First, let’s take a look at why these tournaments are so much more profitable that the other games at this level.
1. Micro-limit players lack patience, which causes them to play too many hands preflop. They also tend to overestimate the strength of hands like Ace-Queen, Ace-Jack and even Ace-Ten, making them easy targets for preflop domination. With the huge stacks compared to the blinds in no-limit cash games you have opponents who play pretty well even though they see too many flops, but in a SNG you can punish them terribly for their mistakes.
2. The decisions tend to require less thought because the gear changes are so drastic. It’s easier to assess a table quickly when there are only a few choices, often all-in or fold. This makes multi-tabling these games much easier. In a cash game it’s much tougher to assess the table quickly and accurately and make the right decision when you have three other tables beeping and flashing.
3. The structure of the tournaments gives you enough time to wait for real hands, but often makes micro-limit players feel rushed. The structure seems to create a perfect set of conditions at these levels, where you have very loose and wild players for the first few rounds, but by the time it gets to be four or five handed those players will be gone and you will often be able to run over your remaining opponents with lots of aggression.
4. These games can be beaten in an almost formulaic way, making your decisions that much easier. As with any form of poker, the less time you waste on the decisions, the more time you will have to study your opponents, take notes, and find ways to abuse them.
The common thread here is simplicity. Everything you need to beat these games is fairly simple, and with the ultra-weak player base the profit here is higher than anywhere else if your bankroll is below $500.
Let’s start out with which games you should actually be playing. Most of the time in poker, when you are looking for weak players, you look for the game that allows you to abuse their weaknesses. In this case the $5 buy-in, nine handed, regular old sit and go tournaments are the best. The turbo structure helps out the overaggressive players by making their plays closer to correct, and also puts you to too many decisions too quickly.
The nice smooth climb from one blind level to the next on Full Tilt also makes life easy for you, and allows for lots of time to find a few hands to beat the overly aggressive players before the blinds get too high. No-Limit Hold’em is the only game in town, because you will need lots of tournaments running to be able to play four tables at all times, and no other game can provide that.
Things you will need –
PokerTracker – You are going to be playing at least four tables at a time, and you won’t have enough time to get reads on your opponents or take detailed notes. If you get time to do those things you should be playing more tables and using Pokertracker instead. You’ll mostly be using it for the VP$IP statistic, which will be a big help in these games. You can get this program through us for $45 or non-members can buy it from the site directly for $55.
PAHUD – This is a program that displays your opponent’s statistics on the screen next to their avatars. Without it you can’t see the valuable information that Pokertracker has gathered for you. It’s $25 that is very well spent.
A rake back account – You’ll be earning at least $1 an hour extra, and maybe as much as triple that number. Doesn’t seem like a mountain of money, but it’s a nice raise and at the end of the month it really adds up. Without it your climb through the levels will happen much more slowly.
Full Tilt Planner and Table Highlighter – These little AHK scripts are invaluable. They are free, and available from overcards.com, just click on wiki and then on the AHK page. When playing more than one table they are both invaluable, and they will keep things running smoothly.
The First Two Blind Levels –
During the first two blind levels many players are tempted to play speculative hands with the hope of flopping a big hand and doubling up. That was my first mistake in these games. You will find that you are raised off the hand you limped with far too often. It’s also not worth much to flop a draw in these games with hands like suited connectors, because your opponents will be so wild on the flop that you won’t get a good price to see the turn.
It’s important to remember here that you are looking to keep your variance down during these first two levels so that you survive until you have a chance to push a very large advantage later on. You should be happy to turn down close calls and potential double ups for safety during these levels.
Because they flop big hands instead of draws, and are much easier to play, small pairs are much better at these levels than suited connectors. Let those wild players try to push you around on the flop after you make a set of sixes. Small pairs can be played, but only in late position, and never to a raise larger than the minimum. When I say late position I mean the button or the cutoff seat. Other than those last two positions, just fold those small pairs until you are very comfortable playing and can easily determine whether the right factors are in place.
Learn to hate Ace-Queen and any other weak ace during the first two levels. Your opponents are not going to fold, and you are not a big favorite over much of anything with A-Q. This is especially true if you see a flop with it against four opponents, which is what will usually happen, even if you raise to thin the field. Overplaying weak aces is the most common mistake at these levels.
Hands that you feel good about include big pairs, tens and higher, and Ace-King. Medium pairs (66 through 99) are only really good for flopping a set cheaply. With TT or JJ you will want to think carefully about how much of your stack you are committing and how much you are willing to commit preflop. Plan it out and think ahead.
With AA and sometimes KK, you will be better off limping with the intention of making a large reraise when one of your opponents raises. If you raise from early or middle position yourself with your big pair, you are likely to get three callers and have no idea how to play on the flop, so it’s better to limp reraise and get a bunch of chips in while thinning the field. It’s no disaster if there’s no raise and you just see a cheap flop, just don’t play a big pot with your one pair hand. Which brings us to the best piece of advice in this entire article.
“Don’t play a big pot without a big hand.”
Simple enough to remember, and if you don’t remember it you won’t be a winner in these games. The more certain you are about your read on your opponent, the more you can consider breaking this rule, but it’s just fine if you never break it at the micro-limits. You will be playing too many tables too give a lot of thought to in-depth reads on your opponents anyway.
The third and fourth blind levels –
Now the blinds start to mean a little something, but honestly not a lot, and not nearly as much as most players think. Don’t overestimate the size of the blinds when they are 25-50 or 30-60. Unless you have taken a real beating in the first two levels, which should be quite rare if you follow my advice, you have a comfortable stack and the blinds are still quite small.
The real difference, much bigger than the blinds, will be the players. You will have twenty hands or so on them, and that will give you an idea from the stats on the screen, as well as from your observations, as to who the fish are. At this point you will probably have lost a player or two, sometimes more, and the table will have begun to quiet down. If you are in late position with a reasonable hand, and the blinds are tight players, preferably below 25% VP$IP, you can attempt a steal with a 3x raise. It’s just fine not to steal, but it has become an option if things are set up just right.
With the players a little tighter, and the table a little less foreign to you, it’s possible to defend your blinds at times, and to limp along at times when you are sure there will be no raise in front of you. Stick with most of the default strategies for the first two blind levels, but you can be just a bit more creative. Remember to be in late position when you are creative, it makes everything easier. In early position you will need to play only the premium hands and nothing else. Nothing. Position, Position, Position!
The 50-100 level and above –
You are going to have a decision to make before each hand that you are going to play. Is this a standard raise or a push all-in situation? If a standard raise is more than a third of your stack then you have no choice, and you might as well be all-in unless you are going to raise less in order to get a caller or a reraise when you are looking for them. Incidentally, you will be looking for a reraise when you have a big hand and you want to get some action with it because your stack is too short that stealing the blinds won’t be enough chips to put you in a good position.
If you have less than 10 big blinds you are usually in push or fold mode. With 12 big blinds or more you can raise to 3x the big blind, but make sure to look at the opponents who are yet to act. If some of them are short stacks then you will have to call an all-in reraise from them because the price you are getting from the pot will be so good. In that case you would rather have a small pair than a weak ace, because the ace will so often be dominated by the hands that reraise.
Think ahead about what you will do according to your opponent’s actions preflop, because it is a rare situation in Hold’em where you can actually have all your moves planned out, and you should take advantage of it. Most players at this stage don’t realize how simple the game has become, and try to make tricky plays. Which brings us to our second important piece of advice.
“Don’t get tricky”
Trying to trick someone in these games is really a waste of time, they aren’t smart enough for it. You can make a perfect check-raise bluff when a scare card falls on the turn, but don’t come crying to me when top pair with no kicker calls your all-in bet because he doesn’t know any better.
The large blind levels (150-300 and above) –
Get yourself a SAGE calculator here (INSERT LINK), and use it. If you have the funds, it will be great for you to get a program like Sit and Go Wizard or Sit and Go Power Tools, which will teach you perfect end-game play that will be useful to you for the rest of your SNG career. These programs are much more powerful than the simple SAGE calculator linked to above, though it will do fine for studying end-game play at these levels. Spend a little time with it, learn the SAGE system, and learn about being very aggressive when the blinds are high.
The most important concept you will learn from the software in the paragraph above is the idea of fold equity. There are times when you would push all-in with seven-deuce offsuit if you were first in to the pot, but you couldn’t call an all-in from an opponent even if you had a top ten hand. Being first into the pot and having a chance to steal the blinds is huge, especially if you really need those blinds and still have enough chips that you can scare your opponents. Remember, they don’t want to lose half their stack to you, so get your chips in now on a steal rather than waiting for a hand and ending up so short stacked that your opponents have to call you when you finally try to get all your chips in.
“When the blinds are high be very tight to a raise, but very loose and aggressive if you can be first in.”
Of course if you are a very comfortable stack who is headed for the money, you shouldn’t be stealing too many blinds, and if you are a small stack with three other big stacks then you should stealing like mad to try to catch up. If your opponents are all going crazy playing hands against each other you may want to wait and let one of them go out first so that you can sneak in to the money.
“Your goals are 3rd place and 1st place, that’s where the money is.”
Third place is two buy-ins, then second place is only one more buy-in, and first place is two more buy-ins. 4th and 2nd place are junk. Your first goal is to make the money and then once it’s three handed you are playing to win and you can forget about 2nd place unless the short stack is very small and the big stack is huge, with you in the middle. In that case you can avoid tangling with the big stack until the small stack goes out or doubles up.