheap flop and maybe hit a monster and double up.
If you can do that early, it will make the later stages of a sit-and-go much easier for you.
Be Aware of the Gap Theory
Throughout all of this you must always be aware of the gap theory.
The gap theory is, in summary, this: If the hand is raised when it gets to you, you need a better hand to call than you would need if you were the one making the raise.
So if you're in middle position you can raise with A-J, but you should not call a raise with it.
Simplified, you should be playing even tighter when the pot is opened in front of you.
In Part 2 we discuss mid-level blind play.
More strategy articles by Dan Skolovy: