The Strategy of 18-Man SNGs (pt 2)

18 Man Strategy – Part Two

Last month we took a look at the early game strategy of 18-man Sit N Gos. With a very limited amount of time until the push-or-pass blind levels come into effect (BB 100 and higher), there is an onus on the good players at the table to accumulate chips in the early stages.

As such, starting hand requirements can be lowered if there is reason to believe that Hero’s post-flop edge will counterbalance his hand’s weakness. In other words, the cards matter less than position when facing a fish. With the bubble factor being so low (the further from the bubble, the lower the bubble factor), then risks can and must be taken in order to give yourself a competitive stack at the endgame.

Guess what the biggest mistake commonly made at the final table is? I’ll give you a clue: it’s exactly the same as the biggest mistake commonly made in the early game. That’s right; forget what you think you know – tight is WRONG!

Most players instinctively nit up when short or medium-stacked as the bubble approaches. Their logic, which runs along the lines of ‘I’ve invested too much time and concentration in this tournament in order to bust without any cash’ is fundamentally flawed. I’m going to show you the numbers in order to explain why.

Let’s take an 18-man SNG on Pokerstars. Entry costs $13.89 + $1.11, with prizes of $100, $75, $50 and $25 for the top four finishers. A lot of novice/intermediate players make the mistake of looking at the prizepool and deducing that a first-place finish is 4x as valuable as finishing fourth. However, this is not the case.

Let’s compare them when deducting the entry fee: $100 minus the $15 entry plus rake = $85 profit. $25 for fourth places equates to a measly $10 profit once the same $15 is subtracted. Put simply, one first-place finish is worth a monstrous eight-and-a-half fourth-place finishes!

So how does this relate to optimal bubble strategy? Well, in short, you should do everything within your power to ensure that you grow your stack on the bubble, rather than folding your way to a puny cash. The bubble must be treated like it’s an old friend; you have been here before and know how to cope with its idiosyncrasies.

Too many players fear the bubble and risk-aversion takes over. Of course, I’m not advocating ‘any-two-will-do’ recklessness; however, it is absolutely vital to identify the players who are only interested in locking up a cash and then you must bully them mercilessly.

Remember that, when the bubble period commences, the blinds are normally monstrous and the presence of antes are a double-whammy. Any opportunity to steal and propel yourself towards the chip-lead must be grasped with both hands.

Remember the maxim of Sit N Gos: shove wide, call tight. Fold equity is absolutely crucial; calling an all-in shove involves paying an enormous ICM tax unless the caller has a monster stack, so it is imperative to put your opponents to a tough decision.

The vast majority of the time, all but the LAGgiest of villains will err on the side of caution. Let’s take a look at two examples from a tournament recently played by one of my students:


In the early stages, risks should be taken in order to grow your chipstack and apply pressure on your opponents. Here, Luis has a tough decision when faced with a mini 3-bet. Reasoning that a higher pocket pair would probably 3-bet larger in order to juice the pot pre-flop, he decides to 4-bet all-in with Jacks for value. Villain’s call with pocket fives is consistent with the loose/passive play commonly found in lower stakes tournaments. However, that’s not Luis’s concern and he is happy to gain a full double-up with his Jacks. Now he is handily positioned to start pressurising the rest of the table.


Luis has successfully built upon his early double-up and approaches the critical bubble passage with a commanding chip-lead. He puts his chips to full effect by whaling on his opponents, making a number of loose open-shoves safe in the knowledge that, with such enormous ICM implications, his opponents will be (correctly) calling very tight. On the bubble, he picks up the 725 in blinds and antes four times in six hands, positioning himself handily to take down the whole tournament, rather than being content in waiting out the bursting of the bubble.

Luis ended up taking down this particular Sit N Go, and in reviewing his tournament afterwards I was proud to see the number of occasions in which he didn’t allow his terrible cards to dictate his decision-making. Recognising a good shove spot has little to do with your actual holding, and has everything to do with your fold equity. Weak players wait for others to do the dirty work in popping the bubble for them. Good players, however, see the bubble for what it truly is: an opportunity to set oneself up for winning the tournament.

SIDEBAR: Folding Can be OK!

Of course, we can’t always be reaching for the stars. Sometimes we will be in the gutter, short-stacked and scrapping to secure a min-cash. This is the nature of the Sit N Go; you can’t win them all, but you can do everything in your power to make the optimal play at any given moment.

When you are micro-stacked and your tournament EV is low, it can be strategically sound to attempt to fold your way into the money. Any return on your investment is an achievement in itself, but it is criminal to fold away into a position where you are rapidly blinding out. In Sit N Gos, fold equity is everything; preserving it by making some light shoves has to be done on occasion. And remember, you’re allowed to suck out sometimes too!

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