The Early Stages of a SNG – Are You Setting Yourself Up For Failure or Success?

“Good order is the foundation of all things.”  – Edmond Burke

Beginners often approach sit and go tournaments the wrong way. They try to win the tournament in the first 5 or 10 minutes. But in doing so they open themselves up to lots of early exits, large bouts of variance and a lack of traction. For a lack of better words, they suck.

Having a strong foundation is key if you want to have success in any type of poker game, let alone sng tournaments. Much of that foundation is rooted in your early game strategy. I want to take a couple of minutes now to show you what early-game strategies to avoid, so that you don’t build your sng foundation on sand.

Why “Playing Hands Because It’s Cheap” is a Bad Idea

I’ve heard the excuse time and time again; it’s cheap to play in the early stages. That’s why you see so many players splash around at 10/20, 15/30, 25/50, etc. Their thoughts are that they’ll get lucky at one point, flop a big hand and double up.

This is a weak strategy though.

First off, doubling up is over rated in the early stages of most sngs. Your equity doesn’t double. It increases, sure, but the rest is spread out to the other players. Besides, doubling up in the first hand of an 18-man sng doesn’t mean that you’ll win. Far from it.

Secondly, playing so many hands means you’re (probably) playing weaker, dominated hands. This can lead to spewing your stack, or worse, busting too early. For example, playing a hand like A3s is trouble because better players will show up with AT+. But, of course, when you flop an ace (with A3, for example) you need to call at least one, if not two streets. By then it’s too late, you’ve already lost a good portion of your stack.

Losing a big portion of your stack (or all of it) leads to early tournament exits, which in turn leads to higher variance. Sngs have high enough variance as is; you should be doing what you can to decrease it, not make it worse.

Last, being active early on gives you a poor or loose image. This will make it harder for you to be active later on when it matters most, since most players will label you a LAG and not give you as much credit for having a hand. This will make it harder for you to steal blinds, shove when you have less than 10 big blinds or c-bet the flop.

Self Control Early to Explode Later On

Speaking of image, I recommend containing yourself early on. Stick to playing only the best hands, continuation betting flops against the right players and maybe making the occasional steal.

In doing so you’ll keep your image in check. More importantly, you’ll maintain fold equity for later on when stacks get shorter, blinds increase and antes come into play. You need folds now because this is when you’ll either be trying to stay alive, or will be trying to build a stack for the final table.

Ace-King is Not The Nuts

Another early game mistake I see players make is treating ace-king like it’s the nuts, like they actually have aces. They happily go all in on pre flop, only to find themselves in a race, or worse, dominated.

I don’t like this play because, again, there’s a lot of variance. You eliminate any edge you might otherwise have seeing a flop. Assuming you don’t get any action with a pre flop shove, you also significantly reduce how much you earn with such a solid starting hand.

I recommend trying to play your ace-king post flop. In doing so you might stack other players that play dominated aces. You also give yourself a chance to make deep runs, whereas otherwise you’re busting out early. However, that being said, many players continue to think they have the nuts with ace high on the flop. If you’re getting a lot of action you have to be able to find a fold. Remember, even a pair of 2s beat you.

The only time I advocate going all in with ace-king is either during the later stages when stacks are shallower or when you’re playing a large enough sng, like a 45, 90 or 180 man. With these larger tournaments you’re going to have to flip several times to make the final table. So it doesn’t make much of a difference when you do it.

Conclusion: Treat Sngs Like a Marathon

The bottom line is that I think players would do much better in sngs if they had some patience. You can’t win a sng in the first 5 minutes, no matter how hard you try. Instead, you need to view sngs as a marathon; a race that you want to finish. When you approach sngs with this mindset, the actions you take will follow  – it’s not jut about collecting chips and wins now, but what you can do now to collect chips and make things easier for yourself later on – and win.