Ok. First things first. Have you read Poker Nerd's SnG strategy? If not, go do it.
With that under your belt, I want to establish that I do have success on the Party SnGs. I've been reviewing my SnG numbers since I resumed playing the $30+3 SnGs in late July after a long hiatus of most of the year. Here's the breakdown:
30 money finishes (55% ITM)
1st place: 8
2nd place: 10
3rd place: 12
Total ROI: 57%
Hourly rate: $26.95
My historical ITM last year, before I stopped playing the SnGs, was in the high fifties, so although this sample size is on the small side, the numbers sound about right. I think the lower than normal ITM is probably accountable to two brutal days right at the end of July when I went 1 for 9. Also, in an ideal world, I'd love to see one or two of the seconds become a first for a more even progression, but wouldn't we all.
Ok, enough of that. Actual strategy time. Poker Nerd eschews the traditional early/middle/late strategy for a stack-based strategy. However, I believe that a combination of the two, with an eye to table conditions, is the ideal method of play. So complex! At the start, however, everyone will have the same amount of chips, and you won't have a read on the table, so let's begin with...
In the early rounds (on Party, this is the first two rounds), you should play generally solid poker. That means, play your position, raise when you should, etc. There is no sense in getting fancy in the early-going; it's giving the average SnG opponent FAR too much credit. It is definitely ok to limp speculative hands in the early-going, because the implied odds of catching the right flop are huge. Keep in mind, it is not uncommon for four people to be eliminated in the first two rounds of play on Party. Those chips are up for grabs; this is an excellent time to double up if you catch the right flop.
However, I tend to play a little tighter than normal in the first two rounds. Why? Two reasons. Number one, I see absolutely no point to stealing the blinds. On Party, the first two rounds are 10/15 and 15/30. Those chips are not going to make or break me. Number two, there are usually several people in the early going who don't know how to fold preflop and are willing to gamble it up. I think the better strategy is to conserve those chips for later rounds where they can be put to more effective use, or for more clear-cut hands in the early going. I will still limp the speculative hands, of course, but I generally play fewer hands than I otherwise might. This also allows me to get a feel for the table.
A few other pointers:
1. Group 1 hands need to be played hard. A 3xBB is not going to scare out ANYBODY in Levels 1 or 2. AA, KK, QQ, and JJ to a lesser degree depending on position, need to be raised aggressively, by as much as 10xBB. If you do not raise them aggressively, watch as 6 people call your raise, and then be prepared to lay your hand down when an ace flops (while holding KK through JJ), because you can be sure that somebody called with A6, and shame on you for not protecting your hand with a bigger preflop raise.
2. AK and AQ, on the other hand, are a different matter. With AQ, suited or not, I will only play the hand in position and will limp it most of the time. This does two things: keeps the pot small, and allows you to get away from the hand when you miss the flop. AK I think requires a raise (again, depending on position) but raising to 10xBB with AK is asking for trouble. Mark my words here. Somebody will call you, and when the flop misses you, you'll have a hard time getting away from it.
3. In Level 1, I will call with ATC in the SB if the pot is unraised. The SB is 2/3 of the BB, it doesn't make sense to throw it away. What you're hoping for here is to flop something more than a pair.
I assume that, if you're reading this blog, you probably have a handle on post-flop play in NLHE. However, I will point out a few areas where I disagree with Poker Nerd. Number One on this list is top pair, solid kicker on the flop. I'm the first to admit more money is lost on top pair in NLHE than just about any other hand, especially in an unraised pot. Remember what the Texas Dolly says about this: "Never go broke in an unraised pot." However, also keep in mind that on Party Poker, especially in early levels, bad players can't get away from hands that have missed or only caught a small piece of the flop. If the pot is unraised, there will probably be as many as five players seeing the flop. Bet your top pair and narrow the field. The bad players will call all the way looking for that inside straight, the fifth heart, or two pair, or whatever. Sometimes they will hit; that sucks, but you will know when they do. Most of the time they won't. Sometimes you will be beat on the flop; that sucks too, but again as long as you don't overvalue your top pair you will be able to get away from it. Keep in mind that the bad players are the ones who aren't going to be around long. You want to get their chips while they're still in the tournament. And if you have enough NLHE experience, you'll know when your top pair is no good. I don't know how to articulate it better than that; it's a feel that comes from experience.
I do agree with Poker Nerd that you shouldn't bluff on the flop in the early levels, for the most part. A semi-bluff is ok once in a while when you're HU or if you're sure that an orphan pot is out there waiting for an owner, but if you get called, you're done. You have to go into check-fold mode.
Not much to say about turn and river play. The river is straightforward and self-explanatory, I think, and if not, Poker Nerd covers it fine. Value bet your winners; check behind if you think you might be beat; etc.
By the end of Level 2, you should have a read on the table. My general experience on Party is that there are either: a) 3 to 4 people eliminated, with the remaining players breaking down as 1 or 2 poor players, 2 or 3 tight-weak, and 1 or 2 decent players; or b) the entire table remains, in which case you can be sure that you're playing at a table predominantly populated by tight-weakies. Keep that in mind as we move to...
The Middle Rounds
On Party, the middle rounds start at Level 3 (25/50). By this point, you will generally either have an above average to large stack by having taken down a couple of hands from the poor players and/or having doubled through in the early going, or you will have a bit under 700 chips from blinds and missed flops that you check-folded. You will also have a read on the table: again, either 6-8 players remaining broken down as above, or a table of tight-weakies. This is where the strategy starts to branch off.
Table of Tight-Weakies
Start raising. And when I say start raising, I mean don't stop raising. Any time it's folded to you in LP, you should be raising to 3xBB with ATC. Watch them fold. They will do it. If they don't, or if they reraise, it's easy to let it go. This is where stack play gets involved. If you're a big stack, you can pretty much turn into the table bully. Don't raise EVERY time, of course, but do it often. They'll be afraid of tangling with you. On the other hand, if you haven't managed to pick up any pots and your stack is ~700, selective aggression is key, because losing one or two steals is going to put some hurt on your stack. Also, keep in mind that the table does not have to fold to you in order for you to raise. If you see somebody trying to limp in from EP who you've seen trying to limp in from EP position before, don't be afraid to raise to 4xBB. Again, watch them fold.
Table of 6 to 8
If you're already down to 6-8, you should still be raising, but you needn't raise with as much fear. Few players will make the adjustment that they should be playing a wider spectrum of hands, so you will still win many blinds uncontested. When you do get called, you will (hopefully) have position and can proceed cautiously.
Both Table Types, After the Flop
Either you raised with a strong hand to begin with, in which case, proceed with normal post-flop play, or you raised with trash. Remember, if you've been using a "standard" raise every time, you have given your opponents no signal as to the strength of your hand.
If you raised with trash and were only flat called (not reraised; if you were reraised preflop, just let it go), you have some choices. With a large or above average stack, if the caller checks to you, fire a 3/4 pot-sized bet. What you're doing here is guessing that your opponent missed the flop, and will credit you for a hand and fold. This is especially effective at the tight-weak table, because even if your opponent did hit the flop, if it's not top pair, they're still likely to fold. If you get called, it's check-fold from there. No harm. You lost a few chips, but your stack can take it. You'll get them back by continuing to aggressively pummel the blinds.
With a below average stack, you have to proceed very cautiously. A flop bluff, if called, will decimate your stack. I almost think it's better to check-fold in this situation and conserve your chips for better opportunities. So you got caught trying to steal. So what. One or two players might take notice of that, but with your stack now bordering on "short", you're probably not going to be steal-raising anyway. That works to your advantage, because when you do push with a strong hand, you're more likely to get the action you need to double up.
Keep in mind that this strategy is for HU play only. If you get called in more than one place, you are beat. Let it go unless you get a miracle flop.
If You Fall Into Short Stack Land in the Middle Stages
You're looking to double. Plain and simple. Get all the chips in preflop. Ideally, you want to be the first raiser if you're going to get all your chips in. It's a bad idea to be calling other people's raises unless you've got a strong starting hand, so be the first one in. Sometimes you will win the blinds. That is probably a small victory, because the blinds are starting to get big. Sometimes you will get called and win; sometimes you will get called and lose. That's poker. At this point, any pair from any position looks good; a medium ace or two faces in MP/LP; and of course the big hands.
"But asphnxma," you ask, "how will I know if I'm a short stack?" Good question. In a SnG, the rules are a bit different than in a typical MTT, where often the 10xBB is a good rule of thumb. Here's my guidepost: if you raise to 3xBB, and get called, and can't make at least a 2/3 pot bet on the flop, you're a short stack and need to get 'em all in preflop. So, at the 50/100 level, with 800 or 900 you're getting close but still treading water; at 600 or below, you may as well just push. It's true that committing 300 chips with only 800 or 900 behind is putting 1/3 of your stack out there, in theory pot-committing you. But it's a weird quirk of SnGs that you can still get away from that pot and not be completely desperate, and I think that's largely because 3 out of 10 places get paid, as opposed to the typical MTT, where only 10% of the field gets paid.
The Late Stages
I usually define this as the Final Four. Table-type is not really important anymore, so the strategy is going to merge back into stack size considerations.
As a large stack, you should still be raising LOTS. Remember, you're 4-handed now. Almost anything looks raisable. You should be especially keen in picking on the players in 2nd and 3rd place. Very often, they will be unwilling to play back at you, instead choosing to follow the (dangerous) strategy of hoping that the short stack busts before they do, so they can slide into the money. With the blinds starting to reach the stratosphere, you can rack up the chips to position yourself well for heads-up play.
As a medium stack (~2000), it's very important to keep up with the blinds. If you miss one or two orbits without picking up blinds, you'll quickly start falling into short stack land. You cannot wait for cards at this stage of the game. If you get them, fantastic, but don't rely on getting them. Watch your opponents instead. If you see someone folding his blind every time because he doesn't want to tangle until after the bubble pops, go after him. If it folds to your SB, raise with anything.
As a small stack, your work is cut out for you. You should be pushing with any ace, any pair, any two faces, any medium face, etc. Basically, all but the crappiest of crappy hands. The goal is to double up before the blinds gobble you up. The caveat, here, is that if there's a shorter stack, you can try to play the Waiting Game, hoping they bust before you so you slide into the money. It's dangerous, though, because if they double up, you are Screwed with a capital S. This is a very situational decision. Some money is better than no money, and I disagree with Poker Nerd that one first place finish and three fourths is better than four thirds. While it's true that one first place finish will get you (slightly) more money than four thirds, the psychological impact of making the money four out of four times v. making the money one out of four times shouldn't be overlooked. You will feel like you won four times, instead of feeling like you won once and lost three times. And, if you're like me and play several SnGs in one sitting, this can affect your subsequent play. But again, keep in mind, that if the other short stack doubles up, you're in trouble.
Oh, another thing I can't stress enough that applies to all stack sizes: there should be NO limping at this stage of the tournament! I -might- limp in Level 3, but after Level 3, if I'm coming into a pot, it's for a raise. Limping at these levels is suicide, because a) you're asking to be reraised behind you; or b) you're giving the BB a free flop when most likely you could be scooping his chips preflop. How many times have I seen the SB complete and then get reraised by the BB? I do it all the time, to punish stupid players for completing their small blind with crap instead of raising/folding it. Also, how many times have I seen the button limp, the BB check, and then the BB check-fold to a flop bet from the button? Does anybody REALLY think the button caught a piece of the flop? Of course not! It's just that the BB didn't have anything to begin with. By limping, the button gave the BB a chance to put the hurt on. Don't do it.
I sometimes see people try to get cute with a big hand (aces, kings, queens, jacks) in the late stages, trying to maximize it's value by limping it. Don't do it! If you hadn't been throwing away all those garbage hands that you should have been steal-raising with, you wouldn't need to maximize the value of your big hand when it comes along. Raise those big hands, the same way you would any other time. Don't give the BB a chance to flop some weird two pair for free. If you only get the blinds, so be it. That is NOT a tragedy in the late stages of a SnG. If you do get action, even better! Because of all the raising that's been going on, your opponent will be hard-pressed to put you on a big hand.
Raise or Fold?
With a pinch of luck, you made it to the final two. Great. But it's not over yet. Finishing first is significantly better than finishing second. My general rule of thumb at this point is to be raising any two cards that are a heads up favorite. Don't know which cards are heads up favorites? Take a look at this handy chart. If it's at least a 54% favorite, I'm definitely coming in for a raise.
Now, if you don't have one of those hands, then you're put to a situational decision. Obviously, you can't fold the crappy hands every time. You need to raise some of them, but you don't need to raise all of them. If your opponent is weak, raise more of them. If he's aggressive, raise less of them. Etc. Remember, it's ok to fold sometimes. Just for the love of god, don't limp in. When your opponent raises you, you will be swearing to yourself as you fold.
What If It's MY Big Blind?
On the other side of the coin, if I'm the one whose blind is being raised, I will play all of the above-mentioned hands for sure. I will also consider a mix of smaller cards if they're connected, suited, etc. But crap hands (93o) are still crap hands and should still be folded, I think. It's true that at this point, ATC can win, and that my opponent could be raising with crap, but I'd rather be in there with two cards I'm a bit more confident about. It takes more hand to call a raise than it does to raise. It's also very hard to pick off steals at this point in the tournament, so calling a raise generally demands SOME sort of hand.
[To head off any controversy on this point: I am aware that even the worst heads-up hand, 32o, has 32% equity against any random hand. Thus, in theory, I should be willing to call with ATC at this stage since I'm getting 3-to-1 for my money. I'd just prefer to get me money in where I'm have a better chance at taking down the pot, either by being the aggressor or by having a good hand. Argue this point if you want; maybe it's why I have slightly more 2nd place finishes than 1sts.]
This is the one, and only, time I submit that it is ok to limp. However, if your opponent is sharp, and sees that you've been raising or folding EVERY time but suddenly limp in, his trap radar will go off. It's more effective to CALL a raise with a big hand, then it is to limp the big hand in. Unless your opponent is an idiot, in which case feel free to limp away. =)
If you're on the short end of the stick (really short, I mean; he has a greater than 3-to-1 chip advantage on you), find a decent hand and go with it. If you're on the short end but less than 3-to-1, be patient. You can't be afraid to bet at flops that miss you, but you don't have to pick one hand and go all-in. Continue to wear your opponent down by raising his blind and getting him to fold on missed flops.
If you're the big stack, keep the pressure on. Raise, raise, raise. If you get your opponent down to under 1000 chips at any point, take a stab by putting them all-in with anything even marginally playable. They will be forced to call with just about anything. If you double them up, so be it. It doesn't hurt you that much, but at least you took a chance of knocking them out right there and taking down first place.
Unfortunately, luck plays a huge role at this stage of the tournament, with the blinds consitutint more than 10% of the chips in play. One SnG, I got the short stack all-in three times as a dog (one of them a severe dog) and he won all three. The last all-in crippled me and I finished in second place. Boo. This will happen. Just keep grinding away, and the first place finishes will come.
I guess that's it. Some of this advice overlaps with Poker Nerd; much of it differs. Clearly, no one style is more correct than another. Go with whatever works for you in the moment.
Tuesday, August 10, 2004
Ok. First things first. Have you read Poker Nerd's SnG strategy? If not, go do it.