There can be few things in poker as annoying as busting out late in a sit-and-go
In the last two installments I’ve talked about the early and mid-game stages of a sit-and-go. Here I’ll take a look at the endgame of a sit-and-go, where you’re looking to get into the money.
Knowing how to play late-game strategy correctly is a must if you want to do well in sit-and-gos. In the late game there can be anywhere between two and nine players left, but usually there will be four to six. However, what determines when you reach the late game is the size of the big blind. A good rule of thumb is that when the big blind represents one-tenth of your starting stack you’ve reached the endgame. At this point you’ll need to change your strategy to one of all-in or fold to maximise your chances.
Pump it or dump it
Typically the average stack is around 10-15 big blinds in the late game, and once you drop below 15 big blinds your best option is to raise all-in or fold pre-flop. Broadly speaking the all- in zone can be divided into three areas.
10-15 big blinds
This stack size is a ‘no man’s land’ between the ideal amount for pushing all-in and the point at which you can comfortably afford to make a normal-sized raise. You should generally play few hands and move all- in with them when you do.
5-10 big blinds
This is the ideal-sized stack for moving all-in with as you still have enough chips to put opponents under pressure. This stack allows you to shove with a wider range and, in many spots, pick up pots uncontested.
0-5 big blinds
You must simply look for the best situation to move your remaining chips all-in based on your hand, your stack sizes, the player in the big blind, the other stacks at the table, and how many hands you have before the big blind will hit you.
Playable hands in the late game
Trying to determine exactly when a hand is worth shoving can be difficult, so here are some basic guidelines.
A-A – Q-Q
For 15 big blinds or less you “ You should almost always be prepared to move all-in or call a single all-in with A-K or A-Q in the late game” should never fold Aces and Kings to players who have already moved all-in, and the circumstances would need to be exceptional for you to consider folding Queens.
J-J – 10-10
Again, you can raise all-in with these hands for 15 big blinds or less in almost all situations and call an all-in with them most of the time.
7-7 – 9-9
Mid pairs are still strong hands for moving all-in with, and benefit from the fact that you won’t have to worry about how to play them post-flop. They are harder hands to call all-in with as you will often be flipping a coin or behind, but you should still usually play against a single player when they have moved all-in.
6-6 – 2-2
Small pairs are good hands to move all-in with in late position when you have 15 big blinds or less, in middle position with 10 big blinds or less, or when you’re short stacked with six big blinds or less in any position. You should not usually call an all-in with these hands unless you’re in the big blind and are getting better than 2/1 pot odds.
A-K – A-Q
You should almost always be prepared to move all-in or call a single all-in with A-K or A-Q in the late game, as it is a powerhouse hand and will usually be dominating a weaker Ace or in a race against a lower pair.
A-J – A-10
These are strong hands to move all-in with in most situations unless you’re in very early position at a very loose table with a stack of close to 15 big blinds; in that spot A-10 may be marginal. However, you should be more cautious about calling all-ins with them when the effective stacks are 10 big blinds or more, and your opponent is very tight or has shoved from early position.
A-9o – A-2s
When moving all-in a suited ‘rag’ Ace has only fractionally more value to it than if it is offsuit (for example, A-9s has similar value to A-10o) and so should be considered in one category. They are good hands to move all-in with for 15 big blinds or less in late position, 10 big blinds or less in mid position, or in any position when you have six big blinds or less. However, playing them in other situations is not advisable as you’ll often be called by bigger Aces or high pairs and be dominated.
Broadway hands (K-10+, Q-10+, J-10+)
These are strong all-in hands (suited or not) when you’re in late position with 15 big blinds or less, in mid position with 10 big blinds or less, or in any position with six big blinds or less, as they’re less likely to be dominated when called than small pairs or weak Aces. Because they’re rarely ahead of an all-in player’s range, however, they should not be called with unless you’re in the big blind and getting excellent pot odds, or up against a very loose-aggressive small blind that you have easily covered.
These hands play well against all-in calling ranges (8-7s, for example, is only a 60/40 underdog against A-K) and can be moved all-in with when you have five to 10 big blinds in late position. However, they should not usually be played when your stack is lower than five big blinds as you will have little fold equity and will often get called by high-card hands.
When you’re in very late position with a stack of five to 10 big blinds you may also want to move all-in with some hands that are slightly weaker, like rag Kings or unsuited connectors. If you’re in the small blind and everyone has folded around, you can push with a wide range of hands if you have this stack size and the big blind is relatively tight. This is because he will not be able to call with many hands and you’re not risking much to win the blinds, plus you will still have some equity even if called.
High blind limping
While you might be employing a push/fold strategy, that doesn’t mean everyone is. It’s quite common to find one player who is high blind limping (HBL) late in a sit-and-go. These HBLs can be divided into two categories: those who limp on the small blind when it is folded around to them, and those who will open-limp elsewhere. These two types can then be divided again between players who are habitual limpers due to inexperience and those who use the tactic more intelligently to trap with big hands.
Limping, of course, is not generally recommended, but there are some circumstances where it might be acceptable, such as in the small blind against a passive player in the big blind. Here you’ll be getting 3/1 pot odds to call and see the flop, assuming the big blind checks, which may be more profitable than risking a costly all-in with a marginal but playable hand.
Limping in the small blind is also acceptable with very strong hands like big pairs against over-aggressive players who will often try to punish you by raising from the big blind, since you will only have to catch them with a monster hand occasionally to show a profit.
Adjusting to antes
I’ve previously talked about the all-in zone, as measured by number of big blinds, but on sites where antes are introduced as the blinds increase, it’s important that you include the dead money they create in calculations you make about pushing ranges. For example, in a game where the blinds are 100/200/a25 and six players remain, there are 450 chips in the pot rather than the 300 that would be in if no antes were in place, increasing the amount in the middle by 50 percent.
For this reason, when considering an all-in shove in a game with antes, it is much more correct to think of them as increasing the size of the blinds and reducing the average stack. In the situation above, a player in late position with 1800 chips would do far better to push with a range that assumes the blinds are 150/300 with no antes, and that he has six big blinds remaining.
So key is the bubble to sit-and-gos that it would require an entire article to cover the strategies involved. For that reason you should refer back to PokerPlayer, Issue 23, where you’ll find a complete guide to beating the bubble. (You can also find the same strategy Late game hand quizzes article on the website at www.pokerplayermagazine.co.uk/bubble)
In the money
When talking about standard nine and 10-handed sit-and-gos with a payout structure of 50/30/20 the ‘in the money’ stage is reached when three players are left and the bubble has ‘burst’. It is important to notice that 60 percent of the prize money is now allocated since each player is already guaranteed 20 percent. In effect, therefore, a new tournament has begun among the remaining three players for the remaining 40 percent of the prize pool, with first getting an additional 30 percent, second an additional 10 percent and third nothing.
With this huge weighting towards finishing first, you should usually play more aggressively and aim for the win when three-handed, unless there is some compelling reason to try and secure second-place money first, such as being against one very large stack and one micro-stack which will soon face elimination.
The blinds will usually be very high relative to the stack sizes, which means that players must re-evaluate their all-in strategy at this stage and push with a much tighter range of hands since they will be more frequently called, not least because players now have the safety net of having locked up a profit.
By the time heads-up play has been reached the average stack size will often be less than 15 big blinds and you won’t have much room to manoeuvre. For this reason it’s important to make swift decisions about how you approach the match based on your opponent and the depth of stacks.
Against a weak player and with deeper stacks you should apply a small-ball strategy that consists of limping or making small raises and playing post-flop, but with shorter stacks and against tougher opponents you should use an all-in or fold strategy with a wide range of hands.