SNG ABCs: Choosing Your Limit

The majority of online players are casual players with a meager online roll. If you're one of them, playing limits out of your roll is a quick gamble, more often than not resulting in going broke.

To play poker properly, you need to have a roll large enough to support the losses you're bound to take. No matter how good you are at the game, everyone loses sometimes.

If you don't have enough money to cover these accepted losses, you will have no way to play through into a profit.

Odds Not in Your Favor in SnGs

It doesn't matter what style of SNG you like to play - nine-player, six-handed, 45-man, heads-up, turbo, knockout, deep-stack, large field or shootout - they all put the odds against you for one sitting (some more so than others).

Even the world's best SNG player has the odds against him or her for one single sitting. If you're good enough to always win one out of every three SNGs you play, you're still losing twice as many as you're winning.

In the long run you're going to make lots of money - unless you go broke before you allow the long run to play out.

If you win a third of the games you play, that does not mean definitively you're going to win one of the next three times you play. You may lose five in a row then win the next three back-to-back-to-back.

So: If you put one-third of your roll on the line in each of the first three SNGs, you'll have gone broke before having the chance to string some wins together.

Depending on the type of SNG you're playing, winning one-third may be absolutely impossible. Even for the best player playing a deep-stack six-handed single table, winning one-third consistently would be an impressive figure.

That same player would have no chance at keeping the ratio when playing turbo 45-man SNGs.

Balancing Risk and Reward in SnGs

Even if you have an impressive single-table SNG win ratio, it's not required to maintain this ratio when moving up to a 45-man SNG.

Game Buy-In Winner's Share
Nine-handed single table $20 $90
Nine-handed 45-man $20 $279

To match the profit of a 1 in 3 single-table win rate, you will have to win 1 in 9 45-mans. As would be expected, the risk of more players makes the reward increase exponentially.

In general, there is no one SNG limit or structure more profitable than the rest. You have to find the structures and limits that play best into your skill set.

Start at the Proper Limit

Especially when you're playing on a small roll, you want to make sure you start playing at the proper limits right from the first buy-in. If you buy in $100 to your favorite online room with the plan of playing SNGs, you should probably be playing games with a buy-in of no more than $3 (single table format).


It's easy to get lured in by the idea of the bigger prizes in the bigger buy-ins. If you start at a $20 single table, you're taking a big risk: you have to cash in that first buy-in.

Losing that first SNG will put you into a poor frame of mind. If you drop limits to the $3 now, you're now playing on a short roll, while at the same time playing catchup to try and break even.

You generally want a roll no less than 30 buy-in's (while closer to 50 is ideal) for single table events. Playing with a short roll greatly increases your chances of going broke.

It's much more appealing to give yourself the ability to turn a profit with winning, rather than only returning to even. If you make the mistake of playing a second $20, losing that will put you into an even worse situation.

Before you buy in to a site and start playing, decide how much of an investment you're going to make for a roll and what limits best suit that roll. After you make your plan, write it down.

Somehow writing it down will make it feel more real, and help keep you from wanting to go for the quick big money on a whim.

If You Can Beat $3 SnGs, Stay at $3 SnGs

If you can beat $3 SNGs on a regular basis but are a little shakier in the higher limits, stay at $3. As Mike Caro says, it's always better to play at a lower limit if that game will net you more profit than the higher one.

Hoisting the Cash
Always be overrolled.

The most important thing to remember is you have to remove the ideas of "potential profit" and "big money" from your brain. In a SNG of 180 players, what is a realistic win/loss ratio for you?

If you put yourself at 1 in 30, you have to be ready to lose 29 in a row. Since you can't tell when the win will happen, you must be able to afford to wait until the bitter end of your ratio.

To do all of this successfully, you have to find your own expected ratios. This is much harder to do than you may think.

The best players will make their best guess (say it's one in five) and will play with a roll as large as one in a hundred. The best thing you can do for yourself is to always be over-rolled for the limit you're playing.

If you buy in $100 to play $3 single table SNGs, it might be a good idea to stay playing single table SNGs for $3 or less even after you've grown that roll into two, three or four times that original amount.

If you're planning to play multi-table SNGs on your $100, you should ideally be playing $1 buy-ins, keeping your roll in the 100 buy-in range.

There is no worse feeling in poker than going completely broke. Keeping your roll healthy to oversize is the best weapon you have to avoid this outcome.

That alone will allow you to play strong, aggressive poker without fear.

More strategy articles from Sean Lind:

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