Top SNG Poker Tips – How to Beat Sit and Goes
Online poker has revolutionized the game in many ways, not the least of which was the introduction of sit and go poker tournaments.
Of all the possible poker types, SNG games are often preferred by novice players who are only just getting introduced to the game.
With SNGs being the perfect introduction to poker and an excellent way to start playing tournaments, it’s well worth learning how to play these games the right way.
In this guide, I am going to teach you how SNG poker works, what you need to know about these games, and give some general tips that will help you win more often.
Let’s get started!
What Are SNG Poker Tournaments?
An SNG poker tournament is any tournament that starts once a certain number of players have registered instead of starting at an exact time, as scheduled tournaments do.
SNGs can be played with anywhere between two and hundreds of players. In either case, the game will launch the moment enough players have entered, without waiting for any particular starting time.
This is ideal for players who want to play poker on their own time, as scheduled tournaments tend to be more restrictive and force players to show up at a certain time.
SNGs are similar to cash games, but they are played in a classic tournament format where the top finishers get all the prize money.
Different online poker sites offer different SNG poker structures, featuring various starting stack sizes, blind intervals, and more.
Let’s talk briefly about the most popular sit n go formats and the differences between them.
SNG Poker Formats Explained
When you first enter the SNG lobby on any online poker site, you may be overwhelmed by the number of different games in there.
You will notice that there are games available at many different buy-in levels, but also that there are many games with the same buy-in but different formats and structures.
In terms of games offered, SNGs can typically be divided into:
- Heads-Up SNGs
- Six-Max SNGs
- Full Ring SNGs
- Multi-Table SNGs
Heads up sit n go tournaments start whenever two players join a particular game. The prize pool goes to the winner, and these games are most similar to cash games.
Six-max and full-ring SNG poker tournaments launch the moment six or nine players enter them, respectively, and they pay two or three players at the end.
Finally, multi-table SNGs can have anywhere between 12 and 360 players (possibly more) and will clearly indicate how many players are needed for the game to launch.
In all SNG formats, you should pay attention to the number of players indicated and currently registered players, as the game will not start until enough players are signed up.
Sit and Go Blind Structures in a Nutshell
Depending on the blind structure, SNG tournaments can generally be divided into:
- Regular Speed
Regular speed SNGs will have relatively slowly ascending blinds, with levels changing about once in ten minutes of play.
Turbo SNGs have blinds going up anywhere between 4 and 6 minutes, while the popular hyper-turbos have blinds progressing every two minutes or so.
Different blind structures can be applied to each game format, whether you want to play heads-up, single-table, or multi-table SNG games.
The duration of blind levels will change differently in different game formats, but each of them will come with different stages, which is the next important aspect of SNG play to discuss.
Sit n GO Poker Stages
One of the main differences between sit and goes and cash games is that blind levels change in SNGs and the tournament advances through several different stages.
Here is a quick rundown of the different stages you will play through in any SNG tournament:
The early stage of an SNG tournament lasts for the first few levels of play. The blinds are very small in comparison to your stack, and you will often have 100 BBs or more to work with.
During the early stage, you will want to play fairly tight and only raise and re-raise the best poker hands, as there is little value in stealing the blinds.
In many SNGs, the ante bets don't even kick in until the middle stage, which means there is not much money in the pot, to begin with, making tight play the way to go.
Play ABC poker and wait for the less experienced and less skillful players to overplay their hands and make big mistakes against you.
The middle stage of a poker SNG starts when the blinds get bigger, and the antes kick in. At this point, you will be working with 20-40 BBs, and there will be more money up for grabs.
Stealing the blinds and antes becomes lucrative in the middle stage of the tournament, although it is still not absolutely necessary unless you are running low on chips.
Expand your ranges and start stealing more, but be careful of potential traps. You don’t want to lose a 30 BB stack with a marginal holding for no good reason.
In the late stage of an SNG tournament, you will have to play very aggressively and steal the blinds very often.
The average stack will be around 10 BBs, making every successful steal a massive increase to your stack.
As a rule of thumb, aggressive players do very well in the late stages of SNGs, and those who try to wait for big hands usually get blinded out and rarely win the tournament.
Keep in mind that ICM implications also start to kick in at this stage, so be careful when you are the one calling off all-in, but go HAM when you are the one applying pressure.
Calculating Your Wins: SNG Poker ROI and Win Rate
If you want to play poker for a living or even as a serious hobby, you need to have a metric to use to calculate your winnings and losses.
In SNGs, the metric used by professional players is “return on investment” (ROI), which represents the percentage of the buy-in you win each time you play in an SNG game.
ROI is calculated by adding together all your buy-ins (with tournament fees) and comparing it to your overall winnings in the tournaments.
If you have made a profit in your games, the percentage of your overall buy-ins that the profit represents is your ROI.
For example, let us assume you played 1,000 single-table SNGs with $10 buy-ins. Your overall buy-ins are $10,000. Let us assume your overall winnings are $11,000 for a $1,000 profit.
In this case, your ROI would be 10% ($1,000 is 10% of $10,000), while your profit per game would be $1.
If this seems like a low number, you should probably find a different game format, as even a 10% ROI in most SNG formats, especially single table SNGs, is very hard to reach.
However, keep in mind that SNGs are very easy to multi-table and very fast to play through, and you will also earn some VIP rewards or rakeback each time you play a game.
Top 10 Tips for Successful SNG Poker Players
SNGs are a simpler game than cash games in many ways, mostly thanks to the fact stacks get smaller over time, and the structure is identical every time.
After playing thousands of SNGs, a player will start playing them in a very automatic way, which is why they are the perfect game for players who want to play many tables at a time.
Here are a few basic tips to introduce into your poker SNG game that will help you get better results and find your way in this game format.
1. Play Tight Early
The early stages of an SNG are very similar to cash games in respect of stack sizes and their relation to the blinds.
Since you will be working with a lot of BBs to start with, you should be fairly conservative, especially when playing from early table positions.
During the early levels, you will be looking for spots to accumulate some chips or possibly double up, but only if the situation is profitable.
You should always play big hands like AA and KK for a re-raise, no matter the situation. Small pocket pairs, suited aces, and other hands with nut potential are good in late position for their implied value.
Finding an early set against a big pocket pair or getting a fish to put their stack in with AJ against your AA is the name of the game in early SNG play.
2. Play Within Your Bankroll
Bankroll management is very important in any poker format, but SNGs require that you adhere to it even more.
Since SNG tournaments can be so volatile, it is in your interest to have a large bankroll that can sustain long losing stretches.
Due to their fast-paced nature, SNGs tend to only give you a small edge, even when playing against relatively weak opposition.
This is why maintaining a healthy bankroll and only advancing to new levels when you have won enough money to be sure you can take the hits is the right strategy.
If you try and advance to higher buyins too soon, I can assure you that a downswing will hit when you least expect it, and your bankroll will be wiped out within one or two bad sessions.
Stay disciplined with your bankroll and keep advancing your game, and you will see your balance grow at a steady rate.
3. Stop Calling as Blinds Escalate
While you definitely want to set mine and chase other big hands in the early rounds, you will need to stop doing that once the blinds escalate.
As your SNG poker game progresses, the ratio of your stack and the big blind will decrease, making it less profitable to make preflop calls in position.
Instead, you will want to expand your 3-betting range and start re-stealing against late position raisers who are trying to pick up the blinds.
Taking a passive approach will no longer work in the middle stages, as a few misses will completely decimate your entire stack.
4. Beware of Your Opponents
In your early days, I would highly recommend playing fewer tables and trying to pay attention to what everyone else is doing.
Identify the loose and the tight players and act accordingly. Learn whose blinds you can steal again and again, and make sure not to try to steal from maniacs.
As you start to introduce more tables, it is highly advisable to install poker tracking software which will allow you to quickly identify regs as well as fish which you often play with.
The more stats you have on your opponents, the more good decisions you may be able to make that otherwise would not be possible.
Exploiting these essential stats will be useful, but make sure not to go too far and try to play a relatively optimal strategy for the most part.
5. Steal a Lot in the Late Stages of SNG Poker Tournaments
As the later stages of an SNG approach, you will need to start stealing the blinds and antes a lot and getting it in against other players with relatively marginal holdings.
You won’t win an SNG by waiting for AA or AK in most cases, but rather by winning a couple of coin flips and getting some steals through.
Remember that weak players will fold even hands that have a lot of value if you go all-in against them, which will give you a big advantage.
However, be very careful when you are the one calling an all-in, as you don't have any fold equity working in your favor.
6. Understand the Payout Structure
Each SNG poker tournament has a preset payout structure, and it is crucial to understand how payouts work in the game you are playing.
Most players tend to stick to one or two SNG formats, so make sure that you learn the payouts for the games you prefer and always have them in the back of your head.
You should never obsess over making the money, but ICM is a critical part of successful SNG play Thus, you will need to know how payouts work to be able to make good ICM decisions.
7. Learn and Practice ICM
As I just mentioned in the previous tip, the independent chip model (ICM) is a critical part of SNG play and one without which you won't get far in this game format.
Learning the basics of ICM should not be too difficult, but truly mastering it will take a lot of practice and work.
Thankfully, there are some amazing tools that will allow you to practice your ICM decision-making in real-time and with real examples that you will encounter in your SNGs.
8. Be Ready for Variance
While I already mentioned bankroll management as a key component of your SNG journey, it’s also worth noting how important mental preparedness is.
SNGs are games in which downswings are common, and it is not at all unusual to lose 100+ buy-ins or more over a period of a week or two.
In such times, players can get desperate, start doubting everything they have ever learned and contemplate leaving the game.
You should not think this way and should be completely ready for a 100 buyin downswing at any time. It’s just a normal part of the game.
Whenever you are on a big downswing, taking a day off and doing some extra study sessions can be helpful. But the key thing is to remain mentally focused and trust your game plan will work in the long run.
9, Choose the Right SNG Poker Games
SNG poker tournaments are available at many online poker sites and in many formats. Finding the right place to play them is a big part of success.
Choosing between the many different game types out there can be a bit challenging and may require some trial and error, but it’s well worth it.
You don't want to just jump into any game that's running because this could mean you are playing against players who are simply better than you at the format.
Instead, try to find a poker site with a relatively soft field of players in a certain game format and focus on mastering that format until you are comfortably beating the games at a given buyin level.
10. Learn to Play Heads-Up Poker
You can’t win any SNG game without beating your final opponent in a heads-up battle, which means you want to get there fully prepared.
Spending some time to learn and master heads-up play will pay great dividends to you as an SNG player, as you will find yourself playing heads-up much more often than a tournament or cash game players.
If you can get a good grip on heads-up play, you will be able to easily dispatch any recreational players you encounter in the final stage of an SNG. You will also be able to hold your own against the regs, which will dramatically increase your ROI in the long run.