Thinking is very necessary in poker, even in the most basic poker variants like SNG DON (double-or-nothing; the meaning of the game is to finish in the top half of the field and get paid double your money).
I would divide the process of thinking in poker into two parts: game-thinking and thinking around the game.
These are the tactics directly connected with playing hands. The following situation in a DON can serve as an example:
Bubble (one player before the money): You have a small stake (screen-wise, you will see a pop-up ad “WANT TO RAISE THE STAKES?” that, as ill luck would have it, is impossible to close) and you are on the small blind. The SNG calculator is showing that you should raise any two cards, but you know that there are two short stackers who will go all-in automatically during this round, and are likely to bring you to the prize fund without any risk, so therefore you fold.
What about a common SNG 9max? Here is a typical example: bubble (gum, a tasty one), you are the chip-leader and a short stake is pushing into you. So short, that calling is profitable even with 72o by the pot odds. But you fold, not because the short stake is your friend, but to continue bubble and steal other middle/high stakes.
Three years ago, I remember some SNG regulars on CGM semi-seriously accusing me of losing calls. A certain amount of these “red” calls were in fact black. For example, at stakes 1BB from the button, I have AT on the BB. Let us say that SNGWizard shows us a minus result, for instance, -0.5.
But would regular players raise 1BB from the button with QQ, KK or AA? Most of them would not. Let's take these hands out of the range and get a totally different result.
Several examples of HU SNG situations for the final part of SNG 6max:
Maybe some of you do not know yet, but almost a year ago [Full Tilt] added the sharing option in SNG tournaments, i.e. a dialogue pops up and you can share the payments with ICM or any other way (I remember, by the way, a topic from 2+2, when a guy, tired of fish asking about sharing in a chatroom, “agreed” and put a one cent prize to the fish instead of the nominal $200. The fish did not notice and clicked “accept”. Profit!)
Of course, I immediately started using the sharing option when we stayed together with regular players in the HU chatroom. as there should not be an advantage above one another, and it is better to edge the dispersion than share it. It is also good to increase one's dollar-per-hour rate owing to a lack of spare time. By the way, I was hardly the only one whom kenny05 shared with (a successful high-stakes per 6max player who takes a shot at ALL regulars in 99 cases out of 100. The 100th time he is just too busy watching baseball!)
Some regular players were noticeably under-delivering in the final SNG part, after which I tried to estimate several calculations. But first, the examples:
1. You have quite deep stakes (50BB each). A regular player opens 60 percent of hands with a raise, and then suddenly limps AA. Dude, like what? I can understand ace-limping when stakes are 15BB each, and getting into top pair or something that looks like the nuts when the opponent might give up, but what do you want to do here? Limp-re-raise? You are likely to get a fold in most cases. Limp and raise-call? Not a bad variation overall as it masks the hand very strongly. But why are you so sure that there will be a raise? More often than not, you are likely to play a limp pot against a random BB hand (which very often gets into two poor pairs or a nuts gun-shot). Make your standard raise and hope that you are 3-bet with your 60 percent intention to steal. Rather than that, I'd advise to call a 3-bet with such stakes, as the probability of a fold is too high on a 4-bet raise or a 4-bet.
2. I remember one SNG regular with quite a low ROI. We played HU several times, and I made some notes:
Raised pot, K82 board, check/call KT
RP: A93 c/c Q9
And here comes our deal:
5,000 v 4,000
I raise 600, he calls.
AT3r (r = rainbow, i.e. all cards of a different suit, no flush draw)
He checks, I 500, he 1,250.
I push (I don't remember the card, but probably a good enough one, maybe something like 98) and he folds.
This regular player's thoughts: “opp steals often, AT3 is a good board for a contbet, and often he does not have a hand here, so I will check-raise 500>1250 which will be enough for him to fold an empty hand).
I think "FUUUUU".
First, any regular player will bet all-in with any ace having such a stake. Secondly, this guy was always playing second pair with check-call (and top pair as well, but here it is out of the question).
I have nothing against such a bluff against fishes/half-fishes, who will cbet, get raise and fold not thinking at all. It is obvious that there is no reason balancing against them.
4,500 vs 4,500
I raise 400, opp calls.
Flop: K83 rainbow, warm rain, cold snap on Monday.
Opponent checks, I bet 400, opponent goes all-in 4,100. By experience: 70 percent chance he has an eight, ten percent a king (a king usually means a small check-raise, or even check-call), ten percent a three, and ten percent total randomness such as T9.
For example, my opponent plays check-raise all-in with a eight. Check-raise with a bluff is 400->1,200 and fold to a raise. It is obvious that one should play check-raise then call all-in with an eight as well, otherwise you might be done over by a half stake with an empty hand.
3. For this example, it is a HU SNG, both you and your opponent move to blinds 40/80. Stakes are 1,500 each.
You raise 180, he 3-bets you into 375. You raise, then he folds. I have noticed such a trick performed by both regular players and semi-regular players. You know you have a big steal, and you are almost unlikely to call even a miserly 3-bet with the lion's share of hands due to the absence of any stake depth at all. And they make a bluff 3-bet. At the same time they simply raise with A8 or 55, and with QQ-AA – ATTENTION! - they make a flat call (not to get busted and show the strength of their hand). So, a small 3-bet from a regular player is simply air, and it is very easy to exploit (has everyone linked the side mouse button to the all-in button, just like me?)
However, you need good notes here. This is because there are people who will play this way with A8/KT and call a raise.
4. HU SNG, 1,500 v 1,500, regular player raises 120, you call.
KK3 (pot = 240). You check, regular player checks.
You both come to the showdown, and he shows 67o. Seriously? The opponent does not contbet here, probably because he is afraid of being check-raised into a bluff on an “empty board”. But hey, you have nothing. Bet half a pot and I am likely most often to fold.
By the way, before, when I played HU SNG, frequently I checked second pair in a raised pot, i.e. I raise 67, opponent calls. Flip K62, he checks, I check.
Now, I tend towards a contbet on almost any part of the flop, and especially without it. Very often I take the pot at once. Sometimes I get value (especially if the kicker to the second pair is not too bad, or if there is some draw on the board which is dragged by my opponent).
One more positive: you do not allow to simply re-buy yourself (the higher the blinds, the more important this becomes). For example, your opponent calls your raise with T5o. On a K62 flop you played check-check, then he bought 10 and took 15 percent of your stake into the pot. How cool is that? I think … maybe not too much, except that you paid him one more street, i.e. played “tricky” by pretending that “you have nothing”.
5. HU SNG again. Stakes are 2,000 each, and the blinds 50/100. Sometimes, in my view, it is not bad to call a mini-raise with an ace (the stronger the better, of course, like A9+). It is clear that a re-raise, all-in or 3-bet+call all-in looks much more standard and easier – and probably more profitable, but then I like mixing it up.
Another example: villain raises 200, hero calls +100.
Hero checks, villain bets 200, hero raises 420 (or calls). A raise looks madly bluffy (most often on pre-flop it's a 3-bet all-in with an ace with such stakes) and even lots of fish have nothing against over-bluffing you and betting all-in in such a situation.
Now, let's look at the situation from the other side of the table. We have AK, we raise 200, villain calls.
Villain checks, we bet 200, he raises 420, Some people do not think here and instead bet all-in, as dumb as that sounds. Top pair winner, chicken dinner! We are often bluffed here, and we beat the bluff, but why? Just call, and let the aggro-monkey finish what he is doing on the turn and bluff it out until the end.
6. Just like in cash games, Holdem Manager or Poker Tracker in SNGs helps a lot too. We visually divide losing fish (65/5) from tight regulars (12/12). We can see the percentage of people who steal from the button, and who play 3-bet/raise/fold depending on the stakes. Also the “aggression factor by street” is a useful statistic, especially against fish (regulars have it as standard). For example, you have many hands to fish, and the aggression factor is over the top (something like ten).
You complete from small blind, fish checks (mis-click?)
Flop: JJ2. I would bet myself into normal people, but against an aggressive kangaroo I will play check-raise here.
Fold BB to steal is an essential statistic for heads-up play. If the opponent rarely folds to a mini-raise (about 20 to 30 percent of the time), you can start limping many hands and play smaller pots with the same entrance data. In addition, one can increase sizing from a mini-raise up to 3BB on strong hands (let the calling station pay more – it works especially well if he gives up on a great amount of flops).
Thinking around the game
To earn good money in poker one has to have the ability to think. For example, say you are a talented regular player playing $22-33 limit SNG 9max at FTP. In one month of playing you can earn about $4,000. You surely would like more, but moving up limits is – as yet – too psychologically and financially uncomfortable. So, what do you do?
a) Find the best rakeback offer (be careful when applying to FTP, as they strongly dislike users having multiple accounts).
b) Study the statistics of most of the best regular players at your limit in SharkScope. Look up profit by time of day and day of the week, i.e, get to know the time of day that's best for the most profitable playing (and what days of the week). It is not likely that the best time for your bankroll is from 6am until 1pm. Why not? That appears to be a good time to play, and finally you'll be able to see many of your old friends in ICQ with “work “ status and be proudly able to put the same! (You may well be an exception here if, like me, you have problems with Full Tilt and it's impossible to show up as the enemy is on the watch!)
c) Study the SharkScope leader-board on your own and your neighboring limits. Look what games might also be (even more) profitable with the same knowledge. Word to Big Bird, in five minutes I found three alternatives for a large income with the same limits ($22-33).
d) Closed/unpopular poker networks with a lot of fish.
e) Table selection. Table 6max. There are only two players sitting down as yet, and both are regular players. FORGET this table – it's far better to do what you are currently putting to one side: Watch a VOD, study HH, wash the dishes, help an old lady across the street, etc. You can come into such a table when with the two regular players there are a couple of fish. Wouldn't it then be easier to ease into a vacant seat? Let the other regular players make their own mistakes and come into a knowingly negative game if they want to. I will hold my tongue about 9max. I've seen this situation a couple of times: $20 super-turbo, seven regular players out of seven are sitting there. Post-flop kings, rakeback tycoons on Earth.
f) Your homework is to think this out. You just have to think a little bit.
Today, I was playing SNG on PokerStars (I now play on PS and three other rooms as Full Tilt got totally fresh and started banning without proof – not only me, but even a guy I know who played similar bets and games. It's obvious that I am as eligible to play on FTP as anyone else, so who needs proof? Plus, your account can be closed by any suspicion or squealing).
PokerStars, $10/$20 Hold'em tournament, 6 Players
Dealt to BB: K♦J♣
Pre-flop: two folds, CO raises to $40, one fold, SB calls $30, BB calls $20
($120) 8♦Q♠T♣ (3 Players)
SB checks, BB checks, CO checks
($120) 3♠ (3 Players)
SB bets $80, BB calls $80, CO calls $80
($360) A♠ (3 Players)
SB checks, BB bets $200, CO raises to $780, (1 folds), BB calls $580
CO Showed 7♠9♠
BB Mucks K♦J♣
CO wins $1,920
Comment: The more inadequate an opponent is (i.e. the lower the bets are), the sooner the river changes from
(Bet/Fold ........................... -> ...................... Bet/Call)
Here at SNGs over 200, I made two mistakes at once:
1) I did not fold on the river (my opponent was more or less behaving himself and it was unlikely that he would make such a raise on two pairs/set/low straight).
2) If I decided that he could have done this, on the basis of his bet I should have raised, as he would fold none of the hands out of the ones mentioned.
P.S. SNG 6max sharing estimated calculations. Pays 65/35. For simplicity, you have equal stakes, i.e. when sharing, each of you gets 50 percent of the prize pool.
If you think that you can win 53 games out of 100 from your opponents, it works out that you will get three percent more of the prize pool.
Let's say the buy-in is 110+9. The prize pool is $660, and three percent of that is $19.80. But here, I am mistaken. The second place receives not zero percent, but 35 percent. The difference in payout is 30 percent, not 100 percent, i.e. multiply it by 0.3 and you will get the same $6-7 (correct me if I am wrong, my brain is seething already). It is still a huge sum at that distance, as the player with ten percent ROI on one hundred limits earns around $10 from each round.