One of the biggest novelties that online poker brought to the game is the vast selection of game formats available to players. While live poker rooms usually only offer a handful of choices to the players, online poker sites offer a variety of stakes and game types to pick from.
SNG poker became one of the most popular variants in the early days of online games, as operators pushed this format heavily, and players quickly fell in love with it.
In this guide to poker SNGs, we will take a look at what is sit and go poker is, how to play it, and how to think about these games compared to MTTs, cash games, and other game formats.
If you are new to online poker and looking to specialize in one game type, keep reading and find out why SNG poker might be the right choice and how best to adapt to it.
The name sit and go (SNG, sit ‘n go) stands for a particular type of tournament poker that slightly differs from a classic tournament you might see in your local card room. Unlike such scheduled events, SNGs don't start at a particular time but kick off when enough players register for a game.
The number of players needed for an SNG poker game to start can be anywhere between two and several hundred, but in each case, the game will only start when enough players are registered.
A sit-and-go tournament usually has a fixed prize pool as well, although some poker sites have introduced "on demand" SNGs where the prize pool can grow when additional players register after the event starts.
A typical SNG features fairly fast blind levels and finishes in between one and two hours, making such games a lot more convenient for recreational players or part-time grinders.
Yet, SNGs retain the traits of tournament poker, which means you will still benefit from understanding concepts such as ICM but will not have to play a single game for countless hours only to receive a min-cash after a brutal bust out.
If you open the SNG lobby on any major online poker site, you will notice many different types of SNGs listed there.
For starters, you will find games at many buyin levels, ranging from micro stakes like $0.10 or $0.50 all the way up to $500 or $1,000 entry fee. Beyond that, SNGs can be played with different numbers of players, and you will be offered many options.
Some of the most popular single-table SNG variations include:
Big online poker sites like GGpoker also offer multi-table SNGs with multiple tables. These games can require anywhere between 18 and 360 players to start and offer much bigger prize pools.
Besides the number of players in the SNG, different games will feature different blind levels, with most sites typically offering hyper-turbo, turbo, normal, and slow blinds.
The main difference between these SNG types will be their duration, with hyper-turbo and turbo games finishing fast but allowing you to see fewer hands throughout the game.
As an SNG player, you will have an incredible amount of choice and will be able to pick and choose the games you enjoy playing and have the biggest edge in.
More often than not, new poker players tend to prefer playing poker SNGs to scheduled tournaments or cash games, and there are several reasons for that.
Compared to scheduled tournaments which can see thousands of players register to play, SNGs always have a limited number of players and tend to finish quite quickly. This is an ideal setting for a novice player just looking to play some poker but not necessarily spend the entire night grinding it out.
What's even more, there is less pressure in SNGs, as even the final table of a multi-table SNG will not have massive pay jumps as an MTT might have.
With this in mind, the skill required to play SNGs effectively is also lesser. Playing in SNGs, you will not be put to the test for a lot of money often, and your decisions will be relatively linear in value throughout the game.
In comparison to cash games, SNGs offer more short-term rewards, as winning a game will win you several buyins for a single table and up to a few dozen buyins for a multi-table SNG.
Furthermore, SNG poker is much easier to master, as shorter average stacks throughout the game allow for less maneuvering space and make every play simpler and clear cut.
While playing SNGs profitably is certainly not simple, it could be said that out of the three big poker variants, SNG poker requires a skill set that is easiest and fastest to learn, which makes it appealing to novice players who are looking for a game type where they can quickly hold their own against more experienced opponents.
If you want to become a sit-and-go poker player, you will have to learn how to track your progress and winnings and know whether you are winning or losing in a particular game.
It is important to understand that SNG poker is all about volume. The more games you can play, the better, provided you are playing at a high enough level to beat the games.
Due to their fast structure and limited winning potential in each game, SNGs are an extremely high variance game where even the best winning players cannot hope to win more than 10-15% of their buyin per game.
Winnings in SNG tournaments are measured by the same metric we use for scheduled tournaments: return on investment (ROI).
ROI is the percentage of your buyin you win every time you play a particular game. Calculating this stat is easy for the tournaments you have played already, but you should also be able to predict your future ROI once you play enough games.
For example, let’s imagine you are playing $10 single table SNGs. The first step will be to play at least a few hundred of these quick games to get a vague idea of how you are doing in them.
After 300 games, you have paid $3,000 in buyins and cashed out $3,300 in total. This would mean you are winning at a 10% ROI, as your $300 profit represents 10% of the overall money you bought in for.
The next thing you should do is calculate your win rate per game (in this case, it is $0.30) and then calculate how many SNGs you can play in one hour to get an idea of your hourly win rate.
Keep in mind that 300 SNGs are actually not nearly enough to calculate your actual win rate, and you should probably play at least a few thousand games before you can confidently determine your ROI.
What’s more, an ROI of 10% in most SNG games these days is considered very high, and if you are winning at 3 or 4%, you are doing more than the majority of the field.
If you have decided that SNGs are the game format you wish to try to master, you will need to learn quite a few skills and adapt to these tournaments before you can start winning.
SNG tournaments are very fast in their nature, and there are a few basic stages, with major adjustments needed in each phase.
We will briefly cover each phase of an SNG tournament now and give you some key pointers that you should consider the next time you play.
In its early stages, SNG tournaments resemble MTTs in many ways. You will start with 100 big blinds in your stack, often without an ante in play, and well away from the money.
In this stage, you will want to play fairly conservatively and straight-forward, as your incentive to steal the blinds is very small. In early positions, you should only open and play your strongest hands while slightly expanding your range as you get into the later positions.
You should be mindful of playing easily dominated hands like AJ, KQ, or JT against raises and mostly fold these hands when another player opens the pot.
Also, consider that the amount of chips you need to accumulate to win an SNG is much smaller than in an MTT, which means taking speculative lines and spots is less rewarding.
In the early stages, you will be playing tight and aggressively while hoping that a recreational player will make a big mistake and dump their chips your way to double you up.
As the blinds start to escalate and the ante kicks in, you will need to expand your ranges and start playing for the dead money more.
The chip stacks will quickly dwindle down to 20-30 big blinds on average, allowing you to take aggressive lines, such as shoving over open raises from late positions, and punish any potential limpers.
While you should be quite reluctant to bust out with a hand like AQ or TT in the early stages of an SNG, the middle stages make such confrontations nearly inevitable.
Learning how to play with short and middling stacks will be key for this part of the game, and this may just be the most difficult period of an SNG to navigate properly.
This brings us to the late-stage play, which usually starts around the bubble in single-table SNGs and on the final table of multi-table SNGs.
In the late stage, the average stack will be very short, and your only play will often be to move all-in or fold your cards, or call off an all-in from another player.
Fortunately, this type of short stack play is fairly easy to learn with some simple push/fold charts, which you should memorize by heart before you consider playing SNGs seriously.
You will also need to learn as much as possible about the independent chip model (ICM), a very useful concept in late-game situations and tournament final tables.
Combining proper short-stack play with the right ICM decisions will make you an SNG champion, but it may take many hours of practice before you get there.
Perhaps the biggest discouraging factor for many new SNG players is the extreme swings they often encounter in these games. Upon signing up with a new poker site, players often manage to build up a bit of a bankroll in a good run and expect this run to never stop.
However, SNGs are extremely swingy, and the variance in these games is massive, which means even the biggest winners go on huge losing streaks.
If you want to play SNGs for a living or grind them part-time, you must understand that long downswings that will cost you dozens of buyins are inevitable.
The real art is in recognizing when you are running badly and when you are playing badly and doing everything you can to always play proper poker despite the way cards may be falling.
There is no way to put everything you need to know about SNG poker into one article, which is why this guide serves only to point you in the right direction.
If you want to get serious about SNGs, we recommend signing up for a more extensive course, practicing both in play and in the lab, and dedicating time to learning how to play each stage of an SNG correctly.
With enough effort, you will be able to reach a point where you are steadily beating low to mid-stakes SNG games, and further progress will depend on your continued dedication to the game.
If you have the feeling you need to sharpen up your game then Pokercode is a great place to start. Sign up for a free account and set your first steps towards becoming a better poker player.
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