This is a continuation of DavSimon’s Single Table Tournament (SnG) strategies. Click here to
read DavSimon’s Part 1: Sit-n-Go/Turbo Strategy Guide
or here to read Part 2: SNG Strategy Guide – 6 Max SNG & Other SNG’s.

Moving up in Levels

So you have had some success and your bankroll is growing at a steady rate….what do you do from here? Do you spend the money on that new TV you’ve had your eye on….hell no! Your bankroll is your ticket to earning more money. What you should do is move up in levels. What this means is step up to the next buy-in level of SnGs….if you are playing at the $5+.50 level, and you have a winning track record and a solid bankroll it is time to move up to the $10+1 level. The obvious reason for this is to make more money but more importantly to use you skill and time more efficiently. Most of us are doing this on a part time basis and the time we spend playing poker is limited…therefore the more effectively we can manage our time and increase out potential return directly translates into profits. If you are a student and have a lot of free time or play poker for your sole means of income managing your time effectively is just about as important as bankroll management and playing solid poker.

If you have accumulated a $350 bankroll, there is no reason for you to continue playing $10+1 SnGs….simply put; they are a waste of your time. Why not step up to the $20+2 level and double your potential return in the same amount of time? For the beginning player it is important to establish a baseline of success….essentially a winning track record before you step up to the next level. However the most important factors in this decision should be the size of your bankroll and confidence level in your play. One you have committed to stepping up you simply must stick to it and make it work. There is no reason to move back down again…and here are a few reasons why. Once I stepped up to $20 SnGs and adjusted to the play there (adapted my game) I found it extremely difficult to play $5 and $10 SnGs…so I gave them up. It is somewhat counter-intuitive, you would think someone who is successful at the $20 and even $50 SnG levels would be able to make a killing at the lower levels against less experienced players. Unfortunately this is not the case. Once you adapt and change your game to play against “better” players, it is difficult to readjust to a looser and often nonsensical play of the less experienced. Once you start to move up in levels you see that people are able to lay down average to good hands…they won’t hold on to A-Q or A-K trying to hit on the river calling big bets all the way. They won’t hang on to small and middle pocket pairs when the flop is all over cards. They begin to respect bets, raises…and playing in position…..K-T and Q-J no longer look like “great” hands that they just can’t fold.

Of course there are still players at the higher SnG levels that will make bone-headed plays, or will push all-in pre-flop with 9-9 on the 5th hand of the tourney and crack your aces….but this type of player is much less common at the $20, $30 & $50 level than it is at the $5-$10 level. I feel that you must find a level of play that suits your bankroll and your style……and play there. If you have proven to yourself that you can win at a higher level there really is no reason to step back down….why put yourself through that adjustment period again. People say…and I generally agree with them that there is not much difference in the level of difficulty or play between the $10 and $20 levels. Although there are subtle differences and nuances to each and every level of game that you pick up on and adapt to. Once you have adapted it can be difficult to move back…..some people are very good at transitioning between the games, and have no trouble stepping up and down….even switching between Ring, SnG, Limit and NL with very little variance – I am not one of those people. I tend to do better when I can remain focused on a particular style of play.

The one exception to moving back down in levels is if your bankroll dictates it. Essentially if you make the step up and have 15-20 buy-ins and find that your ITM% has significantly decreased and your bankroll is approaching 15 buy-ins for the lower level, then you should absolutely move back down to reduce the likelihood of going on tilt and doing further damage to your bankroll. If this happens you must take a serious look at your game and figure out where the holes are. Did you over-estimate your ability, are you uncomfortable with the higher stakes, are you simply having trouble adapting to the new style of play?

The last little bit of information I will leave you with is a snapshot of my personal experience that has some information you may want to consider when you move up….at minimum will illustrate that we all struggle in some fashion with the decision to move up.

Many people have been after me to step up my play…including my wife, and several friends here at FTR. Although I have the bankroll which would support $100+9 or even $200+15 I still play a large amount of my SnGs at the $20+2 and $30+3 levels. I have begun to play a significant number of SnGs at the $50+5 level recently and have found the transition to be fairly smooth. I can just hear the questions now…..Dave, you just told us that it is a waste of your time to be playing at a level that is below your bankroll, what gives? There are several factors that are making me hesitant at making the clean break and leaving $20 behind me forever. One factor is confidence….even when people tell you that you are skilled enough to play at a certain level, you have to believe it yourself or you will fail. Another factor is that $100 is real money to me, I make a good living and can afford to lose $20 or $30 at a time….for an extended period even, but $100 is a mental roadblock for me. As we all know, playing from a position of fear is at the least counter-productive and at worst a recipe for disaster. It seems silly that I would not bat an eye at losing five consecutive $20 SnGs, but I have difficulty coming to grips with a $100 single investment. And that is how I overcame my challenges with playing at the $50 level….I simply viewed it as an investment. It is an investment with a fair amount of risk, but it is not throwing money away either. The final factor is that I……like you have a limited time to play. When I get home from work I do my pre-game ritual and start to play but I only have 4-5 hours a night during the week Monday –Thursday to play poker. What it boils down to is it is much easier to jump right into two or three $20, $30 or $50 SnGs quickly as opposed to a $100 SnG. The tables fill up much more quickly and you do not waste time waiting around for the tournament to begin. Efficient time management….why wait 15-30 minutes for a $100 SnG table to fill up when I can play a $20 two table a $30 and a $50 right now? If you are playing poker for more than entertainment purposes you certainly need to manage you time efficiently and maximize your potential return. Do not let other people tell you when it is time to move up, when your bankroll can support the step….and you are not worried about the investment you will know when it is time. Remember that it is very satisfying to achieve an ambitious goal…plan and manage your time and money then commit yourself wholeheartedly.

Sit-n-Go Strategy Guide – Section 6 Summary

• Do not spend your bankroll

• Re-invest your winnings by stepping up a level

• Commit to that level and make the necessary adjustments to make it work

• Do not move backwards unless your bankroll dictates it

• Do as I say, not as I do

In this next section I will address the often asked question of; “When do you start loosening up your play?” The short and simple answer to the question is whenever I think it is appropriate. Right now you are thinking….ok, thanks for being a smartass…but that does not really tell us anything. Deciding to loosen your play generally is a “seat of the pants” type of decision that is derived from getting your reads and taking notes on a player, to overall table texture. You can loosen up your play against a single player or player type, or you can completely shift gears and start playing loose/aggressive against everyone at the whole table. In general I will wait until the blinds have reached at least the $50/$100 level to even consider broadening the spectrum of hands I will play…In the early levels of a SnG, my play could fairly accurately be characterized as weak/tight. I will limp very few hands and will let go of them easily if I feel that drawing is not worth it. Some people disagree with my style of play and I am fine with that…it works for me and I am very adept at changing gears when I need to. If you have trouble taking a step back and pulling yourself out of a “rut” and changing you play up radically this style will not work for you. In the early running I will not aggressively contest a pot unless I have large pocket pairs like A-A, K-K and Q-Q….or if I flop a set or strong straight/flush draw. To me the chips are far too valuable at this point to lose a significant portion of my stack drawing at a hand that I don’t really need to be in. As previously stated this is the time I sit back and watch what other people are doing. Does a particular person bluff a lot…do they like drawing at flushes with any two suited cards…do they over-bet vulnerable hands to protect them?

By playing this way I accomplish a few things; first I give myself time to get a few reads and decide what type of table this is going to be. Next I let the wild and crazy people go to work on each other and either build a stack or cripple themselves. Finally I portray an image of being weak/tight…usually the only people that notice this is the players directly to my right and left. This image can work to your advantage when you do have a big starting hand since they will either over raise in an attempt to steal your blinds or if you limp/min-raise they will re-raise your big hands trying to push you off. This works fairly well throughout the tournament because people want to believe their reads are correct and figure that one time you had a big hand and will try it again and again…..which means the next time they try it, you play it the same way you did previously – even if you are holding 7-2o. The third time you play with them be sure you have a very strong hand because you are getting called….they will not believe you any more. This is actually a good thing, it starts confusing them like I said they want to believe their reads are good but they can’t reconcile the read with how you are actually playing so it throws them off their game. Once you trapped them and have them somewhat cowed look for a good spot to steal a pot with complete junk. A good spot is at maximum 2 positions off the button when everyone has folded to you…bump it up enough to get the blinds to fold (4-6x BB) then show them the crap you just stole with. At your next opportunity pull the same move with a top notch hand except really over bet it….then show it again. What this does is causes confusion and even occasionally anger. They have no idea what cards you will play and for what amounts you will play them for. Once you have your opponents thoroughly confused….that is when you loosen up your play…this usually takes to the $75/$150 or $100/$200 for those of you that need a goal to shoot for.

However that is not a hard and fast rule, I have had to loosen my game up very early because everyone was playing ridiculously tight and the opportunity was there or even had to wait until the game got to the bubble at $250/$500 blinds because the remaining player could not be shaken and they were very tight/aggressive. If you can help it, do not significantly loosen your play until you are down to 5 players….short handed, hands like middle suited connector go up in value and hands like K-T become very playable.

Typically if I have any kind of medium to big stack I really turn it on when it gets down to four players – this is bubble play. It is at this point many people start “playing not to lose” instead of playing solid poker. Big stacks will try to eliminate a small stack given reasonable odds, but for the most part the middle and small stacks are playing to survive….and are willing to give up the blinds in order to survive. For solid bubble play, you simply have to be very aware of position at this point, do not limp a hand if the small stack it yet to act behind you unless you are willing to play for all their chips. Other than that…raise..raise..rasie, and put pressure on them all and build your stack.

Once you make it into the money it is time to consider shifting gears once again and possibly letting it all hang out…depending on what your stack is. Consider this…who has the most to lose once you are down to three? Big stack, middle stack or small stack. Well the small stack likely is just relieved he squeaked into the money and will be willing to gamble up to try to win…if not, oh well. The big stack, easily has the most to lose, he is ahead and wants to win….so you as the middle stack need to attack the big stack and avoid the small stack unless you have a very strong hand. The big stack will not want to play speculative hands with you as the middle stack since you can do significant damage to him…therefore he will more readily lay down mediocre cards. However if you do get a small PP or decent A-x do not be afraid to bet the exact amount the small stack has. For some reason betting the exact amount has a psychological effect on the small stack…essentially saying I have a very good hand and I know you have little to lose, but if you choose to play this with me it will be for all your chips. It seems like a much more direct personal attack than pushing all-in (less like a steal) and it prevents you from getting caught if the big stack actually has aces or kings this time. I know this all seems a bit basic, but my purpose for laying this out is to describe how many people play in these situations…so you can play them differently. Once you are ITM, no matter what your stack size it is time for you to attack relentlessly, do not be the weak big stack because you want to protect you lead…you have more chips than everyone else…use them. You have already gotten your buy-in plus a few dollars back, it is now time to play for first where the big ROI is. You would think by playing this way I would have a bunch of first place finishes and even more 3rd place finishes….but that is simply not the case. I have a ton of 1st place finishes and nearly as many 2nd place finishes and very few 3rd place finishes. When you have your opponent confused and perhaps a little fearful of you, they tend to make bad decisions or mistakes that you can take advantage of. Pay attention to what your table is doing and then loosen up your play when it looks most appropriate.

Sit-n-Go Strategy Guide – Section 7 Summary

• General time to loosen up

• Play in a way that sends “mixed messages”

• Be very aware of position when you do loosen up

• When you can, attack on the bubble

• Once ITM become ruthless

I don’t have a clear plan on where to go with this section, so I may do a little wandering around until I hit my stride. I would like to talk a little bit about a topic that has been covered by many people…Soupie, Radashack, Ripptyde. I think it is so very important to being consistently successful that I will rehash it yet again…..and that is “protecting your headspace”. Protecting your headspace covers a broad range of ideas, but mainly it refers to maintaining focus regardless of what is going on around you or at the table. Becoming very self-aware is an extraordinarily difficult thing to do…many people claim to be honest with themselves but few people truly are. They allow their hopes for who they want to be, or images they feel they are expected to portray interfere with real introspection, and personal critique/growth. Many people are overly harsh on themselves…calling themselves stupid….moronic, essentially saying they suck at poker because they are unable to separate the results or plays they make from who they truly are as people. There are people that take it to the other extreme as well. They will tell everyone they meet how great they are….the very best at whatever they are doing. I can accept that some of this is trying to portray a positive outlook or psyche themselves up but it is not a true representation of who they are. Does being overly modest or overly confident benefit you in any way? I would go so far as to say that it actually hurts you….in that it hinders your ability to realistically look at yourself and your play.

Listen, I am all for the power of positive thought….and I don’t like people who brag, so I am a modest person….however I struggle every single day with trying to honestly look at myself as a poker player. It is easy to say you are a bad player because you played poorly….it is even easier to say you are a great player because you place 1st in several SnGs in a row. What is difficult, is honestly looking at the reasons why you played poorly…..or you played well. Constantly analyzing your game and mental state is critical for your personal growth. I’m not sure how to teach you to become “honest” with yourself, or how to simply shrug off the inevitable bad beats you will take….I have just recently reached that point myself. All I can say is you absolutely need to find a way to manage your emotions, if you don’t you will never be a winning player. I don’t often speak in absolutes….since poker is so situational, but this is so important and true that I can say it with 100% certainty…..if you don’t control your emotions you will never be a winning player! Perhaps I am more philosophical or introspective than the average person…perhaps I have simply reached a level of experience or seen the required number of good and bad things happen that I am able to shrug off bad luck or bad beats and simply continue playing my game. I absolutely hate losing, and to say I don’t get upset over taking a bad beat or making a poor play would be a lie. However, what I have been able to do is let it roll off my back and continue to play largely unaffected. I will try to describe the feeling, because I don’t know if I am doing a good job explaining myself. I have reached a point where when I make a play I don’t hold my breath waiting for the inevitable beat on the river….I don’t expect to lose when I get my chips in with the best hand…if I in fact do take a beat, I try to figure out why it happened, but do my best to not feel anything about it. In a word, lately I have felt strong. This is not to say I am not hungry for the win or have somehow lost my competitive edge. I feel as though I am better at separating my results from my overall self image. If I lose I don’t feel like a loser, it is simply a cost of doing business. My happiness or mental stability does not hinge on winning that hand or even that tournament…I am happy to just be playing a game I love. Some days I will play better than others, some days cards will go my way more than they should….other days, things will just go very wrong, but in the end that is how poker works. If you aspire to be a long term success at this game you will have to find a way to come to terms with the ups and downs of the game…and this has to be one of the most challenging skills to develop. You can learn the rules and principles of the game, you can count outs and figure pot odds on the fly, you can make great reads and lay downs….but if you cannot control yourself then you will never “break through” and become a huge success. Does any of this make sense at all? What I am trying to express is such an ambiguous and vague concept it is hard to pin down.

I have seen so many people in a perpetual state of low-grade tilt…but how do you make someone who is in this state of perma-tilt see it? Well there is not an answer to that question, they simply have to break the cycle and recognize it in themselves or blow up to full on tilt and lose a whole lot of money in the process. My whole intention for broaching the subject is to make you aware of this so that if you are in this state or get into this state you have a chance to recognize it and are able to deal with it. Many people recommend taking a break from poker to gain distance and perspective (calm down) I will not criticize this, because I am aware that people are very different, and need to handle situations in a way they are comfortable with. I will say that I do not believe in “taking breaks” I do not believe that taking a break after tilting does you any good. Essentially you are trying to hide, or escape from the out of control feeling or poor decision making instead of dealing with the issue head-on. Sure, people take breaks…cool off after taking a beat, and come back feeling better, but what have they actually learned? Have they learned to control their emotions or separate their future decisions from their past results… all they have done is swept the emotions or bad play under the carpet. Sure you come back feeling better for a while, but I would be willing to wager that you will tilt much easier the second, third, fourth….or hundredth time. You have not developed the critical coping skills needed to play successful long term poker, all you have taught yourself is when things become difficult run away and avoid the problem….and I am here to tell you that is not the way to become a strong player.

Perhaps you can view it as working out….developing your muscles. If you do a bunch of push-up and wake up the next day and realize you are not buff….do you quit? Of course you don’t, everyone knows that it takes time and hard work to develop your muscles and change your body…and it is often a painful process. View developing mental toughness in a similar way…when you take a break you simply delay developing your capacity to cope with the stress….you are just missing your workout.

I view telling bad beat stories in a similar way. Many people feel that it is unhealthy to hold it in, and that they can move on if they just tell the story and purge the feeling. I can certainly identify with this way of thinking…I used to do it as well. What I have learned over time is that it is counter productive. When you give in to the urge to tell that bad beat story you have just lost control of your emotions…yes you let it out and feel better right now, but you have not developed any ability to emotionally deal with the disappointment, put it past you, get incrementally stronger and move on. I realize it is a controversial subject and there are going to be a whole bunch of people that disagree with me, I have no problem with people disagreeing with me….however I know I am right in this respect. Telling bad beat stories just emphasizes the negative aspects of the game and you condition yourself to have less tolerance for dealing with the challenges in the end. Just because you “know yourself” or know what you limits for adversity are does not mean you should not strive to grow or increase you capacity to deal with it. Believe or agree with me or not, but every single successful poker player I know has given up telling bad beat stories….why do you think that is?

Sit-n-Go Strategy Guide – Section 8 Summary

• Strive to be honest and accurate while assessing your play

• Find a way to manage your emotions

• Give yourself a reasonable amount of time to develop this skill

• For the love of poker, stop telling bad beat stories

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DavSimon’s guide to Sit-n-Go’s, Part 4

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