As you enter the final stages of a full-handed sit&go, you should override the temptation to simply hit the money
have discussed what I called the middle phase of a sit&go, which is characterised by aggressive pre-flop play because of the size of the blinds relative to the remaining stack sizes. The late phase begins when the fourth player is eliminated and the remaining three fight it out for the money spots.
Obviously – at this point – you want to win since victory holds the biggest payout. Your opponents also want to win. Their play will loosen up, becoming more aggressive as a result.
For much of the time there will be no change in the character of play from the middle phase. If the big blind represents a tenth of your’s or your opponents’ stacks, then the correct play will be to push or fold. Just as ICM (independent chip model) indicates correct play in the middle phase, the same applies in the latter stages.
You should make choices based on your prizepool equity – rather than the chips. What changes is that your opponents will be more willing to gamble – so study common situations and develop a feel for what calibre of hand you need against particular ranges.
Less frequently, you will find yourself with some space to play. This generally happens when the fourth player is eliminated by the player third in chips – which adds enough chips to move well beyond a ten big blind stack. For example, with blinds at 100/200, you could have remaining stacks of 6,000, 4,000, and 3,500. If you are playing on PokerStars, then the next blind level would remain the same, except with a 25 chip ante.
This would mean that you would have two levels in which some post-flop manoeuvring could take place. If you are a skilled post-flop player, these situations are quite welcome. They, of course, do not last long as the blinds continue to increase. The next level would be 200/400 with a 25 chip ante. At this point, it would most likely be push/fold play again.
As I stressed, your goal is to win – and you should be willing to take some chances when three-handed. If you are second in chips with stacks of 6,000, 4,000, 3,500. You should take a coin flip with the third-placed player, as the 7.5k resulting stack gives you an immense advantage over the other player heads- up. As Amir Vahedi famously said at the 2003 World Series of Poker: ‘In order to live, you must be willing to die.’
Let’s say you’re in a ten-player $10 sit&go. The prize money is usually $20, $30 and $50. Playing it safe with those chip stacks will get you second place most of the time. That’s an extra $10. But you will not get that extra amount every time. There will be times when three-handed play continues for several levels and you may be blinded down to third place.
For every coin flip you win, however, you make an extra $10 at a minimum – and most of the time you’ll end up winning an extra $30. Okay, let’s compare two scenarios. Firstly, you play 100 sit&gos three-handed. You play it safe in five and end up in third place. On five other occasions, you win – and on the other 90, you finish second. You win a total of $3,050 on the safe plan.
In the second example, you play 100 sit&gos three-handed and take a coin flip every time. You lose 50, win 50. Taking a conservative estimate on the 50 coin flip wins, I’ll say you go on to win 30 sit&gos. You win $3,100 on the aggressive plan. Note that I was very conservative on the win estimate. Having a chip lead is a big advantage. When you combine that with superior play, you stand to win more than 60% of the time when play gets down to heads-up.
When three-handed, try and put yourself in a position to move up the ladder rather than looking to simply hang on. The value of winning is worth so much more than just cashing – even if the frequency of doing so is less
All of which brings us nicely to heads-up play. Here you will also generally find yourself in a push/fold game; although sometimes you will have some room for post-flop play. Your opponents are generally unaware that a dramatic change in tactics is needed. They are left puzzled as to why someone with a stack of six thousand is pushing in just because the blinds are 300/600.
Of course, their lack of understanding gives you yet another advantage: if you play aggressively, you will quickly whittle their stacks down to nothing, and then it will be almost too late for them.
But what happens if the blinds are lower – say 200/400 with a stack size of 6,000? A stack of 15 big blinds gives precious little room, though there is some. If the blinds are due to change in the next few minutes, I would recommend some deliberate play on your part – unless you happen to have a premium hand, such as a pair of Queens. If this is the case, then by all means raise it up and try to win a big pot.
Blinds of 150/300 would be much more preferable with a 6,000 stack. With 20 big blinds, you really do have some manoeuvring room. If you are a skilled post-flop player, then I recommend seeing flops. In this situation I will take a flop with any two cards. Heads-up – most of the time – neither player has a hand that is a big favourite pre-flop.
Aggression is critical in heads-up play. Most flops miss most hands – so you should be attacking and stealing pots the majority of the time. If you or your opponent creeps down towards the ten big blind threshold, be prepared to shift gears to the push/fold game.
THE BARE BONES…
If the blinds are small enough relative to the chip stacks to permit post-flop play, you will also need to quickly adjust to your opponents’ playing styles. Earlier, I recommended an aggressive post-flop strategy – combined with seeing numerous flops – as a good basic approach.
If your opponent raises pre- flop every hand, however, then you will need to make an adjustment. Obviously, it is highly unlikely your opponent has a hand every time. This is a ‘perma-raise’ strategy designed to put immediate pressure on the other player, every hand.
There are two options to counter this strategy. You can either look to trap or, be more aggressive. The problem with a trapping approach is that you must actually catch a hand. You most likely will not catch one unless you have a lot of time before the blinds increase. The typical result of a trapping approach, then, is that your chip stack will dwindle, as will your chances of winning when the blinds increase and correct play switches to the pre-flop push/fold strategy.
So, I recommend becoming more aggressive in most cases. Many players who use a perma-raise strategy at the lower stake sit&gos will not follow it up with post-flop aggression. Typically, they will continuation bet the flop and then give up if they have failed to make a hand.
A simple check-raise on the flop will win you several pots before your opponent considers switching strategies, and at that point, the blinds will probably have increased, putting the game back to pre-flop push/fold play. Fortunately, you should have a significant chip lead and can win the vast majority of the time from here on.
When you get to heads-up, your strategy – if the blinds and stacks permit – should include a lot of post-flop aggression. If you’re up against a player who raises pre-flop every hand, you should always become more aggressive