Sit-and-go strategy

The middle stages of a sit-and-go can be problematic, when you’re caught between trying to build your stack and preserve it

In the middle game you should mainly open with stronger hands or re-raise other players

It’s time to look at the middle game period – the time when you can’t employ deep-stack strategies but you haven’t reached the push-or-fold endgame.

At this phase of the sit-and-go players’ stack sizes will usually be varied. Because of this, when you’re playing a hand you need to think in terms of effective stack sizes – that is to say the maximum amount of chips that can be won or lost in a given hand between certain players. For example, the blinds are 50/100, you open on the button to 300 with 2400 chips in total, and the remaining players left in the hand have 1200 and 4200 respectively.

Against the small blind you would be playing for all his chips but not all of your own, so the effective stack size would be 1200, but if the big blind moved all-in you would be playing for all your chips, but not all of his, so the effective stack size would be 2400.

Any time you play a pot in the mid- to-late stages of a sit-and-go it’s vital that you consider the effective stack sizes of players that have entered the pot before you and those that remain behind, to save you from putting yourself in a position where the stack sizes are awkward.

As your stack size (in terms of big blinds) diminishes, you should tend to play less speculative hands and limp less. With a moderate-sized stack of 30-50 big blinds there will still be some play in the game, but you should generally be entering the pot with raises in order to give yourself the chance to gain additional chips pre-flop or with a continuation bet on the flop.

As your stack size drops further your options become more limited, and with 15-30 big blinds – while you’re still able to make normal- sized raises and continuation-bet in favourable spots – you should tighten up your opening ranges a lot, both because you have less chips behind if things go wrong, and other players will have ideal-sized stacks to re-raise all-in with.

Stealing blinds

With the number of big blinds in the average stack rapidly diminishing you’ll need to give some thought as to how to build your chip stack as you move towards the bubble stage. However, for a number of reasons you should not attempt to solve this problem by making frequent attempts to steal the blinds (i.e. raising with a bad hand because of your position), unless you expect to succeed doing this a very high proportion of the time.

Unlike in multi-table tournaments where the middle game is long and the blind increases are gradual, in an SNG the middle game will be extremely short and you’ll usually be unable to maintain a stack that allows you to keep stealing because of the rapidly rising blinds. This means that unless stealing is going to be profitable in itself it is of little use, and this will rarely be the case here because during the middle game so many players will have ideal-sized stacks to re-raise you all-in.

Similarly, losing a portion of your chips on a steal if you have to raise and make a continuation bet or fold to a re-raise, will reduce your options later in the sit-and-go, as well as reducing your $EV by significantly more than winning the same amount of chips would increase it by.

Therefore, in the middle game you should mainly open with stronger hands or re-raise with them in order to maintain your stack and preserve the rest of your chips for the late game and beyond, when you can move all-in or fold.

Raising and re-raising

As the blinds increase and the average stack to big blinds ratio decreases, you should not be opening for more than three big blinds and you may also want to consider lowering the size of your raise to 2.5 big blinds. This will be more economical and usually have the same effect as a larger raise since players are under more pressure in the middle game, and you’ll also be less committed to calling a re-raise.

Additionally, opening to 2.5 big blinds will bring down the size of the continuation bets that you’ll need to make, which can be very useful when you’re dealing with very shallow stack sizes or wish to preserve chips.

You’ll also need to start planning your bet sizing more precisely in raised pots. By the time your stack is below 30 big blinds you’ll no longer be able to re-raise an opponent and make a continuation bet on the flop without committing yourself to a hand. If you have a stack of around 30 big blinds or more you still have the option of flat-calling a raise, re-raising a standard amount to around nine big blinds (assuming an opening raise of three big blinds) and playing from there, or just moving all-in.

However, in sit-and-gos where players tend to open more tightly you should avoid risking the stack you’ve accumulated in marginal situations.

With a stack of 20-30 big blinds you should be more inclined to re-raise all-in or smooth-call. This is because the former will give you the benefit of considerable fold equity against an opponent and the latter will avoid large confrontations with hands that you want to play but don’t feel are strong enough to raise all-in with.

In terms of hand ranges, you should generally only be re-raising players all-in when your hand figures to be significantly ahead of their range but is not necessarily comfortable seeing a flop (e.g. A-K, Q-Q or J-J against early position players and slightly worse against late position players). If your hand only figures to be slightly ahead of their range (e.g. A-Q, A-J or 10-10 against tight or early position players) or is a genuine monster that has post- flop potential (i.e. A-A or K-K) with these stack sizes you may be better off smooth-calling rather than escalating the action.

With a stack of 15-20 big blinds, however, you’re in an ideal position for re-raising other players all-in as it will afford you significant fold equity without risking unnecessary chips. You should still remember, though, that you do not want to get in unnecessary all-in situations as the bubble approaches. For this reason frequently making plays like re-stealing all-in, or re-raising all-in with marginal hands against loose players who are apt to call with a wide range, will not usually be profitable.

Reacting to a re-raise

When you’ve opened a pot and been re-raised, you should not be playing many hands, even if you suspect your opponent is likely to make occasional loose re-raises. When you’re playing with deeper stacks you’ll usually either have been moved all-in or re-raised about three times your opening raise. If a player has moved all-in on you for 20-30 big blinds it usually indicates they have a very strong hand and you should fold all but the biggest hands.

This is because you’ll only be getting pot odds of around 3/2 and this won’t compensate for the damage done to your $EV when you’re in a close gamble or behind. If fact, if it’s a tight player raising all-in and it puts you close to being all-in, you might fold hands as strong as J-J or A-Q.

Against shallower stacks of 15-20 big blinds you’ll need to consider a variety of factors when re-raised, principally your opponents’ hand ranges, the pot odds that you’re being offered, and whether you’ll have any chips remaining when you call. With effective stacks of 15 big blinds, if you open for three big blinds and are re- raised by a non-blind player you’ll be calling 12 big blinds to win 19.5 and with 20 big blinds, 17 to win 24.5.

Because these odds are not compelling you should still not be calling with a wide range of hands, although A-Q, A-J and mid to high pairs are now reasonable in many situations, especially when you have chips back.

Defending your blinds

With a stack size of 30-50 big blinds you should not be defending many hands from the blinds, especially the small blind where you have worse odds and are not closing the action. However, once the average stack falls below this, and ideally with a stack size of 15-20 big blinds, you will be able to start defending with a few more hands, either by re-raising all-in pre-flop and putting your opponent to the test or by calling from the big blind with hands that can flop well, with the intention of check-raising all-in on favourable flops.

With a stack size of 15-20 big blinds you may certainly re- raise A-10+ and all pairs against late position raisers and looser mid-position raisers, as well as a few more hands depending on the exact situation.

However, because playing for all your chips in marginal situations is very detrimental to your overall $EV, there will be some situations in which you should prefer to call a pre-flop raise in the big blind and opt to try and check-raise a continuation bet all-in on a favourable flop.

This is generally a good strategy when you’re not sure that re-raising all-in is a +$EV play but you have a hand that is playable and can flop well (e.g. A-9s or K-Jo), you have a stack size that is ideal for check-raising all-in with (again 15-20 big blinds), and your opponent is likely to continuation bet.

This stack size is ideal because not only does it allow your opponent the option of continuation betting without committing to the hand (making him more likely to do so and giving you fold equity when you check-raise all-in with a draw), but it is also the correct size for you to happily put your money in when you make a top pair type hand, in the knowledge that the chips you win when it is good will far outweigh those that you lose when it is dominated.

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