The Strategy of 18-Man SNGs (pt 1)

***Here is a 2-part article I wrote last year for Poker: The Magazine ***


18man Sit N Gos are hugely profitable for two main reasons: with more entrants than their 9man or 6max counterparts and fewer regs, there is obviously more likelihood of finding a soft game. When this simple truth is coupled with the fact that there are some pretty basic flaws in the accepted optimal strategy, it is not difficult to see why the best regs at even the lowest stakes are making some serious coin.

In 6max SNGs, with two players getting paid and a pretty chunky payout structure of 65% for first place, 35% for second, each player’s tournament life is extremely valuable. Even in level one, with one-third of the entrants reaching the money, the bubble is not far away. Let’s contrast this with the payout structure of an 18man SNG:

Firstly, the payout is more gradual With four players making the money, it goes up incrementally from 10% of the prize pool for fourth place to 40% for first place. At no stage is there a payout leap as great as with a 6max or 9man money bubble. As such, locking up a min-cash (or, conversely, being the bubble boy) is not as significant in terms of prize pool equity as in one-table SNGs.

Of course, in actual dollar terms, the larger the field, the bigger the prizepool. Therefore, making the money consistently is fundamental to your bottom line. However, with only 22% of the field cashing in an 18man SNG and a larger proportion of weak opponents, the best regs will be on the front foot from the first level.

I advocate taking risks in the early stages, with the intention of building a formidable stack right from the start. The positive impact of this is three-fold. Firstly, achieving an early double-up affords you a comfortable buffer from elimination.

If you have your opponents out-chipped, then you cannot be eliminated in a single hand. Your opponent’s tournament life is at risk every time he plays a pot with you, but yours is not. As such, you generate more fold equity against those who fear being KOd.

Secondly, as mentioned, it is vital that you claim the weak players’ chips before your tough opponents do. Simply put, the best regs have a higher expectation in the tournament than the fish.

They will, on average, reach the end-game more frequently. If your opponent is a big donator in the games, then his chips are up for grabs. He will enter too many pots, play too passively, and spew off chips postflop with hands like Top Pair, Mediocre Kicker.

Of course, the only way to truly exploit his postflop deficiencies is to get into pots with him. Look to isolate his open-limps, and play liberally when in position. There is a difference between widening your range in order to exploit a weak opponent, and sheer recklessness.

You will have to have some deft post-flop manoeuvres in your arsenal, but the only way to develop a feel for this is by immersing yourself in post-flop decision-making. Remember that the deeper-stacked you are post-flop, the more pronounced your edge will be. This is because there is an increased likelihood that your opponent will have to make decisions on all three streets. More decision-making for your opponent = more potential mistakes for him to make. More mistakes from him = more money for you!

The third compelling reason why you should be inclined to take risks in the early stages is that accumulating a big stack will not just prevent your tough opponents from doing so, it will allow you to whale on them.

You will be able to wield your big stack; the good regs will know that their expectation in the tournament is high, and will be disinclined to tangle with another good player who has them out-chipped.

Their blinds will become ripe for your plundering, and their raises prime opportunities to re-steal. So not only will you accumulated a healthy stack to take into the end-game, but you will also be constantly increasing the disparity between yourself and the other good players by nicking away at their chips.

In summary; it is my opinion that too many good players approach the early stages of an 18man SNG with chip conservation, rather than chip accumulation, on their mind. They simply want to reach the push-heavy middle stages with a playable stack in order to exploit the holes in the fishes’ shoving habits. The flaw in this theory is that there is no guarantee that the soft money in the field will still be in their possession! If a good opponent gets to the weak player’s chips before you do, then you can guarantee that you will have a far trickier mission claiming those chips from him. His mistakes will be fewer and further between, and he will be able to whale on you with impunity. So don’t be afraid to get involved in some marginal spots in the early stages with spewy opponents. You do not have an infinite window to lay claim to their stacks, so you might as well get cracking right from the start.

SIDEBAR: The following hand demonstrates the need to trust your reads on a loose, aggressive opponent. Seeing that he has somewhat fishy stats, I elect to isolate in position holding AQ. The dry flop hits a part of his limp-call range (which I would anticipate to be 22-TT, A2s-AJo, and some general Broadway-type combinations such as J10, KQ etc), but there is no reason to do anything other than fire out a continuation bet, which Villain calls.

When he check-raises the turn, it would be easy to fold in the face of his apparent strength; after all, he is repping AJ, JJ or 3-X for flopped trips and my AQ would be very close to drawing dead. However, his stats indicate that he folds to continuation bets only 50% of the time. Therefore, I am happy to call his bluff and take it to showdown on the river, safe in the knowledge that I’m very unlikely to get called by worse and so I have received maximum value for my one-pair hand.

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