Sit-and-Go Essentials Part 4: Heads-Up

The end game for the elusive WSOPC bracelet

In parts one, two and three of this series we went over the skills you need to put yourself in a position to play for the win.

If you read those articles and apply the techniques properly, you'll absolutely find yourself playing for first a whole lot more than you have previously.

But once you get to the end game, you still need to seal the deal.

You've learned all the tools; now you just have to apply them one-on-one. So our focus in part four is heads-up play.

How to Close Out a Sit & Go: Heads-Up Strategy

Unfortunately, the way most sit-and-gos are designed online, by the time you get to heads-up play the blinds are so big the game doesn't allow for much play.

I hope you've accumulated some chips, because if the chips are even it will be a very tight match. Neither player will hold much of an edge over the other because of the structure.

The match usually comes down to whoever gets the best cards in the shortest period of time. That's not to say it's completely out of your hands though; there's still room for you to exploit your edge.

Watch Your Hand Values

When you're heads-up, hand values change from what they were pre-flop in the earlier stages. Depending on how aggressive your opponent is playing, it may be +EV to get any ace in pre-flop.

Phil Gordon, Erik Cajelais
If your hand is decent shorthanded, it's a monster heads-up.

Think of it this way: if your hand is decent when the game is short-handed, then it's a monster heads-up.

Pocket pairs are very robust. Hands are usually won with just one pair at showdown, so if you are dealt one before the flop then you're already ahead of the game.

Hands that also increase in value are big broadway hands, like K-Q, K-J, Q-J, K-T, etc. - ones that when they hit the flop make top pair with a good kicker.

Top pair is a massive hand heads-up and it's almost always worthy of getting all-in.

Hands that decrease in value are weak speculative hands, like low suited connectors.

While they may be decent hands to raise with as a steal, they should not be played against a raise.

These hands dramatically drop in value when the stacks are short.

Even if you flop a draw, there's little money to get paid off with. When they do hit the flop, they usually make weak second-pair type hands or gut-shot draws.

Nothing you'd want to risk your tournament life on.

An Example:

You have $6,250 and so does your opponent. Blinds are $250/$500.

You're in the small blind/button with J T and raise to $1,800. Flop comes J 6 3. Your opponent bets $3,200.

What should you do? Shove. That's it, that's all. This is the crux of heads-up poker in a sit-and-go.

The blinds are too big and there's so little play that if you flop top pair, you're destined to get it all-in.

Another Example:

You have $6,250 and so does your opponent. Blinds are $250/$500.

You have Q J in the small blind/button and raise to $1,800. Your opponent calls. The flop comes down T 2 9.

Your opponent checks and you bet $3,000. Your opponent shoves.

You? Call.

You have two overcards and an open-ended straight draw. You only have $1,450 in your stack and there's $11,050 in the pot.

To put it bluntly, you're pot-committed.

Luckily you have a massive draw and are getting great odds. It's hands like these your tournament will come down to.

You should of course, as always in poker, be exploiting your position to the max. Continue pushing hard when in position.

Don't stop stealing or slow your aggression just because you're heads-up - the game is not over until it's won.

So stay on your toes and keep up the fight.

Remember if you always make decisions as best you can, you'll make money in the long run no matter what happens in the short term.

Just look long-term and always try and make the most +EV play you can.

* * * * * * * * * *

Well, that brings this four-part guide to becoming a sit-and-go champion to a close.

It's by no means comprehensive - I wrote it for the average player who understands poker but wants to take his or her sit-and-go game to the next level.

I hope it's given you enough information to go from merely playing sit-and-gos to understanding what it takes to be a serious winner.

More strategy articles by Dan Skolovy:

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derp 2013-10-24 18:17:34

Outstanding series. Very clear.

Brenda 2013-05-16 08:02:37

.....of corse now I have to put this tecnique in play. I take back the statement of beeing my last sit n go crush! lol just ment if I make the right plays and play w the right goal for my hand some times s___ happens ....and I might be ready for the advanced player lesson! ...HA!

Brenda 2013-05-16 07:45:43

This is extreemly valuable information! Luckily I have learned it with only having lost 1 satilite sit n go loss (crush) under my belt. Since that was my first and only sit n go attempt I am very optimistic that will be my first and last crush! I could relate all my mistakes to each example given and now understand thouraghly my mistakes. Going in I was over confident and got a rude awakining lesson to accompany this one! Ill get there ....slightly quicker now ;-)

bennie99 2009-11-05 15:06:00

I love sit n gos, they suit tags alt more than lags I feel. Unless you are a very good lag, you're gunna get busted at some stage or another.

The important thing is to get as aggressive as you can in the late stages whilst still making good poker decisions. I find if I'm very tight early on and then get very aggressive later on, the players at my level can't adjust quick enough. I almost always get close to the show, unless I get a big hand versus big hand early on.

Dra9onboy 2009-06-09 08:24:00

Great article, now combinging my pimp skills with the poker article. This is what works for me.
Low Level Blinds - Be the first to attack weak players at the table, so they can donate you chips early on in the game. Go watch TV a bit and come back when blinds increase.
Mid Level Blinds - Talk smack to other players, just enough to put them on tilt when you show your bluff over and over again. Keep your game aggressive and sure enough they'll call you when you do have monster hands.
High level Blinds - Attack the weak player that got lucky early in the game and now has huge chipstack by stealing their blinds, they never protect. Check raise any good players that are left with huge chipstack, it pisses them off and they usually fold.
Sit back and watch your bankroll grow and go get laid to celebrate the victory.

Glen 2009-04-26 12:01:00


Excellent articles. I play weekly live SNG's, usually 2-4 per week - and I learned from reading your pieces that I've been playing far too passively in late stages and near the bubble. As you say, that's the time to shove all-in and steal - and I believe it can work well against the regular crowd where I play.

Thanks again for the great advice!

joe 2009-04-23 13:58:00

drapoal14 or whatever your name is stfu you noob. your sad to think your amazing at poker

I Deal In Lead 2009-03-09 01:08:00

to drapoel, if you understand paul madrigel's "M theory", i'm sure you realize that an M of 14 is not yet in danger in the technical sense; however, you must also remember Harrington's "Q theory" to see that your M is not 14, but more like 4-5. Understanding this will lead you to see that all of Dan's articles still pay off; your much more hard pressed than you realize, therefore with a good advantage (position OR hand OR timing) you still push. its that simple.

as for Mr. Schmidt,
Sir, simply take the math... if your average SnG is payed off three places, 1st being 50%, second being 30%, and 3rd being 20% - all you must do is win, place, or show enough to equal +100%. IE, if i play ten $20+2 SnG's, all i must do is make some combination of win, place, or show to equal +220. therefore 2 wins and 1 show would do the trick. or any combination of them to equal 100% plus lost "table fees".

Finally, to AlaH,

Sir, you are indeed playing way too tight. The fact is that your most +EV comes from winning, and all things considered you are already in the money, therefore you must be aggressive. One needs to remember Mike Cairo's theory of hands. If someone is playing WAY too loose, or WAY to tight, you will benefit most by playing SLIGHTLY looser than the "average" considerable hand for that starting position. Think about it- if someone is playing too tight, i will benefit most by opening up my hand selection in order to punish said tightness by stealing from them. If however, someone is playing too loose, i will STILL benifit by opening up my hand selection slightly to get more chances at that profitable situation, thereby calling more and raising even better hands, punishing their lack of respect for a real starting hand.

That answers the last few questions regarding this post. If there's any others that i can help with, or anything you feel i screwed up, let me know... i'm a player too, and we all make mistakes...

--happy fishing--

AlaH 2008-12-20 21:02:00

To Silkroad:
The "short-handed while blind is low" situation seems to appear many times indeed. Well, I think the most appropriate strategy would be the same as in Mid-blind play Late position. You do not really have to get aggressive because the blinds are not big at all, why want to risk your stack on marginal hands. That's why I recommend playing quite tight, but maybe entering the pot with hands like Q-K , Q-J, K-J from late positions if not raised earlier, because of the guy/s who have relatively small stack(somebody must have the chips of the other players who were eliminated) and this way to eliminate the short-stacked players with top pair or even draws( in case you are not the one with the less chips). I don't have to say that with premium hands such as AK, QQ, KK or even JJ you have to raise it.

What's your opinion?

Don Schmidt 2008-12-02 03:26:00

I have read all 4 of your articles and have learned something from each one. I feel like I have the basics down for SnGs. At times I play great and have that Tiger instinct and other times just lousy. I have played off and on for a couple of years and really just got reinterested in the game. What in you opinion is an acceptable win/loss ratio for SnGs. Is there a "rule of thumb?"

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