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SNG Early Stage Strategy


Sky Matsuhashi

on December 3, 2015

Mastering SNG Early Stage Strategy is key in becoming a successful SNG player.   This post will explain the advantages of a “tight is right” strategy in the early stages, will give you opening ranges and will set you up for SNG middle stage success.

This is the 2nd in a series of SNG Strategy posts.  Check out the first post, 10 Advantages of Poker Sit N Go Tournaments.

SNG Early Stage Strategy – “Tight is Right”

The first 2 levels of SNG's are considered the early stages.  You NEED TO STAY ALIVE now so you can take advantage of the huge mistakes your opponents make as the tourney progresses.  A “Tight is Right” mentality will help you to avoid losing chips, will keep you alive, and can lead to gaining a huge stack.

The early stages are when all of your weak opponents are still in the game.  They have full stacks at small blinds so they're willing to see lots of flops and pay off with marginal hands, so playing a tight range and extracting value w/strong hands is paramount.

Stack preservation is key, so we need to err on the side of caution.  Don't spew w/marginal hands in bad spots.

***A note on short stack play: DON'T SPEW IT.  Easy to say, tough to do… but I've been down to 10bb's plenty of times in level 1 and made it back to starting stack with a few good hands and weak calls from my opponents.  DON'T GIVE UP!!!

SNG Early Stage Strategy – Opening Ranges

Here are the ranges I'd recommend to play in the early stages:

Early Position: opening TT+, AQ and AK; limping 22-99

Middle Position: opening 77+, AJ+ and KQ; limping 22-66

Late Position: opening 22+, AT+, KT+ and QJs; no limping

These ranges may look quite a bit tight, but these are designed to extract value from your weak opponents who call with super weak ranges.  A quick HoldEQ comparison between the MP range above vs a weak caller's range:


SNG Early Stage Strategy

You can see that the standard weak player's calling range (27%) is dominated by our range, making it more likely we'll extract extra value post-flop.  You can often get 3 streets of value w/AJ on a JT643 board.

Use the 1/15th rule for set-mining in raised pots.  If the bet is 1/15 of the effective stack (the chips players still have after pre-flop action), then it's okay to call.  Example: 100 chip bet and 1,500 chips behind, then it's okay.  200 chip bet and 1,500 behind, it's not okay.  We want to follow the 1/15th rule b/c we need bigger implied odds due to the importance of not losing chips in the early stages, plus we don't always stack the opponent when we hit our set.

We are good with 3bet and getting it in w/QQ+ versus unknowns. and calling other pairs (remember 1/15th rule) and AK/AQ at 75bb stacks as a default.  Calling raises w/AK and AQ is very profitable as your opp’s are sticky w/Ax and Kx hands when they hit TP and you can stack them.

GO FOR MAX VALUE VS PASSIVE STATIONS!  These guys will call you down, so don't check a decent hand and allow him to check behind.  Get the monies NOW!  Slow-playing to elicit a bluff won't work against these guys.

Of course, these are starting ranges and work well vs unknowns and fish.  As you gain reads on your opponents you can adjust these ranges, but be careful b/c chip preservation is still your #1 priority.

SNG Early Stage Strategy – Making Notes on Opponents

You need to pay attention to your opponent's style of play right from the outset.  Generally, too loose early = too loose late (making betting/raising mistakes) and too tight early = too tight late (making calling/folding mistakes).  Knowing their style now will help to adjust to them later.

Take notes on what mistakes your opponents are likely to make, so when you're up against them in later stages you can use your knowledge to KO them or chip up through them.  Ultimately, poker is all about exploiting your opponent's weaknesses, so give yourself the best chance of this and look for ways to exploit them, using your notes as a guide.

Take notes on how weak your opponents call vs 3bets.  Knowing this now can help you make push/fold decisions later in the mid-stages or OTB.  If someone calls super light now (like QTs), then if they're the big stack OTB, your marginal shoves are more likely to get called due to this opponent's tendency towards weak calling ranges.

SNG Early Stage Strategy – Makin’ it to the Middle Stage and Beyond

Additionally, tight play in the early stage will create a tight image, allowing for more stealing in the middle stages and on the bubble (OTB).  Fold equity is key at those times, and tight now = more fold equity later.

Sure, I said “tight is right” is the SNG strategy of choice, but there are spots where you can put the peddle to the metal and accumulate some chips.  When the opportunity is right, you've got to do this to make it to the middle stages with a stack that can punish the weak short stacks.

Premium hands like AA-QQ should be played for max value.  Don't overbet pre or post just b/c you're scared of a fish sucking out.  They don't give up easily when flopping a pair, so when they're dominated don't miss the opportunity to take them to value town.

When you've got the AQ on Qxxxx board, and you know your opponent can pay off three streets w/weaker, go for it.  If he's willing to call down, and only raises w/2p+, go for value now and ditch it when he shows aggression and you know you're beat.

SNG Early Stage Strategy – Hand History Reviews

Putting to use the info above in-game will help to increase the frequency with which you make it to the bubble and into the money, but spending some time dedicated to reviewing your early stage hand histories is key.

Play a session of SNG's and review each of their early stages the following day.  This will prolly lead to 12-15 hands per SNG to study, but you'll start to gain a sense for the weak ranges your opponents play and you'll see the value of a “tight is right” mentality.

Here's a Hand History Review video I made so you can see the types of things I do in my hand history reviews.

If after reading this post you adopt a “tight is right” strategy, please let me know how it goes for you in the comments below.  I'd love to hear how you've taken this info and adapted it into your game.

My next post in the SNG Strategy series is on the Middle Stages.

Until next time, study hard and make your next session the best one yet!


Sky Matsuhashi

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