The Biggest Mistakes in No-Limit Sit-and-Go Tournaments

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It was then I knew I had made my first mistake.

For a long time at major tournaments, one-table satellites have been a popular way to win a seat into larger events. For instance, you have a $3,000 no-limit hold’em event. So, before the event starts, 10 players show up at a table and plunk down $300 each (along with a little something for the house). They play no-limit hold’em until one of them has all the chips. That fortunate person has a seat in the $3,000 event. The online poker world quickly co-opted the idea, but run them for cash, too. They’re known as “sit-and-go” tournaments (for obvious reasons), and folks love them.

They can also be incredibly profitable for a good player, because, well, the play is often fairly egregious — even at moderately high buy-ins such as $50 or $100. I’m going to list some items that I consider to be the most serious mistakes the average sit-and-go (hereinafter “S&G;”) player makes. Get them out of your game, and you’ll probably have a healthy advantage. I’m not sure they’re in priority order — but they’re probably pretty close.

1. Getting involved for all of your chips early with non-premium hands. If you just want to gamble it up, fine — push all in with A-8 offsuit, J-10 suited, or 6-6 at the first or second blind level. If you’re jamming with those hands when the blinds are $10-$20 and everybody has $1,500 in chips, one of two things is going to happen: You’ll win $30 in blinds by risking $1,500, or you’ll run into a real hand and probably be out of the event. If you’re calling with those hands, it’s even worse. At least if you’re the first one to get your chips in, you’ve got significant “fold equity” when somebody doesn’t wake up with a big hand. If you’re calling with something like 5-5, your S&G; experience is going to be painful.

2. Chasing draws for which you’re not getting the right price. This isn’t limit hold’em; you can’t commit yourself to calling a draw (even a big one) to the river. The most frequent mistake I see of this form is players going after flush draws when they aren’t getting the odds they need to catch their flush card. Let’s review the numbers: You flop a four-flush. What are your chances of turning the flush? Let’s see, two cards here in front of me, three of ’em out there in the middle. Five cards. That leaves 47 unaccounted for and I’ve nine outs. That’s 38 bad, nine good — 4.2-to-1. Particularly in big-bet hold’em, you can’t count on seeing two more cards for the price of one. So, if you’re not getting better than 4-to-1 on that flush draw on the flop, it’s probably not correct to call (more on the exceptions in a bit — perhaps in a different column). If you or your opponent is going all in on the flop, you’re going to see two cards, and you’re about a 2.2-to-1 underdog. So, if you’re getting 5-to-2 or so, you can make the call. Now, you have to decide if you’re willing to make a call (even one with a positive expected value) for all of your chips in a tournament situation, but at least know what has positive expected value and what doesn’t.

3. Giving your poker qiu qiu opponent the right price to catch a card and bust you. This is the flip side of No. 2. If you offer your opponent the right pot odds to hit his draw and it gets there, you have nobody but yourself to blame. You’ve heard limit hold’em players say, “You can’t protect your good hands.” This is what they’re talking about (or should be talking about, anyway). In no-limit (or pot-limit) hold’em, you can generally put enough money in the pot that your opponent is making a mistake if she calls. I will never forget watching one of the first S&Gs; that my wife played. She was in the big blind with a terrible hand, 5-3 offsuit, in the early going of the tournament; everybody still had $1,000 in chips. There was only one caller before the flop, which came A-9-4 rainbow (three different suits). She checked, and her opponent bet about $40. She said to me, “I’m gonna call. If I hit that deuce on the turn, he’s going to have a bad day.” That was exactly the correct play. As if on cue, the 2diamonds fell on the turn. Thinking that card wouldn’t alarm her opponent, my wife checked again, and he promptly moved all in with her staring at the nuts. Of course, she called, and imagine our surprise when he showed pocket aces! He had slow-played a monster hand before the flop (we’ll get to that one in a future column), and then when it turned into an even bigger monster, he thought he was teasing my wife into a trap. In fact, he was walking into a trap of his own setting; he had given her enormous implied odds (1,000-to-40) to hit a deuce. And when he finally got all of his money in, he was drawing at 10 outs.

OK, this is great fun, but I’m out of page space for this issue. More later.