Sit-and-Go Essentials Part 3: Short-Handed

The Final Four
When the numbers get small, get aggressive.

In part two of this series we discussed mid-blind play and breaking out of our standard TAG mold into a more loose and aggressive style.

Now it's time to shatter that mold and get hyper-aggressive. This is where it gets fun. By now the game will be short-handed with four or five players left.

Everyone at the table will probably be short-stacked in the classic sense of the word. The average stack will only be around 12 BBs. This is approaching push-or-fold time for everybody.

Post-Flop Play in SnGs

Here's where you'll make your profit. Your average sit-and-go player plays this late stage so badly, it's laughable. If you play this stage better than they do you will show a long-term positive expectation!

At this stage of the game, post-flop play is out the window - flops are rarely seen. You have two options: push or fold. And, by god, should you be pushing.

Your Goal is to Win, Not Limp Into the Money

Your goal is to win sit-and-gos. You don't want to "limp" into the money. When you just try and limp into the money you are throwing +EV away.

You have to have the killer instinct to attack and destroy players who are happy just limping into the money or moving up the pay scale.

In poker, if a player is playing scared, he's exploitable. Everyone wants to finish in the money; nobody is playing to get eliminated. You're no different.

But your goal is to win. Therefore, you have to look at the long term and put the short term out of your mind. Concentrate on making good plays at the correct time and forget about the results. If you make the correct plays, success will eventually follow.

Get More Aggressive, Not Less

As you know, the top three players in a sit-and-go typically get paid. So when you get down to four- and five-handed play, you've reached the bubble.

There will almost certainly be some short stacks thinking if they play ultra-tight they may sneak into the money. They're wrong. You want to get more aggressive, not less.

When play is short-handed the blinds will already be very high. Your average stack will be just 12 BBs, meaning you'll be losing 10% of your stack to the blinds every rotation.

When the game is short-handed, those rotations come fast and furious, decimating your stack. You're better off pushing all-in without looking at your cards than letting yourself get blinded out.

Do Not Let Yourself Get Blinded Out!

The action is frenetic now and you should be trying to steal as often as you can get away with it. If you get a feel players are hoping to limp into the money, punish their blinds - they won't defend them.

If you notice someone is calling pushes liberally, then ease up your aggression against that player. I won't discuss in detail the hands you should be willing to push with. I will, however, discuss the situations you should look for to get your hands all-in.

My advice would be this: Never call off your stack hoping for a coin flip. If you think you're flipping, you're better off folding and pushing the next hand blind. Rely on fold equity to supplement your stack.

Your hand value is just something you can fall back on in case you are called! I'll say it again: fold equity is more important than hand value!

A Couple of Examples:

The game is four-handed and blinds are $150/$300. You have a stack of $2,900.

The UTG player shoves all-in for $3,200. The button folds. You hold 6 6 in the SB.

You? Fold.

You're hoping for a flip, best-case scenario. Worst-case scenario, you're crushed.

There's no need to call off your chips hoping for a flip.

If you just wait and shove a hand of your own accord, you'll be better off.

Now let's look at another example:

The game is four-handed and blinds are $150/$300. You have a stack of $2,900.

You're UTG and shove A 8. The button calls and the blinds fold. The Button shows 5 5.

OK. You got yourself in a flip. You must have screwed up, right?


In this situation we shoved a good ace with less than 10 BBs. Obviously we were hoping for a fold.

Beth Shak
Look at the big picture.

However, the button decided to race with us. This result is fine.

The small blind and the big blind folded, adding $450 in overlay to the pot. That means the pot is laying us better than the 1-1 odds we're getting on our hand.

But wouldn't that then make the pocket fives call correct too?

Yes, in a way it does, but that's looking at this hand in a vacuum and not seeing the big picture.

You're not always going to show up with A-7 here. A lot of the time you'll have a pocket pair that crushes your opponent.

Most importantly, he has no fold equity. He can only win the hand one way: having the best hand hold up.

When we shove the A-7, we can win the pot by having everyone fold or we can win at showdown!

One Last Example:

The game is four-handed. The blinds are $150/$300.

You have a stack of $1,800 and everyone has you covered. You shove 8 9 UTG.

The button snap-calls with A K. The blinds fold.

Oh noez - you got called by a monster. This is terrible, right?


You're only approximately a 40-60 underdog versus A-K. And guess what? That difference in expected value is made up by the blind overlay.

So in reality you're not in bad shape at all.

No two unpaired cards are that much of a favorite against two other non-paired hands. So don't fret if you get in "bad" - you'll know you made the right play based on your fold equity in the hand!

This is the key to late-stage sit-and-go play. Be the aggressor.

The aggressor has two ways to win, while the caller only has one.

Never allow yourself to get blinded out. Being blinded out means you gave up on your sit-and-go.

Stop trying to limp your way to the small money and start shoving your way to that first-place prize.

Sometimes You Have to Call in SnGs!

While being the aggressor is the key to a quality end game, you can't just fold everything if you aren't the initial raiser. Sometimes you're going to have to make calls.

But there are a few things to take into account before you decide to get all passive and just call. Obviously if you have a monster, no debate: just get your chips in the middle and hope for the best.

The times I'm talking about are those marginal, borderline situations. You have to look at your stack. If you're the chip leader with 20+ BBs, obviously you're going to have a lot more freedom than the guy who has seven BBs.

If you have no money invested in the pot, then you should be less likely to want to call off your chips. In fact you should never cold-call your chips off unless you think you are a favorite and are getting odds on your money.

Another Example:

The game is three-handed. The blinds are $200/$400.

You're in the big blind with $6,500 (after posting your blind). The button folds and the small blind shoves for $1,200 total.

You have 8 9.

What do you do? Call.

You have $400 invested already. He shoves for $1,200 total.

This means $1,600 in the pot and you only have to call $800 more. You're getting 2-1 on your call.

The player in the small blind should be shoving almost any two cards here.

Your hand stacks up very well against his range and you're getting 2-1 on your money.

You're only worse than 2-1 against pocket pairs bigger than both your cards, which is highly unlikely.

Chances are you'll get your money in in a 60-40 situation.

With no danger of getting knocked out, if you make 60-40 bets all day getting 2-1 you'll end up rich.

Another Example:

The game is three-handed. The blinds are $200/$400.

Allen Kessler
Even tight players shove most aces here.

You're in the big blind and have $2,400. The button folds and the small blind shoves for $3,000.

You have A T.

What should you do? Call.

This one you have to call off your chips. Your hand absolutely crushes the small blind's range.

Even tight players are going to be shoving most aces in this spot and your hand is far better than average.

I would recommend you fold a smaller ace in this spot but with a big ace like A-T you have to make the call.

While I recommend against just calling in my overall strategy, I did have to put this in here.

I'm amazed at the players I see folding hands with incredible odds.

As a rule of thumb, if you're getting better than 2-1 you should have a pretty good reason for not calling.

Click through belowe for the conclusion of this series detailing heads-up play.

More strategy articles by Dan Skolovy:

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kyle 2011-10-23 09:56:20

this addvise is terrable, just couse ur getting 2/1 on a call i you are not deep enough to call wide, iv been trying this the last week and shore iv busted a few people but iv slowly wached my roll drop and ths is no 1 reason, just terrable addvice man,
Daniel Skolovy
Marten, we are saying the exact same thing. What I was saying is you better have a pretty good reason for not calling.
"As a rule of thumb, if you're getting better than 2-1 you should have a pretty good reason for not calling." Surely you meant that you would have a good reason for calling!

Arty Smokes 2011-06-01 01:05:42

I've been placing in most of my sitngos for a long time, but knew I was lacking the killer instinct that would lead me to win more. This article (along with others) has reminded me that I should play a lot more loosely when in the big blind at the end of a sng. I used to fold if there was a raise in front of me and I had something like 89 suited or J9 off suit. I was basically giving away the big blind money on almost every orbit, because I was still using the ABC TAG style that had got me into the money in the first place. Since taking a stand against the blind stealers (or desperation bets by the shortest stack), I've found I'm more often than not getting first place instead of the usual 2nd or 3rd. If the small blind or button puts in half their chips or shoves, I'll now call with stuff like 10 8 off suit or 56 suited. Many a time, I've destroyed their AK, KJ, or A5 suited, as a lousy pair of 8s or 6s is often good enough to win. Not only does winning on that one shove knock out one of the remaining opponents, but it usually makes me chip leader and the favourite to win. And if I lost on the shove, well... I still got third.

alan 2010-06-10 09:09:32

I typically place within the 45 player sit and goes yet larger tournaments overwhelm me - any suggestions?

Daniel Skolovy 2010-01-08 21:02:18

Like any strategy in poker it's extremely difficult to say how big a sample is needed before knowing whether a strategy is working.

There is so much variance in poker and you can do the right thing for a very long time and still lose. Conversely you can also be playing very wrong and go on a large heater and keep winning.

And with this strategy, and these tournaments especially there is even more variance. The blinds increases so often and to survive you have to make so many shoves with marginal hands. You get in so many 60-40s, 70-30s etc that the variance is through the roof.

I'd say 500 tournaments is on the low end of a decent sample size. By then you should have a small idea of your ROI but it's by no means your true winrate.

When playing these tournaments I've gone on both 500 tourney up and downswings.

TL;dr version: The more tournaments the better idea of whether your strategy is sound.

Gabe 2010-01-08 10:08:05

How many sit n goes is a good enough sample size to know whether this or any particular strategy is working?

Sean Lind 2009-08-20 17:58:00


UTG = Under the Gun.

Under the gun is the player sitting directly to the left of the big blind, having to act first pre-flop

Razvan 2009-08-20 15:46:00

I've read all the articles... and it's really good advice.
I'm a noob player ..(been playing for 2 months)
Can you tell me what UTG means?

Max 2009-07-22 06:49:00

as a chip lead, should u continue being loose aggressive?

zach bennett 2009-07-10 17:59:00

This is a good guide on teaching people how to lose a sit and go. 60/40 is not that good, so you will a coin flip 6 out of ten time's, if you have to play more than one hand to win, your already a losing player most of the time. This is how I play as a last resort, I wouldn't say that being happy with a 60/40 is tight-aggressive. 56 vs pocket aces stands up decent, but I bet you wouldn't be happy to call it even when short-stacked, in the BB

Sean Lind 2009-06-16 18:08:00

In Limit, BB = Big Bet, in No-Limit, it typically means Big Blind.

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