Sit and go tournaments are a great way for new players to get into online poker. At many sites one can buy in for $ 3 or less and be part of a tournament that offers up to an hour of poker action. But it is not the low cost that makes these tournaments so suitable for those new to poker so much as the fact that they are relatively simple to play. While mastering the intricacies of full stack no limit hold'em poker could take a lifetime to master, anyone can learn to beat the lowest stakes sit and go's in a few days. This article describes a basic strategy for the first three blind levels that, while not optimal, will leave you on at least an even playing ground with the type of players who frequent these stakes.
Basically, the correct strategy at the beginning of a SNG tournament is to play few hands. There is something called the Gap Concept that encourages tight play which I will discuss here in further articles, but for now, just consider the fact that if you simply make it to second place without earning a single chip, you will win 3 buyins, only two less than winning all the chips. So obviously there is something behind surviving to the end that discourages taking big risks.
Playing tight in a sit and go means folding over 90% of your hands in the first three rounds. If this sounds boring, well, it is, but keep in mind that the largest sit and go winners at the highest stakes only play slightly more hands than this, perhaps 15% or so. From early and middle position (first five positions from first to act) you should fold everything but AK and a pair of jacks or better. When you do play one of these hands, raise to four times the big blind. In late position, if it has not been raised, you can add AQ and other pairs, but simply call the big blind with these hands. Finally, if at any point in the early rounds you find yourself with less than 20 times the big blind, fold the AQ and other pairs.
If facing a reraise to your initial raise with those hands, regardless of size, fold JJ and AK and push all in with queens or better. JJ and AK would be good enough to play with these stacks in a cash game, but in a sit and go, the risk of busting for all your chips is too great even if you are a slight favorite. With the AQ and other pairs if you are raised after you limped, fold. And if it has been raised once before you, push all in with AK and queens or better, but fold all other hands.
After the flop evaluate the situation. If you have top pair / an overpair or better against any number of opponents, bet the size of the pot and continue betting that size until the chips in the middle. If you are against one opponent, bet the size of the pot as a bluff regardless of whether you have anything or not one time. If called, or if you are against two or more opponents after your raise, check and fold on subsequent streets except the opponent only makes a minimum size bet. Finally, if you got to see the flop for free in the big blind, check and fold on the flop unless you flop top pair top kicker or better, in which case you should bet the pot and continue doing so without the board devalues your hand .
This is admittedly an extremely simplistic strategy, and sometimes some will say that it is not "real poker", but it is actually not too far from the perfect early game strategy in sit and go poker tournaments at any stakes. Most of the positive expectation is in these bread and butter big hands, since there is less incentive to push with marginal hands in this type of structure. In fact it will give you a substantial edge against most low-stakes sng opponents who play loosely and badly. In the next article we will describe middle game and bubble play.