A cautious approach is often the right way to beat the double or nothing sit&gos
Sit&gos are constantly being reinvented by poker sites eager to cash in on their popularity and provide new formats to customers who enjoy a turbo-charged tournament format. We have seen all sorts of innovations, from heads-up, six-max and two table formats to Steps, Matrix and large formats catering for up to 180 players.
A popular newcomer is PokerStars’ Double or Nothing sit&gos, which as the name suggests, see 10 players enter and five receive twice their entry fee back as winnings. These are also available on a number of other sites under various different names such as the ‘Coolers’ on Virgin. Currently they are on offer up to the $100 level, and since the prize is much less than that won in any other sit&go format the entry fee has been reduced substantially. At the highest level, you pay just $4 rake on a $100 buy-in sit&go.
The double or nothing format requires some major adjustments in strategy, as with any satellite where a number of equal prizes are paid out. It does not matter if you make it to the last five with one chip or with 99% of them as in both instances you get the same reward. Also, because half the field gets paid the average chip stack when the bubble bursts will only be 3,000 (double the starting stack of 1,500), and for that reason you may need to do very little to win. If one player gets more than that amount that is even better news for you. With one stack of 9,000 chips the average for the remaining winners would be 1,500, or exactly the starting stack.
Because of this, you should be very wary of getting in all-in situations at any point in a double or nothing sit&go, without a very strong hand or without needing to gamble to survive. This is increasingly true at lower stakes where other players may play badly and knock themselves out. ICM tells us that if you are playing a $50 double or nothing sit&go and double up on the first hand then your new stack of 3,000 chips is only worth $77.78, meaning that if you were to end up all-in here you would need to be more than a 64.3% favourite to show a profit.
In the double or nothing structure the odds you need in your favour increase dramatically as the bubble draws closer and each elimination benefits the remaining players even more. So if you get to the bubble with equal stacks then each player will have $83.33 equity and if an all-in confrontation occurs one player will end up with the $100 prize and the other with nothing. This means that you would now need to be at least 83.33% favourite excluding pot odds as the remaining equity leaks away to the other players who now are guaranteed the prize despite having done very little.
At the lower stakes you should allow the other players to make mistakes and not try to force the game. Even at the higher stakes do not call all-ins unless the odds are heavily in your favour
Based on this analysis, it should be clear that a cautious approach is necessary for success at the double or nothing format. In the early stages you should attempt to play small pot poker with all but your strongest hands – even A-K offsuit is only a 65% favourite against a random hand all-in. You are looking to build chips before the blinds get high and you may have to gamble. Ideally, you should look to do this through flopping big hands with holdings like small or medium pairs or suited connectors when you can play them cheaply in position. But beyond this there is little reason to get involved with marginal hands when the amount you could win will make little impact on your stack anyway.
In the middle game you should start to pay attention to the diverging stack sizes and develop an idea of what stack size you may need to win. As we have already seen any stack above the average finishing size of 3,000 chips is great news for you as it reduces the size the others will need to be and you should base your play on this. With one or more large stacks you will still be able to hang back and keep to premium hands, assuming you have around your starting stack or slightly more, as the other players will have fewer chips spread between them.
However, when no stack has crossed this threshold but other players have reached stacks of 2,000 to 3,000 you will need to start playing a little more aggressively in order to keep the pace. Here you should look for the tightest players to re-raise or steal from as they will be your safest source of chips. Ramp this strategy up as antes come into play where there will be more chips in each pot and each round costs you more.
Your target should be the average stack at the end of the sit&go, but pay close attention to stack sizes as a significant chip leader can greatly affect the size of the average winning stack
As you enter the late game and the bubble you will find yourself playing with shallower stacks as everyone plays not to lose rather than to win. You will usually be forced to move all-in or fold as the blinds get very high. Here you should pay close attention to your overall chip position and, unless you are last, not play many hands at all since waiting forces players below you to make their move first and risk elimination. If you are in close competition with other players you should also pay attention to the order of blinds and any imminent increases that may change your game plan.
If you do find yourself in a marginal or possible steal situation in the late game, or on the bubble, you should think carefully about the risk/reward of moving all-in. You should also be especially cautious if your opponents are ignorant of the correct strategy and are likely to call with too many hands as this will harm your chances. Remember, in this format extra chips are only useful in so far as they allow you to outlast other players. If you have a good chance of making the money it is pointless to put your tournament life at risk with anything other than a very strong hand such as a high pair, unless you know other players understand this too.
Similarly, when someone else has moved all-in ahead of you consider your overall position and whether you need to get involved or have the correct odds to call. Around the bubble, if you have a comfortable stack you can often let the other players fight it out. Don’t risk getting in a coin-flip with even a fairly strong hand if losing might pull you back into the fray. And even if you do have the right odds, but it is close, remember that other players will likely make mistakes that make folding the best play. This strategy might not be action packed or full of fun, but if you play it correctly it can still be very profitable.
Remember to keep in mind that chips are only useful for allowing you to outlast other players. Do not put your tournament life at risk with anything other than a very strong hand