Today's article is about tournaments with playing fields of 45 to 180 players, the so-called Multi Table Tournament Sit & Go's (MTT SnGs). These sorts of tournaments are especially appealing to players with smaller bankrolls. Therefore it is possible to obtain a high Return on Investment (ROI) in these tournaments because you won't find many regulars here who really understand the game. On the higher limits you have the problem that you usually have to wait very long before one of these tournaments is filled up. This article is based on my experiences with tournaments up to a buy-in of $11+$1 on PokerStars.
I strongly recommend to play with statistics, by using Hold'em Manager for example. Especially when playing more tables at the same time it is almost impossible to keep track of how aggressive everyone at your table is. In these tournaments it is very important that you can assess what hands an opponent plays before the flop is dealt. Programs like Hold'em Manager offer you statistics like vpip (voluntarily put in pot), pfr (pre-flop raise) and hands, or in other words; the percentage of hands an opponent plays pre-flop, the number of hands a player raises pre-flop and the total number of played hands. Make sure, however, to base your information on a sufficient number of hands and also take into account the blind levels in relation to the player's stacks. More about this later.
Just like many other tournaments, you can split up MTT SnGs into different phases:
- the early stage: blind levels 10/20 up to 25/50
- the middle stage; all hands until you reach the bubble-phase
- the final stage; from after the bubble phase until the tournament is over
The early stage
During the first couple of blind levels of a Sit & Go you should start off tight and only play the strongest hands. The blinds are not yet worth the risk. If, for example, you play no hands during the first couple of levels and then pick up the blinds one time in a later level, you will already be back to your starting stack. If you double up once, you already have an average stack again.
Here is an overview of hands with which you can raise or limp pre-flop:
- Early position: raise AQ+, TT+ and limp 22+
- Middle position: raise AJ+, ATs+, 66+ and limp 22+
- Late position: raise ATo+, A8s+, KQo+, KJs+, 22+ and don't limp
Limping low pocket pairs is only possible if your table is not very aggressive pre-flop, because you will often have to fold to a large raise as you can no longer call for setvalue. Most of the time this is not that much of a problem because players often raise to small and allow you to still call for setvalue. Feel free to adjust these raise-ranges if you think that there is more value in raising more hands or if you feel that you get too many callers when raising with a medium pocket pairs. Statistics can help you in assessing these kinds of aspects.
Raises should be around 4xbb in early position and 3xbb in other positions. If players in front of you have limped, you will have raise tighter. In that case a raise should be 4xbb + 1xbb for every limper. As you can see in the overview, we hardly ever limp ourselves. We just want to avoid unpleasant situations where we are forced to make difficult decisions. Sometimes you can limp if you get the right odds for it, for example if half the table has limped in and you're sitting in the small blind.
In the turbo-format of these MTT SnGs you will not always get dealt the hands you are hoping for. You will often have to be happy with just a few premiums and then you just have to hope that you get paid off. You don't have to be scared to get your money in with QQ (or AK) in the early stages, even though you are still sitting relatively deep at that point. Experience teaches us that, often enough, players will want to go all-in with medium pocket pairs or weaker aces. With premiums like QQ+ you just need to try to get your money into the middle as fast as possible by raising and re-raising. With AK you can also choose to just flatcall to see what the flop brings. When sitting deep you don't necessarily want a coinflip situation with AK against a pair. Your edge is too big for this.
When seeing a flop heads-up you can often place a continuation bet (c-bet) to pick up the pot. Only do this if the board is dry or you hit your hand on the flop. If you see a flop with three or more players, you should only c-bet the flop if you hit your hand. On a dry board, a c-bet should be around 50%-65% of the pot and 80%-100% on a dangerous board with many draws.
Finally, you just need to make good valuebets with your strong hands during the early stage. Try to make your bets large enough to make your opponent committed on the river because the pot is so big. Valuebets should be between 65% to 100% of the pot, depending on the strength of your hand and how dangerous the board is.
The middle stage
This is the phase where you can really make the difference. About 40% of the field has already been eliminated at this point. Especially in the turbo-format of these MTT SnGs it's a question of learning how to play push/fold. The average stacks at this stage are very small in relation to the blinds, and as a result you will no longer be able to look at flops. Almost every decision you make is between pushing or folding. The nice thing about this phase is that even the regulars often miss out on value in many situations. Once you master the game you will have a big edge on the majority of your opponents.
During the beginning of this phase you will often have a similar stack as the one you had at the start of the tournament. Now that the blinds have increased it is time to change something about that. What you always need to focus on before every decision is the relation between your stack and the starting-pot. The starting-pot is equal to the value of the big blind, the small blind and the antes. This value is also referred to as the M-value of your stack. If your stack is 1,125 and the blinds are 75/150, then your M is equal to 5. Many players don't consider this M-value but focus on the number of big blinds that they have left. The disadvantage of this is that you don't consider the antes in your calculation. Now I am not saying that it is wrong to calculate in blinds; its more a matter of taste.
So how do you know when to start playing push/fold? You need to start playing push/fold at the moment when the effective stacks of all players in the hand are so small that you can no longer fold after a pre-flop 3-bet because of the odds or if you can no longer make a c-bet without being committed. This is when the M of many of the remaining players has fallen below 10. Especially in turbos this will almost always be the case and therefore the middle stage is usually a question of pushing or folding.
As long as you are not close to the money yet, you can make all your decisions based on odds. Every choice you have in a hand has a certain chipsEV (cEV) that tells you whether you will win or lose chips in the long run with this move. Once you get close to the money, you will also have to take the dollarEV ($EV) into consideration. This takes the payouts into account and the equity you have in every moment of the tournament. Your equity is your expected win in dollars in every moment of the tournament. During the middle stage your cEV is almost equal to your $EV. More about this later when we discuss the final stage.
Another important concept during this phase of the tournament is fold equity (FE). Fold equity is the equity you expect to win after a push. In this part of the tournament that comes down to the number of chips you expect to win after a push because your opponents fold. In formula-form this looks like this: fold equity= (chance that other players in the hand fold)*(number of chips you win if the other players fold). The later you have to make a decision, the fewer players you will have behind you that have to make a decision, and therefore, the more folds you are likely to get. You therefore have more fold equity if you push in later positions.
Its very hard to describe how to best play push/fold. An example-hand says more than ten sentences and a played tournament says more than ten example-hands. It is therefore really a question of playing a lot in order to improve your push/fold game. With the help of SnG Wizard you can easily assess how good your push/fold game was after your session. But there are some basic rules of thumb for situations that occur more frequently. These rules of thumb are rough estimates; it could be that the ranges listed are too tight or too loose, depending on the skill level and the ranges of your opponent. In this examples we are always assuming that all players have folded around to you.
When in the SB you can shove pretty much any2 cards in these tournaments from the time that the effective stack is around eight times the pot. In other words, the effective stack has an M of 8. If you have more than that you need to ask yourself how lightly villain will call you. Often you will have to shove a little less. If both of you still have about ten times the pot in front of you, you could even still see a flop and just raise.
On the button you can shove (pretty much) any hand with an M between 3 and 7 and opponents with a similar stacks. You still have a lot of fold equity. If you get called you still have a chance to double up by winning the all-in. This makes the push profitable. If the stacks are deeper you need to be tighter when it comes to shoving because bad hands don't have enough odds against their calling range. If you are less deep you will often get called by a wider range because the blinds are getting great odds. In this case it might be better to fold the really bad hands and wait for a better spot later on in the orbit.
From the Cut Off you can also shove with a wide range of hands. If we assume that stacks are around 4 to 7 times the starting-pot, then you can shove about 30% of the best pre-flop hands. This is something like 22+, A2+, K6s+, K8o+, Q8s+, QTo+, J9s+, JTo+ and T9s. Because you are pushing with three players left to act behind you, they will usually still put you on a decent hand and will be somewhat cautious when it comes to calling you. Ask yourself if you would play a hand like A8 for (almost) your entire stack after a player in the CO, who hasn't been very active throughout the tournament, pushed all-in.
In the Hi-Jack you should start tightening up your range again. The chance is a lot bigger that a player behind you will have a decent hand. If we are assuming to have stacks of 4 to 7 times the starting-pot, then you should shove about the top 15% of your starting hands. This is something like 22+, A5s+, A8o+, KTs+ and KJo+. Again your opponent will have a relatively tight calling range.
The further away you are from the blinds, the tighter your shove-range should be. The chance keeps getting bigger that a player behind you wakes up with a monster. Hands that you can shove from almost any position are 99+ and AQ+. Do make sure that you're not sitting too deep when doing this, otherwise the pot isn't large enough to justify the risk. With monsters you can also decide to just raise to entice a push from another player because he might think you are going to fold.
Apart from the rules of thumb listed above, it is also very important that you are first into the pot, meaning that the other players folded around to you. If a player raised (or pushed) in front of you, ask yourself with what sorts of hands villain would do that and whether or not your hand will do well against his range. Is villain in desperate need for chips because he is shortstacked? In this case he will usually have a wider range compared to when he still has plenty of chips left. Are there limpers in front of you? Then think about what kinds of hands these players limp with. Do they often fold these hands? In that case you could decide to push with a hand because of all the dead money. Do you think they are trying to trap you with a premium or that they won't fold their hand anymore? If that is the case, you will have to tighten up your shove-range. These are all situations in which stats can be very helpful.
The last thing you need to focus on during the middle stage is that you don't let the blinds eat away at your stack until you only have an M of 3 or 4 left. If this does happen, for example because of a disadvantageous blind increase, a series of bad hands or a lost all-in, try to double back up as soon as possible. If you wait any longer, you will loose all your fold equity. Every hand that does reasonably well in an all-in situation will do here, as long as you are first into the pot. Even hands like JTo and K6s will now have to be pushed in early position. If you are not first into the pot, than you have no fold equity left, so it is often better to wait for another hand.
The final stage
Now that the middle stage is over, we will have to start taking the $EV into consideration when making our decisions. For the most part, your game in the final stage is very similar to your game during the middle stage. You can still push relatively loose as long as you have enough fold equity. But there are some aspects that you have to focus on even more now. If you are shortstacked, you will still need to try and double up by stealing blinds or by winning an all-in. If you have an average stack or are even one of the big stacks, you can put pressure on everyone except for the other big stacks.
At the time when the prizes are being shared out it is often disadvantageous to be all-in. The equity from you and your opponent does now not only go to the winner of the all-in, but also partially to the players who aren't in the hand. This is something you need to consider during the final stage. In early position you will still have to play a very tight range, simply because you will often end up with an all-in situation. At this stage it is also often better to fold with weak hands even though you are getting the right odds to call an all-in. Calling might be +cEV, but is often also -$EV.
If you're shortstacked, you would like to double up, but like I mentioned before, a move that is +cEV is not always +$EV. If, for example, you are on the bubble and are getting good odds for a push, it might still be better to fold anyways because maybe two or three players are even shorter than you and might bust any moment. If you expect the larger stacks to have a much wider calling range because they are getting odds and want to put pressure on the small stacks, you have even less fold equity and should fold even more of your weaker hands. Once you have passed the bubble phase it's really time to start doubling up and you can start widening your push-range again. You should never play just to get into the money. It is better to bubble twice and finish 2nd once than making the money three times but always getting eliminated just after the bubble burst.
If you have an average stack, then try to put pressure on shortstacks and other middle stacks. As I mentioned before, in this phase it can be disadvantageous to be all-in. If you put the pressure onto your opponents, they are likely to play back with a very tight range because they don't want to risk their tournament life. Be aware of the big stacks though. Because these players aren't risking their tournament life they are likely to play back at you a little lighter than other players. Therefore, don't try and pick up the blinds in the CO with a weak hand if you can see two big stacks sitting behind you.
If you are a big stack, you can put pressure on everyone. You can even put pressure on all the other big stacks, under the condition that the other player is aware that he needs to avoid you as much as possible because it isn't +$EV to play big pots against you. Just because you're a big stack doesn't mean you should make it easy for the shortstacks to double up and stay in the tournament. You can also put a lot of pressure on the average stacks, as these players will usually wait until some of the shortstacks get eliminated. As a big stack you can shove a lot more hands than in the same position during the middle stage because all the players are trying to avoid you. Therefore, as chipleader, you can focus on building up your stack even more without having to worry about too much resistance, which almost guarantees you a spot in the top 3. There will be a lot more spots in which you can shove pretty much any2 because the other players are so likely to fold in order to avoid you. Just make sure not to get too enthusiastic. Sometimes it can be better to let the smaller stacks battle it out between themselves. You don't have to eliminate every other player personally. If you have a maniac image than you can be sure that your opponents will adjust and play back lighter.
Early stage: play tight and only play monsters. Try to limp as little as possible. Valuebet hard if you have a strong hand. These bets should be higher if the board is more dangerous. Be aware with c-betting. Only do this if you hit, or if you see a flop heads-up and the board isn't that dangerous.
Middle stage: play push/fold if the effective stack is no longer big enough to play flops with. Try stealing a lot of blinds, especially1.5 when in the small blind, the button or the cut off. Try to get a read on your opponent's ranges. Focus on the effective stacks in relation to the pot and decide which hands you can shove +cEV.
Final stage: don't only base your moves on the fact that they are +cEV, but also consider whether a move is +$EV. During this phase you should really make use of the concept of fold equity and try not to be all-in too often. If you are, try to make sure you went all-in yourself and didn't call the all-in from another player.
General: practicing is really the only way to get a feel for how to play here. Programs like SnG Wizard can help you quickly improve your push/fold skills. The rules of thumb that I mentioned here are all guidelines that sometimes need to be adjusted depending on several factors.