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Sit and Go Strategy - Getting Started in Sit and Go Tournaments Part 1

Part 1 of a guide describing basic strategy for online sit and go (SNG) single table poker tournaments. This article covers correct poker strategy for the first three rounds of the tournament.

Sit and go tournaments are a great way for new players to get into online poker. At many online sites one can buy in for $3 or less and be part of a tournament that offers up to an hour of poker action. But it isn't the low cost that makes these tournaments so suitable for those new to poker so much as the fact that they are relatively simple to play. While mastering the intricacies of full stack no limit hold'em could take a lifetime to master, anyone can learn to beat the lowest stakes sit and go tournaments in a few days. This article describes a basic strategy for the first three blind levels that, while not perfect, will leave you on at least an even playing ground with the type of players who frequent SNG tournaments at these stakes.

Basically, the correct strategy at the beginning of these is to play tight, or relatively few hands. The main reason you need to play tight is to avoid busting out of the tournament. In a cash game, you can reload, but here in a SNG, losing your stack means you lose any claim you had to part of the prize pool. There is something called the Gap Concept which we will discuss here in further articles, but for now, just consider the fact that if you simply make it to second place without gaining a single chip, you will win 3 buyins, only two less than winning all the chips. So obviously there is something behind surviving to the end that discourages taking big risks.

Playing tight means folding over 90% of your hands in the first three rounds. If this sounds boring, well, it is, but keep in mind that the biggest sit and go winners at the highest stakes only play slightly more hands than this, perhaps 15% or so. From early and middle position (first five positions from first to act) you should fold everything but AK and a pair of jacks or better. When you do play one of these hands, raise to four times the big blind. In late position, if it has not been raised, you can add AQ and other pairs, but simply call the big blind with these hands. Finally, if at any point in the early rounds you find yourself with less than 20 times the big blind, fold the AQ and other pairs.

If facing a reraise to your initial raise with those hands, regardless of size, fold JJ and AK and push all in with queens or better. JJ and AK would be good enough to play with these stacks in a cash game, but in a sit and go, the risk of busting for all your chips is too great even if you are a slight favorite. With the AQ and other pairs if you are raised after you limped, fold. And if it has been raised once before you, push all in with AK and queens or better, but fold all other hands.

After the flop evaluate the situation. If you have top pair/an overpair or better against any number of opponents, bet the size of the pot and continue betting that size until the chips in the middle. If you are against one opponent, bet the size of the pot as a bluff regardless of whether you have anything or not one time. If called, or if you are against two or more opponents after your raise, check and fold on subsequent streets unless the opponent only makes a minimum size bet. Finally, if you got to see the flop for free in the big blind, check and fold on the flop unless you flop top pair top kicker or better, in which case you should bet the pot and continue doing so unless the board devalues your hand.

This is admittedly an extremely simplistic strategy, but it is actually not too far from correct early game play in sit and go tournaments at any stakes. Most of the positive expectation is in these bread and butter big handsArticle Search, since there is less incentive to push with marginal hands in this type of structure. In fact it will give you a substantial edge against most of your opponents who play loosely and badly. In the next article we will describe middle game and bubble play.

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Brian Stubiak is an experimental physicist and long-time winner at online Texas Hold'em tournaments. In his spare time he enjoys golf, watching sports, especially his beloved Cubs, and gambling in all its forms. To learn more about texas hold'em and read many articles just like this one, go to my strategy articles blog at

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