The ABCs of Poker SnG Strategy: A Beginner’s Guide

Fun. Fast. Profitable. Thrilling.

If you've played online poker you've likely taken a shot at one of the most popular game formats ever created - the Sit & Go.

Typically a one-table tournament (although sometimes more), SnGs come in all buy-in levels and formats (including the ever-more popular Jackpot Spin-and-Go).

Since most of them make it through to a champion in under an hour and pay out very well for a top finish, they're an enticing draw from the online poker lobby for those looking for fun and profit.

How can you make sure you end up on the right side of the money in SnGs? Start with a good understanding of basic SnG strategy, like these "ABC" SnG fundamentals below.

SnG ABCs: Choosing the Right Limit

The majority of online players are casual players with a relatively small online bankroll. But 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 in SnGs.

sng jackpot poker

It doesn't matter what style of SnG you like to play - 9-handed6-handed45-playerHeads-UpTurboKnockoutDeep StackShootoutBountyJackpot - 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.

But 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.

Odds Not in Your Favor in SnGs

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.

GameBuy-InWinner'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-players. 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 SnG Limit

When you're playing on a small bankroll you want to make sure you start playing at the proper limits right from the first buy-in.

If you deposit $100 onto your favorite online poker site 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-ins (while closer to 50 is ideal) for single table events. Playing with a shorter bank roll greatly increases your chances of going broke.

It's much more appealing to have a chance 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.

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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 an 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 1 in 5) 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.

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SnG ABCs: Short Stack All Ins

Everyone knows that the key to winning sit-and-go's is to play aggressively. But that isn't always going to be possible.

When you're in the big blind and have a short-stack all-in in front of you, aggression isn't going to help you. You either call or you fold. So how do you decide which route to take?

poker sng best strategy

Well, first of all, you can go by hand quality. If you have a great hand, it makes your decision fairly easy. If, however, your holdings are less than stellar, you have to judge by more than hand quality: you look at the odds.

What are the Required Odds to Call?

Many players don't take odds into account at all when deciding whether to call a short-stack shove. They think, "Oh, he's all-in - he must have a hand. My T-8 must be no good."

This is incorrect. Though your T-8 may indeed be a dog, you may be getting the required odds to call. So what exactly are the "required odds?" 

There's no way to determine the exact required odds because you don't know for sure what your opponent's holding. But as we say in our Complete Guide to Sit-and-Go Strategy, "If you're getting 2-1 or better you'd better have a good reason for folding." 

Meaning that unless this guy is the tightest player in the world, at those odds you should probably be calling. If it's late in the tournament and the player is short-stacked, he'll be shoving all-in with a very wide range of hands.

This isn't just premium AA, A-K, JJ type hands. They'll be pushing all sorts of hands, ones like 9-8, 44, J-Q and even the occasional super loose 5-3o.

No two unpaired cards are a huge favorite over two other live unpaired cards. So if you are getting 2-1 or better and have a decent stack, you should almost always be looking up short-stack shoves.

How Some Random Hands Stack Up Against Other Random Hands

A-K vs. 9-89-8 will go on to win 36% of the time
A-Q vs. J-TsJ-T will go on to win 41% of the time
44 vs. T-9T-9 will go on to win 50.3% of the time
A-T vs. 4-74-7 will go on to win 35% of the time
A-T vs. T-8T-8 will go on to win 27.5% of the time

As you can see by this small sampling, the only time you're really an underdog is when you're dominated like in the T-8 versus A-T hand. Other than that you are almost always 35-40% to win. Thus it would be a huge mistake to fold getting 2-1 or better on a 40% shot.Best SnG Schedule

100% Up To $600

Think of it this way: if you could bet on flipping a lopsided coin all day that would land heads 40% of the time and tails 60% of the time, and you would be paid out at 2-1 for every heads, you would be rich by the end of the day.

So why pass up that same bet in a poker game?

Another SnG Example

  • $100/$200 blinds
  • You're in the big blind with $6,000
  • The small blind has $500 after posting
  • It's a full table and there is a $25 ante
  • It's folded around to the SB, who shoves all-in for a total of $600.
  • You're in the BB with 107

Should you call? Let's do a little light seventh-grade math. The SB is in for $600; there's $250 in from the antes and you already have $200 in. That makes a total of $1,050. You have to call $400 more to win $1,050.

So should you call? Absolutely. This is almost an any-two-cards situation. Getting 3-1 makes folding almost completely out of the question.

Now of course in a perfect world, you'd never have to call with a hand that's behind your opponent's range. You could just raise everyone else's blinds and steal your way to victory.

But in reality, that won't work. You will run into this situation. And if you make a habit out of folding when you're getting 2-1 odds or better against a shorty, you're making a big error.

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SnG ABCs: Small Pocket Pairs

Small pocket pairs - which I would define as 22-77 - can be tricky to play at the best of times. In a sit-and-go, with rapidly increasing blinds, they can be downright maddening.

It may feel like they should be all-powerful, but depending on the blinds they can range from being a robust holding to extremely worthless. In other words you have to learn how to play them right or risk floundering as an SNG fish forever.

sng strategy
Low blinds, cheap flops.

When Blinds Are Low, See Cheap Flops

In the early stages of a sit-and-go, small pocket pairs are very valuable. The blinds are low and your stack is big. Most sit-and-gos start with around $1,500 in chips and the blinds start out at $10/$20 or $10/$25. Either way you have between 60-75 BBs.

At this stage of the game you can limp with your small pocket pair and hope to hit a set. Sets are an extremely strong hand. If you're lucky enough to hit one versus your opponent's top pair, you have a good chance of doubling up.

If you can double up early in a sit-and-go, it will make the rest of your tournament substantially easier. Thus, it's advisable to try and see cheap flops when the blinds are small.

The key word being "cheap:" it's OK to call a 3x-4x raise if there are a few players in the pot, but limping small pocket pairs early and calling large raises when out of position is a good way to waste buy-ins.

The rare times you do flop a set are not going to counteract the amount of money you bleed when you limp-call before the flop only to check-fold on the flop.

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As Play Progresses, Limping is Out

The middle stages of a sit-and-go bring bigger blinds and a changing table flow. Generally, sit-and-gos start out loose and tighten up after the 25/50 level.

This should change the way you play your pocket pairs. No longer can you limp from any position hoping to get lucky and flop a set. Now you're risking too big of a percentage of your stack.

At 25/50 you may still limp from late position after a few limpers, but you're better off playing a raise-or-fold strategy. The 25/50 level is in fact an awkward blind size. If you raise to 150 and get called, the pot will be at least 300 after the flop.

Now if you continuation bet into that and get called, you've put in about 20% of your stack. If your opponent is still calling, your hand's likely not good. You have to fold, sacrificing your money invested.

That's why raising from early and mid position is not a good idea. In that context, at 25/50, low pocket pairs are practically worthless. You cannot limp-call a raise profitably and, for the reasons above, you can't raise profitably.

You should just muck these hands.

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Erica Schoenberg
As play progresses, things tighten up.

Stealing Blinds in SnGs

As the blinds increase - say from 50/100 onward - you should open up your game even further. At this stage limping should be completely eliminated from your arsenal.

You should look to gradually increase your stack by stealing blinds. You're playing a raise-or-fold strategy and pocket pairs are an excellent steal hand.

You can raise 3x the big blind and often you'll win the hand without showdown. However, the beauty of pocket pairs is that you can still win the hand at showdown.

If you're under the gun you don't need to change your strategy much. You should still be mucking 22-55, although if you notice the table is playing very tight, you can start bringing in 66+ for a raise.

Remember, your goal is to win the pot without contest. Playing a pot out of position with an underpair can be tricky, so play smart.

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Re-Stealing in SnGs

Re-stealing in the right situations is one of most important skills a sit-and-go player can have. Good sit-and-go players steal frequently. They do so with weak hands, which means if you play back at them they fold and you can win both their raise and the blinds.

Pocket pairs make great re-steal hands. If you find your blinds are getting raised by a serial blind stealer you can play back at them with your small pocket pairs. To do this, you must have fold equity.

Jonathan Little
Good SNG players steal frequently.

You're not looking for a call. Your goal is to take the pot down without a fight. Let's take a look at two examples. One is a proper re-steal with a small pocket pair, and another is a bad re-steal.

Example No. 1

Blinds are 50/100. Your stack is 2,400. Small blind's stack is 2,400. Play is folded to the small blind, who makes it 300. You know your opponent would open very wide in this spot.

You are in the big blind with 44. You elect to move in for 2,400 total and he folds.

Example No. 2

Your stack is 900; small blind's stack is 5,000. Play is folded to the small blind, who makes it 400. You are in the big blind with 44 and elect to move in for 900. He calls, getting 2-1, and his 67 wins the race.

See the difference between the examples? In Example No. 1, in order to call your opponent would have to put 2,100 more into a 2,700 pot.

Getting just over 1-1 he would have to have a monster to call. In Example No. 2 you shove for 900 and your opponent only has to call 500 more in a 1,300 pot. In this example he's getting almost 3-1. Your opponent is never ever going to fold getting nearly 3-1 with a decent chip stack.

Now you're relying only on hand strength rather than relying on fold equity with hand strength as a backup.

When the Blinds Are High

Once it gets to the late stages of a sit-and-go there is very little play. Most players sit on a 10BB stack. If you have less than 10BBs your strategy is very easy: you shove, or you fold. Any pocket pair is good for a shove with less than 10BBs. If you're called you're likely 50% to win. But again you're looking for folds, not calls.

A Word of Warning

Just because you should be willing to shove any pocket pair does not mean that you should also be calling all-ins just because you have a pair. Aggression is the key - it gives you two ways to win. 

If you're calling with small pocket pairs, that signifies a leak in your game. You're basically calling and hoping to win a coin flip. You do not want to flip for your tournament life even if you have 10BBs. You're better off folding and waiting for a pot where you are first in.

Pocket pairs look nice but they are only ever a big favorite if your opponent holds an underpair, which is unlikely. Although they are great to push with, they're not great to call with.

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sng strategy poker
Small pairs can be best friend.

Best and Worst Enemy: Small Pairs

Small pocket pairs, due to their sliding scale of usefulness, can be your best friend and your worst enemy. Playing them can sometimes be a frustrating experience.

But if you look to play them in position and you don't fall in love with them, they can actually be very profitable hands for you.

Start looking for situations early when you can limp and hit a big hand and start looking for good steal opportunities later when the blinds are bigger.

In the middle you can mix raises and limps from late position. If you do this, you'll minimize the time you spend in trouble with pocket pairs and maximize the times you put your opponents to tough decisions.

SNG ABCs: The Re-Steal

As mentioned above, everyone knows a successful sit-and-go player has to steal blinds. As the blinds go up, players know they need to make moves to survive.

Though most players know how essential stealing is few actually take it a step further and re-steal with any sort of regularity. 

The concept is simple. If players are stealing, they're raising with less-than-stellar holdings. These players will often fold to a re-raise and forfeit their original raise.

This wins you not only the raise but also the blinds. Re-stealing at opportune moments can sometimes make the difference between being blinded out of the money and going on to win the proverbial bracelet.

The Ideal Opponent for Sit & Go Re-Steals

Though re-stealing seems like a simple concept, it's actually fairly complex. It requires the perfect mix of the right timing, the right opponent, the right table image and the right hand.

Phil Hellmuth
Ideal opponent?

The ideal opponent for a re-steal is an aggressive blind-stealer. Ideally, you'd rather re-steal against a good player than a bad one.

Good players frequently steal from late position but do not want to risk their chips in marginal situations. Bad players, however, still know how to steal but don't have that same risk aversion.

A bad player will be more likely to raise a hand like QJ, then call off 10 BBs more because he feels he is "pot-committed."

A good player will not do this. A good player will realize he's been caught, muck his hand and move on.

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It Should Be Obvious Who the Winners Are

Watch the table flow. It should be fairly obvious who the winning players are. If they are often raising from the button and cut-off, you can likely infer that these players are decent sit-and-go players.

If you play sit-and-gos a lot you should take notes on players who go deep frequently. Keeping track of the regs is just as important as keeping track of the fish.

 There are plenty of regulars who grasp the concept of stealing but fail to realize that they are often getting re-stolen from.

Watch Your Table Image

Patrik Antonius
Watch your table image.

Table image is a crucial factor in all facets of poker. It's especially important in sit-and-gos. If you've been raising regularly, a few times an orbit, and re-stealing against late-position raisers, players are bound to catch on.

They are going to view you as a maniac and they are going to want to bust you. If you don't change speeds, it's inevitable that eventually some player is going to look you up.

Be cognizant of how you are perceived at the table - some players love standing up to the table bully and others are more than happy to wait and hope another player takes him on.

Try and identify which player is which, then avoid the former and punish the latter. That way you can maximize how often your opponents fold and minimize the chances they will call.

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Seldom a Good Idea to Re-Shove Any Two

The nature of the re-steal is that you're doing it with a less-than-awesome hand. If you were re-raising with AA, it wouldn't be a steal, would it? No; it would be for value.

So the idea is you do it with an average hand. You know your opponent is raising light and you are banking on him folding. Your hand value isn't as important.

That being said, it's seldom a good idea to just re-shove any two. There is always a chance you'll be called so when you do re-shove you want to have some type of hand to fall back on.

For example 109 does a lot better versus KK than 38 does. You're relying on fold equity, but you need to have some hand value as a backup plan.

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Fold Equity in Sit & Gos

Since you're relying on fold equity it doesn't make much sense re-stealing without fold equity, does it?

Ben Lamb
Be sure about your fold equity.

No, it doesn't. But people attempt to do it all the time. If you're re-raising without fold equity, it better be for value.

The re-steal is an attempt to steal the pot. If your opponent is pot-committed, he's not going to fold.

So add up your re-raise, his raise and the blinds, and if his call is laying him 2-1 or better, do not re-steal. Fold and wait for a better spot.

Fold equity is the single determining factor in choosing whether to steal or re-steal

If you have a good reason to believe that the original raiser is going to fold, you can absolutely shove very light on him. It's a move that, when added to your repertoire, will start winning you pots you had no business being in in the first place.

It's a move that feels great when you pull it off and makes you feel like an idiot those times you do get called. However, if you follow my instructions and look for good spots against known stealers, you'll find yourself getting more folds than calls.

SnG ABCs: Suited Connectors

In a sit-and-go, suited connectors are not as powerful as they are in, say, a deep-stacked cash game. But when played right, they can be a very useful tool on your way to victory.

In sit-and-gos, stacks are seldom very deep, so this hurts the overall value of suited connectors. Most of their value comes from when they make straights or flushes and you can take your opponent's entire stack.

When the stacks aren't as deep, they lose value as the maximum you can win (your opponent's stack) is less. And when the stacks are shallow, you also risk a higher percentage of your stack to win a smaller end pot.

This is why new players lose so much playing suited connectors: they risk too much with too little reward.

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Stop Overvaluing Suited Connectors

Playing suited connectors profitably is actually very easy: just stop overvaluing them. Straights and flushes don't come around nearly as often as you think they should.

Kevin Saul
If you miss, bail out.

Stop limping from up front, calling raises and then calling bets with weak gutshots. If you do that, you're essentially frittering away chips. What you should do instead is look for profitable situations in which you can either

  • a) see a cheap multiway flop or
  • b) steal the blinds with little chance of getting caught

Suited Connectors Have Most Value Early

Early in the tournament is when suited connectors are the most valuable. When the blinds are 10/20 and 15/30, they are still very small compared to your stack as you'll have 60-80BBs.

This will be the deepest you will be all tournament. And though you should be playing tight early without risking many chips, you should not pass up opportunities where you can see cheap, multiway pots in position.

If you can hit a big hand early and double up, the game becomes a lot easier for you. When the blinds are low, players will often limp and you will see many multiway pots contested.

In situations like this you can definitely limp hands like 56 or 79 off the button or from the cut-off.

If You Miss, Bail Out

If you flop a draw and are getting good odds, great - take them. Try and hit that big hand. If you miss completely, then just bail out. Muck that hand.

Don't get involved with second pair. It's not worth risking the chips. Notice I said you can limp from the button or cut-off. It's late position that makes these hands profitable. Limping in from early position is not cool and is not profitable.

Don't Give Away Free Chips

More often than not you will end up getting raised from late position and you will be forced to muck, forfeiting your chips. Do not give away free chips. If you're going to play suited connectors, play them from late position and don't get crazy on flops.

Chase with decent odds and don't unnecessarily risk chips. Your stack is your life in a sit-and-go - protect it.

sng strategy
Never limp in middle blinds.

Mid-Blind Levels

The mid blind levels in an SnG - i.e. 25/50 to 50/100 - are the trickiest to play. Your stack size is very awkward with only 15-30BBs. There's little value in suited connectors here.

The stacks are too shallow to limp and try and hit a hand, and raising as a steal risks too big a percentage of your stack with not enough reward.

You should almost never be limping suited connectors at the mid-blind levels.

The only situation that might be marginally profitable is off the button after several other limpers and at 25/50 only. Otherwise you're better off just folding.

Near the end of the mid-blind levels, the value of suited connectors switches from being able to make a hand and stack someone to using them as steal hands.

While you might be slightly +EV limping the button at 25/50, you are almost always better off raising or folding at 50/100 and higher.

That's because the stacks are too shallow to rely on implied odds but the blinds are getting high enough where players (mistakenly) tighten up.

High-Blind Levels

Once the blinds get to $100/$200 there is going to be little play left. You may have 10-20BBs, and the chip leaders may only have 30. At this stage, you should be able to tell which players are tightening up and which are loosening up.

You should be loosening up, playing a loose-aggressive game and exploiting the players that are tightening up. This stage of the game is also where you build your stack. If you were card dead up until now it doesn't matter.

Your goal is to increase your stack and you do this by stealing blinds.

Suited Connectors are Excellent Blind Stealers

Suited connectors make excellent blind-stealing hands. As discussed with the re-steal, when you're choosing a hand to steal with it doesn't have to be great - that's why it's called a steal.

how to play suited connectors
Suited connectors great plan B.

If you were raising with a real hand it would be for value, not as a steal. When you're stealing, you're relying on fold equity - that is, you want your opponent to fold. Thus hand value is not as important.

Suited connectors are great for stealing because they are an excellent "Plan B."

"Plan A" obviously is to have your opponent fold, but that's not always going to happen. You need some hand value to fall back on.

Statistically, if your opponent happens to wake up with AA, suited connectors are the strongest hands possible. They are also only a slight dog to a hand like A-K or two unpaired overcards.

As the blinds increase and your M decreases, there will be little to no play left. You're left with two options - push or fold. With 10BBs or less you should be pushing fairly frequently and picking up the blinds from tight players.

Suited connectors are great at this stage. You rely on fold equity but again you have your hand value to fall back on. That's all there is to it.

As long as you can recognize when the value switches from being an implied odds hand to a steal hand, you should be able to play suited connectors profitably.

Position is Key

No matter what the blinds are, the most important part is playing position. From late position you're more likely to see a cheap flop early, and later on you are more likely to succeed with your blind steal.

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