Why Poker Players are Like Taxi Drivers – And What You Should do About it

Poker players are like taxi drivers.

No, I don’t mean that card games make them fantasise about going on Travis Bickle-esque vigilante killing sprees.

Although, I’m sure everyone has wanted to take out the dealer from time to time 😉

But the main similarity between a lot of poker players and cabbies is that they get their volume backwards – they tend to work fewer hours when things are going well, and more hours when it’s just not their day.


The Cabbie Paradox

An interesting study considered the working habits of New York taxi drivers. I’ll spare you the dry academic text, and skip straight to the interesting bit:

Logic would suggest that those who can select their own working hours should take advantage of inclement weather and subway breakdowns etc by putting in as many hours as possible when demand is at its highest.

This would free them up to take more time off when the sun is shining and nobody is interested in hopping into a Joe Baxi.

However, logic is not always the guiding force that it should be.

You see, it turns out that cabbies are driven (NPI) by money, rather than volume. So when they hit their target figure for the day, they call it quits and go get a beer. Maximising their earn is not their priority – a pretty heinous error for those whose income is at the mercy of variance.

I’m going to call this the Cabbie Paradox.

As a poker coach, this sounds eerily familiar.

It is very common to find people who still define a session’s success by its results, rather than whether or not they hit their volume target.

The logic runs thus:

If I can make $1000 in 50 games, then surely I deserve to take the rest of the day off, rather than play the other 100 games that I had initially intended?

In a word


There was a reason why you hit $1000 in such a short time frame. Perhaps you ran well. Perhaps the games were softer than usual. Perhaps you were in a great state of flow.

Whatever the reason, you don’t know when the next time that you hit the perfect storm will be. It’s not a tap that you can switch on and off at will – regardless of how easy it feels when things are going your way.

Just as taxi drivers are prone to thinking that the procession of customers will never end when the rain is teeming down, poker players who are upswinging think that they can take it easy because it will always be this easy.

Poker Squirrel and the Nuts Joke

It stands to reason, then, that when things are going well, you should maximise it. You should be a poker squirrel, hoarding nuts away for when times are lean – as they inevitably will be, someday soon. If you have a volume goal (and you definitely should!) this is the time to smash through it. Maximise that upswing by putting in the hours on those days when the game feels easy!

If you do this, then the trade-off comes when it’s not going well. You can treat yourself to a shorter day, for the nuts have already been squirreled away in more bounteous times.

The Cabbie Paradox is one whose origins are easy to trace. For self-employed people like poker players and taxi drivers, one of the most appealing attributes is the way of life. Being able to pick your own hours is a giant two fingers to the 9-5 grind, and when things are going well it is hard to find the discipline to still hit volume.

After all – who amongst your friends can say that they woke up without an alarm clock, made four figures by lunch, then went to the zoo to drink from a hip flask and take funny selfies?

Getting Unstuck

On the other hand, when things aren’t going well, many players give themselves no option but to play until they get unstuck. This determination is bizarre for the following reasons:

1)      Most people don’t play their best when they’re getting crushed – so why choose this moment to play more?

2)      It’s a results-orientated, short-termist outlook. Day-to-day goals should be volume-based, for volume is entirely within your control and results are at the mercy of variance.

3)      Poker is about making good decisions. You may or may not get unstuck by busting past your volume target, but regardless of outcomes, doing so is likely to be a bad decision – something that should be anathema to a poker player.

Let’s Be Logical

It’s clear that there is a severe logic breakdown, when it is spelled out like this.  Unfortunately, the poker world is littered with people offering bad advice.

So next time you feel the urge to slack off and quit your session early, ask yourself this:

‘Am I behaving like a taxi driver?’


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Pump up the Volume with this Easy Tweak

Answer me this: are you interested in getting as much volume as possible into your poker grinding sessions, without having to resort to adding a ton of extra tables?

If the answer is no, then please feel free to unsubscribe or leave the site, because this one is a no-brainer 😉

You need volume. It is what makes all of the hard work that you did away from the tables so valuable.

Up That Hourly

Let me put it another way:

You may work super-hard on your poker EV calculations. You may spend hours every week running reports on Pokertracker 4, and running Sit N Go simulations through ICMizer.

You may subscribe to every magazine and read every poker book going. You may grind a lot of short sessions, to keep focused and to make sure that you’re always fresh.

Well guess what?

You’re still not maximising your earning hourly rate. You’re still not hitting the volume of which you are capable.

This is because these short sessions are terrible for your bottom line. ‘How so?’ I hear you ask. I’ll tell you right now.

Introducing Johanna – a Sit N Go Grinder

Let me introduce you to Johanna – a Sit N Go grinder like you and me. Johanna can play up to 12 tables profitably. Any more than this, and the quality of her decision-making suffers. So she asked me to help her increase her volume without adding more tables.

I asked Johanna what a typical grinding day for her constituted. This was her reply:

–          Hey Christy, I like to keep my sessions short because I’m worried about tilting and I hate to lose focus. Sometimes I can feel myself making bad decisions and I don’t really know how to stop it, so I find this easier to cope with when sessions are short. I guess I play about two-and-a-half hours in the morning, two-and-a-half hours in the afternoon, and sometimes another session in the evening when I can.

Talk about an easy fix for a coach! With one minor tweak, I was able to help Johanna to up her weekly games total by 10% without having to resort to drastic measures. And let me tell you, it is the easiest thing in the world to implement. You can do it too.

2.5 + 2.5 = 5?

I simply recommended that Johanna merge her morning session with her afternoon session. One five-hour session is worth a whole lot more than two 2.5 hour sessions.

This is because every session requires necessary downtime while tables are filling and the grinder is getting their software loaded up, etc. Similarly, it is not as though every table finishes at the same time, so time is lost at the end as twelve tables winds down to zero.

With the load up, and then the wind down, a 2.5 hour session would probably only feature a maximum of 120 minutes of 12-tabling, with Johanna spending at least 30 minutes playing below her capacity.

And for any serious grinder concerned with their hourly, this is akin to burning money.

However, when the session duration doubles to 5 hours, the down-time remains the same. Johanna still only drops below her maximum capacity for the same 30 minute duration. Therefore, she gets 270 minutes of max-capacity grinding in; a handy increase of 30 minutes when compared with two 2.5 hour sessions.

Gaining 10% Every Week

Needless to say, all these half-hours add up! Over the course of a week, Johanna gets the equivalent of an extra session in, simply by postponing her lunch break until later. Short evening sessions notwithstanding, the extra half-hour of quality grinding that Johanna can now manage every day equates to an extra 2.5 hours per week – or a 10% gain, just by managing her time a little better!

Next time, we will take a look at the other aspect of Johanna’s email – the dreaded T word!

Tilt is oft-experienced, and even oft-er misunderstood 😉 It deserves its own blog, so we will give it plenty of attention.

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How to Up Your Volume – While Improving Motivation

Staying on pace to hit long-term volume goals need not be a painful slog. I propose one adjustment that will revolutionise your approach. To do so, let me introduce you to Holly…

Volume. Turnover. Grinding. Call it what you like; the reality remains the same. The more Holly plays, the more she earns. Simple, right?

Indeed it is – at least in principle. However, the theory is all well and good, but it doesn’t necessary feel straightforward when Holly’s chips are being pushed towards her opponents for hours on end. It is thoroughly dis-spiriting.

She approached me looking for some advice as she knuckled down for her first year as a professional grinder. Reaching 2x Supernova was her goal– an ambitious, but certainly achievable, target for somebody who grinds the low-mid stakes SNGs.

However, she was being held back by an inability to pace herself.

Drifting Focus

In her determination to get ahead in her Supernova charge, Holly would play until her energy levels were at zero every session. Then when it came to firing up her next session, her motivation would be down, and her focus would drift off after an inordinately short amount of time.

Sometimes, the mere thought of loading up the Pokerstars client would fill her stomach with that awful sinking feeling.

The result? A disillusioned grinder. An all-or-nothing outlook. A tilty disposition. An unprofessional approach. Boom or bust. Repeat.

How could Holly re-model her grinding schedule, so that she would start every day feeling fresh and motivated?

There's a wrong way and a Hemingway

There’s a wrong way and a Hemingway

The New Approach – via Murakami and Hemingway

My advice to Holly was straightforward: in order to reach her goal, she needed to take a leaf out of the book of two literary greats.

Haruki Murakami’s outstanding meditation on running and life What I Talk About When I Talk About Running offers a fascinating insight into his writing method. This is something that he nabbed from an unknown scribbler who went by the name Ernest Hemingway. No, I’d never heard of him either.

‘I stop everyday right at the point where I feel I can write more. Do that, and the next day’s work goes surprisingly smoothly’ (p.5).

For Murakami and Hemingway, a long-term project like writing a novel required a steady pace and perpetual motivation. They did not want their brain to associate their craft with suffering.

Writing until they fell asleep at the desk was a sure-fire way to decrease motivation for the next day. Indeed, it would feel like a mission just to pick up the pen, after such a draining session. So they would quit, right when it felt like they had a little left in them.

Sound Familiar?

The Murakami method translates to poker beautifully. Ending each session on a high, with a bit of fuel left in the tank, keeps motivation up and dodges that nasty hidden danger ego depletion (the topic of an upcoming blog).

So the first step that I recommend when it comes to hitting long-term poker goals is to actively ignore the popular myth that you should ‘grind until you can grind no more’.

The reality is that playing until you flat-out can’t take any more is likely to hinder your progress. If you are mentally and physically exhausted, then sustaining your motivation across time will become incredibly difficult. In short: the likelihood of burn-out is massively increased.

Nailing Down a Plan

When I asked Holly how many games she could manage in a day, nailing down a plan became easy. She replied ‘225 at the absolute most’. So we knocked about 10% off, settling on 205 per day (which would get her to Supernova x2 comfortably, playing 5 days per week).

This would ensure that she finished every day happy with her volume, but feeling that she was capable of more. That final, painful, stretch from game 206-225 was simply chopped off.

The result? Holly became eager to log in the following day. Poker was no longer something that she associated with exhaustion; every day, she would end her session with something left in the tank and a desire to hit the tables again to keep her Supernova hunt on track.

Here’s the Best Bit

Best of all, her results improved too! No longer were the final 20 games a race to the finish, in order to tick another day off the list. Instead, Holly found herself playing a sharper, more focused A-game for longer.

The Problem with Volume

I sometimes fear that the volume-centric poker outlook is counter-productive. Some coaches and players would have you believe that stopping short of maximum volume every single day is absolutely scandalous. I disagree, and here’s why:

It is terrible to play 500 games daily for a month or two, and then to burn out and start tilting (or even quit!).

On the other hand, the slow-and-steady method has four clear advantages:

a) A more measured pace is less likely to make your brain associate poker with exhaustion, meaning that those I-just-can’t-face-it days are kept at bay,

b) Focus is stronger, and A-game is maintained,

c) Rather than focusing on just…getting…through…..this….never-……ending…….session, which is an extremely short-termist outlook, this approach keeps the grinder focused on the long-term goal of playing the same volume daily. Once the habit is formed, it is easier to adhere to,

d) Motivation is sustained when goals are met. For Holly, playing 205 games every day is a lot more achievable than playing 225 games most days. Therefore, she hits her target more frequently, perpetuating the feel-good and motivation.

Every day is a small victory, as she repeatedly hits her volume goal.

These small adjustments can be the difference between success and failure over the long-term. They have certainly helped Holly develop a strong grinding routine.

Now it’s your turn. Tell me your grinding routine, and perhaps I’ll be able to help you optimise it. And if you think that this article could help people to reach their long-term poker goals, give it a share on Twitter or Facebook and spread the word!

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Do You Have This Costly Leak? Introducing the Diamond Star Effect

I was coaching an excellent player this morning, when an interesting scenario arose. We were reviewing a Sit N Go that he had played, in which he reached Heads-Up against a guy who is generally considered the best player in those games.

A particularly strange hand saw villain take an extremely non-standard line, which left my student flummoxed.

What was his thought process? I encouraged my student to talk the hand out from the start. Several different possible reasons for villain’s strange decision-making in the hand were discussed. None seemed credible.

‘Why did he decide to make that move?’ asked my student, obsessed with unravelling the truth: ‘he must have had a reason’.

Here’s the thing. Villain did have a reason. It’s just that the reason was not what my student anticipated.

Villain screwed up.

Nothing simpler, nothing more complicated. He misplayed the hand. He lost track of where he was, of the flow of the hand – a side-effect of multi-tabling. His move made no logical sense, because there was no logic to it.

My student had made the cardinal error of associating villain’s undoubted technical quality with infallibility. Of considering an elite SNG player to be superhuman and incapable of error. His reason was understandable, if misguided.

To understand this, you must appreciate that villain is something of a legend in the low-midstakes games; a regular leaderboard-topper, who plays more tables with a better winrate than anyone at those stakes.

The Halo Effect is when a Person A’s judgment of Person B’s character is skewed by their overall impression of Person B. For example, it is common for us to think a movie star a cool person because of a role that they played. Or that a politician is a good decision maker because they dress well and have a strong physical presence.

This was its poker equivalent: the Diamond Star effect.

On Sharkscope, Diamond Stars denote the top players at each limit. Villain possesses several Diamond Stars. However, that does not mean that he makes the optimal decision at all times.

It takes him a few days to play one thousand games; errors are guaranteed. My student gave too much respect to villain’s reputation, and attributed merit where none was due.

We see this in football. In Scotland, Celtic rarely get beat at home, regardless of how poorly they play. They have a bigger budget and better players; however, this is not the sole reason for their imperious home form. Their apparent invincibility is a daily topic in the red-tops and on the sports shows. Players at ‘lesser’ clubs are treated as irrelevant by the media, whereas Celtic’s players are rated as demi-Gods. When they take to the turf, the visitors afford their exalted opponents too much respect, and might as well be 1-0 down by kick-off.

Deference does not win battles. Opposition that you consider to be of superior ability can be overcome by playing them, not their reputation. If you are a profitable, hard-working player, then you must trust your decision-making and problem-solving skills, regardless of your opponent.

Sure, the best players make fewer mistakes than most; however, you can be absolutely certain that these do occur on occasion.

So if it looks like a mistake, and it smells like a mistake, then it probably is a mistake. The esteem in which my student held his opponent determined his reaction, despite the evidence that suggested that villain simply misplayed the hand.

How often do you fall into the trap of thinking that excellent players always play every hand optimally? I know that I have made this mistake before, and I would bet that I will make similar errors in logic in the future. However, the first step towards eliminating a leak is to recognise it.

Christy Keenan is a poker coach, writer, and player. He has a Master’s Degree in Sport Psychology, and specialises in decision-making in competition.

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Reflections on the Great Sport-Betting Experiment – The First Bet

My bets:

Sunderland 0 – 2 Man Utd (picked due to statistical analysis)
Sunderland 1 – 3 Man Utd (picked due to the value of 16/1)
Sunderland vs Man Utd – below 2.5 goals (successful)

Well, just as I wouldn’t have claimed a huge success had Man U scored a second, I’m not too disheartened by the outcome of my first betting challenge. I am happy with the strategy employed in making my selections (based solely on the stats; no credence was given to my pre-existing biases and beliefs about the respective strength of the squads).

For those who haven’t seen my betting strategy videos, I collated and analysed the following stats: recent form (home form for Sunderland, away form for Man U); attacking prowess, defensive strength, and league standing. It became apparent that Sunderland score few and concede few at home, and that Man U almost always win away from home without trouncing the opposition. I settled on 2-0 Man U, which unfortunately did not come to pass, although I am pleased that my analysis yielded a similar outcome to the real one.

Onwards and upwards! I am taking suggestions as to my second betting challenge. Please let me know if there’s an EPL match that you would like for me to analyse and predict.

Many thanks,


A Sport Betting Challenge!

Never one to back down from a good challenge, on Saturday I will make my first sports bet since 2010, and second since 2006. Here are the details:

Can my online poker background and Sport Psychology MSc be utilised in the world of sport betting? Can I successfully analyse the upcoming Man U – Sunderland game, and predict its outcome?

Keep your eye on this page for a short strategy video detailing the challenge I face, and the thought process behind my decision-making.

Participants Wanted for Poker Study: 6-max SNGs

As some of you might be aware, I am currently undertaking a Master’s degree in Sport Psychology. My dissertation is going to be on decision-making in poker. If you meet the following criteria and would be interested in taking part (no fee for participation I’m afraid, but it’s going to be a fun study!) please PM me at Drag the Bar, email poker@christykeenan.com, or add me on Skype (search ‘casy151’)

*Winning 6max SNG player with an ROI not more than 5%

*Willing to find an hour or so to undertake the study in the next month

The Ambition Fallacy: Ruining Scottish Football

In football, momentum is critical. Strikers in the goalscoring habit make it look easy, and every chance is a goal waiting to happen. This is generally because on the pitch, those playing ‘in the moment’ are not thinking about the mechanics of what they are doing; they are too busy banging the ball into the net to care.

Making it look so care-free and natural actually requires a perfect storm of contributing factors. Firstly, a trustworthy support network is a must. The coaches who have brought the player through the ranks are usually first on the list. Family and childhood friends are vital too, for no youngster should be defined entirely by their occupation. This is why so many footballers marry and start families at such a young age.

Moving around the country (or the world) in such a stressful occupation can be too much to handle for most young, single, men. Having a reliable support network has two main benefits: it reduces the effects of stress, and, crucially, it results in potentially stressful situations being perceived as less-stressful. With a high stress threshold, a youngster can play without fear.

Promising Young Scott Allan

Promising Young Scott Allan

A promising player who bursts into the first-team, playing as if he doesn’t have a care in the world, has this impact facilitated by the love and support of those around him (keeping the pressure off his shoulders) far more than the clichéd and misleading ‘natural talent’ myth.

In short, this is why making a big move at a young age can stymie a career. A youngster’s agent and the media will perpetuate the lie that it is the player’s talent that is responsible for his career, as if talent is this one, distinct and free-standing attribute that certain people are blessed with.

The reality is far more prosaic, will sell fewer papers, and results in fewer signing-on commissions for the agent. Talent is a construct, propped up support and hard work. Think of talent like it’s the peak of a pyramid, with support and hard work as the bottom corners. Without these two crucial components providing the frame, ‘talent’ is unable to stay at the top.

The agent is focused on his commission, the media are focused on their headlines. Nobody stops to think about what is best for the youngster’s development, the fact that ‘talent’ unsupported is not truly talent: it’s potential. And it will go unfulfilled if the youngster is removed from a comforting, nurturing environment, and deposited into a bigger pond with plenty of bigger fish with better support networks already in place.

A promising teenager is not an adult; no matter their physical dimensions or performances on the park, they are still immature. They require a strong support system and will produce their best performances when they feel loved and pressure-free.

Forget what the press will say; rejecting bigger transfers at a young age is actually the most ambitious decision that a footballer can make. It requires self-awareness and self-assuredness that are traits synonymous with maturity, which is why the youngster is susceptible to making impetuous, career-harming, decisions.

The ability to say ‘the best thing for me right now is not money – after all, I already have more than I need – it is regular first-team football in a place where I am happy and well-supported by those around me. In a couple of years I will be more experienced and more mature, and ready to make a big move that befits my ability’ requires huge ambition. It shows a belief in their own career trajectory, and a respect for the importance of hard work and a reliable support system.

Making a big move at too young an age, away from their familiar surroundings, friends and family, will likely create an imbalance in the pyramid and result in ‘talent’ giving way to ‘potential’. A truly ambitious player sees where their talent can take them, and respects that the factors required to take them there cannot often be artificially manufactured somewhere else.

Of course, the irony is that a player mature enough to make the decision to reject the transfer may well be mature enough to handle the move. But that’s Scottish football; a sport filled with bad advice and short-termist outlooks. If we are not careful, we are going to have an entire generation of burnt-out, disillusioned youngsters too busy following bad advice to remember that this game is supposed to be fun. And where’s the ambition in that?

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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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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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