Categories: Poker

9 Mistakes Rookie Poker Players Make in Single Table Sit and Go Tournaments

When you sit down to play no limit Texas Holdem, you’ll invariably have three formats to choose from – cash games, multi-table tournaments, and sit and go single table tournaments.

Cash games provide a fluid and seemingly infinite experience. Players can enter or exit the game at their leisure, re-loading their stack with supplementary buy-ins as they see fit, and a single session can stretch out for weeks on end.

Multi-table tournaments are more akin to a “battle royale,” with every player starting with the same chip stack, and the field playing down from one elimination to the next until one champion is left standing.

As for the sit and go concept, these one-table affairs distill tournament gameplay down to its very essence. Nine players take to the table together, and within an hour or so, the final three earn cash payouts while the winner pockets the lion’s share of the prize pool.

You wouldn’t know it based on the massive four- and five-figure field sizes commonly seen at the World Series of Poker (WSOP) nowadays, but the very first WSOP tournaments ever held were sit and go’s.

After using a glorified cash game format to crown the World Champion of poker the series’ first two go arounds, the 1972 WSOP shifted to a No Limit Holdem tournament. And when only eight professional card sharps ponied up the $10,000 buy-in – more than $60,000 in today’s dollars – the first WSOP Main Event tournament turned into a single table sit and go:

1972 WSOP Main Event Results

Place Player Prize
1st Thomas “Amarillo Slim” Preston $80,000
2nd Walter “Puggy” Pearson $0
3rd Doyle Brunson $0
4th Crandall Addington $0
5th Jack Straus $0
6th Johnny Moss $0
7th Roger Van Ausdall $0
8th Jimmy Casella $0

The field for the 1973 Main Event eclipsed double-digits, and poker’s premier tournament has been a multi-table deal ever since, but that doesn’t mean sit and go players didn’t have a seat at the WSOP.

In fact, the transition from sit and go’s serving as an outlier to become a staple of the poker economy began back at the 1982 WSOP.

According to legendary pro Tom McEvoy – who won the 1983 Main Event for $540,000 – the use of sit and go’s for satellite purposes was born one year prior:

“For a number of years, Eric Drache was the tournament director for the World Series for the Binion family at Binion’s Horseshoe where the tournament was held until 2003.

They weren’t getting enough entries in the Main Event in 1982. Back then, $10,000 was worth a lot more than it is today.

Drache saw a bunch of guys playing a cash game and he said, ‘Why don’t you guys each put up a thousand bucks and the winner will get a seat in the Main Event?’”

Today, you can find the sit and go section of any major online poker room packed with tables filling up like clockwork. Traditionally hosting nine players per tournament, the modern sit and go starts out with 1,500 chips and tiny blinds of 10/20 (with no ante). But with a relatively rapid blind structure which begins a new level every 8-10 minutes, it doesn’t take long for the pressure to ramp up.

Players compete in sit and go’s to turn $22 into $90 for a first-place finish, or perhaps $500 into $2,250, but for the most part the following 1-2-3 payout structure is in place:

Standard Nine-Handed sit and go Payout Structure

Place Percentage of Prize Pool
1st 50 percent
2nd 30 percent
3rd 20 percent
4th-9th 0 percent

Sit and go’s remain an integral aspect of the live tournament circuit as well, with major series like the WSOP and World Poker Tour (WPT) hosting an extended period of one-table satellite sessions to feed qualifiers into their major events.

And thanks to the creative geniuses behind online poker platforms like PokerStars or Bovada, a long lineup of sit and go offshoots has been spawned in recent years. You’ll find heads-up sit and go’s featuring just two players, six-handed offshoots, and so-called “Spin and Gos” which award various juiced up prize pools on a random basis.

All things considered, any poker player worth their salt needs to know their way around the sit and go tables. To make sure you do, check out the list below to learn about nine mistakes rookie sit and go players make when trying to navigate the single table tournament scene:

1 – Grinding Too Few – or Too Many – Tournament Tables at the Same Time

The very first mistake new sit and go players – or any tournament player for that matter – makes involves the idea of volume.

Simply put, your results in one, 10, or 100 of these sit and go tournaments don’t really reflect anything meaningful over the long run. Put another way, any fish can luck their way into the final three here and there, while highly skilled players will get bounced out early plenty of times.

Whether you call this phenomenon “dumb luck” – or the more accurate term “statistical variance” – poker is notorious for creating illusions out of short-term results.

For that reason, the most successful sit and go specialists out there routinely dial up 10 tournament tables at a time. With the average length of a sit and go clocking in at right around one hour, and assuming a six-hour session of play, this means the pros are putting in 60 or more sit and go’s every single day. Even with the weekends off, that amounts to 300 of these largely random, one-off results are recorded in just a single week.

By increasing your volume, you can effectively “filter” out the role of short-term statistical variance. Sure, your Ace-King might get run down by Ace-Queen to bust you here and there, but with enough volume added to the equation, you’ll see Big Slick prevail much closer to its 71 percent expected win rate over A-Q.

On the other hand, all of us non-pros who are still perfecting our games need to be careful when it comes to multi-tabling sit and go’s. Watching those infamous YouTube clips of well-known online pros multi-tabling a dozen or more games at a time can be inspiring to say the least, but you need to work your way up the ladder to make this strategy effective.

On that note, beginners are best served by starting out with something like two to four sit and go screens open at any one time. Obviously, adding tables in this fashion increases your buy-in expenditures, so feel free to dial back the stakes – say from $22 tables to $11 – in order to add more volume.

As you get comfortable toggling between tables and making decisions on the fly, study your results to find out if you’re achieving steady profitability. When that’s the case, only then should you consider increasing your workload to six to eight tables, eight to 10, or beyond.

2 – Playing Too Loosely During the Opening Levels When Blinds Are Tiny

When you first fire up a nine-handed sit and go, starting with 1,500 chips at the 10/20 blind level, it can be all too tempting to loosen up your starting hand ranges.
And why not?

As you can see in the table below, those parameters mean you’ll be sitting on an extremely comfortable stack of 75 big blinds:

Standard Online sit and go Blind Structure

Level Blinds Antes Duration (Minutes) BBs (Average Stack)
1 10/20 10 75
2 15/30 10 50
3 25/50 10 30
4 50/100 10 15
5 75/150 10 15
6 100/200 10 11.25
7 100/200 25 10 11.25
8 200/400 25 10 8.45
9 300/600 50 10 5.60
10 400/800 50 10 5.60
11 600/1,200 75 10 5.60
12 800/1,600 75 10 4.20
13 1,000/2,000 100 10 3.30

Knowing this, many sit and go newbies mistakenly believe they should open up and enter pots with as many playable hands as possible. This is why you’ll see folks out there tangling over tiny pots amounting to less than 100 chips with mediocre hands like A-7 off and 4-5 suited.

For these players, the idea is seemingly simple and straightforward. As they see it, playing in the early levels means they can “afford” to splash around a few big blinds here and there on marginal hands, in hopes of smashing the flop and collecting a huge pot when their opponent happens to hit something too.

And don’t get me wrong, this strategy can pay dividends on a sporadic basis. Play enough sit and go’s, and you’ll inevitably notice these loose-aggressive players scoring an immediate double when they cooler an unfortunate opponent early on.

This can make opening up seem like a sound strategy, but in reality, playing snug as a bug in a rug is the right way to go when the blinds are low. Take a second look at that blind structure table above, paying close attention to how your stack’s big blind ratio* rapidly shrinks.

*For the “average stack,” I used a player count of nine for Levels 1-4, six players for Levels 5-7, four players for Levels 8 and 9, three players for Level 10, and two players for Levels 11-13

As you can see, that 75-BB starting stack shrinks down to 50 bigs after just one level, which can take only eight minutes in most sit and go’s. And when Level 3 rolls around, your 1,500 starting stack is good for just 30 big blinds.

For this reason, chasing draws and set-mining during the opening levels isn’t advised, because these high-risk/high-reward plays will fail to pan out more often than not. And when they don’t, you’re parting ways with chips that will become much more valuable in only a few minutes’ time.

Instead of playing loose and aggressive in the opening blind levels, bide your time and adopt a tight-aggressive strategy based on premium starting hands and restraint on post-flop streets. If you’re lucky, you’ll pad your 1,500 chips to 2,500 or so going into the more meaningful levels, when antes and larger blinds make every preflop pot worthwhile.

And even if you find yourself folding throughout the first few orbits, having 1,400 or so going into Level 3 should put you in a better position than the loose players who bled down to 1,000 or fewer.

3 – Forgetting to Use Push / Fold Charts When Short Stacked

Now that we’ve covered how to approach the early phases of a sit and go – when chips are plentiful and blinds are low – let’s move on to the other side of the coin.

Short-stacked play is inevitable as a sit and go specialist, thanks in large part to the sped up structure. Even in the online realm, where multi-table tournaments utilize a brisk 15-minute blind schedule, sit and go’s are extremely fast-paced. It only takes 16 minutes for your 1,500 starting stack to dwindle down to 30 big blinds, and when you wait for one more level, you’ll already be in the “danger zone” with 15 bigs or less.

At this point, sit and go game play tends to devolve from a post-flop, multiple-street dynamic into a simple push or shove contest reminiscent of “chicken.” In other words, the first player to blink usually winds up crashing and burning.

If you could transport yourself into a losing sit and go player’s seat for a brief spell, here’s what you’d see more often than not.

Sitting short with something like 10 big blinds, the losing player in middle position finds Ace-Jack off suit in the hole. An early position opponent opens for a standard raise, but rather than shove it all in with the A-J, our loser decides to play it safe and see the flop on the cheap.

But when that flop falls 9-4-2, 10-6-3, or any other combination which misses the A-J, this player is content to check and fold – sacrificing two or three precious big blinds from their stack in the process.

Another scenario might see the same player sitting on the button with K-8 suited. From everything they’ve read about tournament strategy, a hand like K-8s is essentially trash, vulnerable to any King with a higher kicker, any Ace-high, or any pocket pair ranked 8-8 or better.

Thus, the losing player throws their cards away without a second thought, never realizing that they should be shoving this “bad” hand – and many more like it – given their position and stack size.

For decades, the best players in the world knew when to shove bad hands almost intuitively. Relying on their knowledge that of the 169 possible starting hands in Texas Holdem, only 20 or so are really considered playable when facing a big raise, these savvy sit and go experts simply clicked the “All-In” button and waited for their opponent to fold one of those 140+ unplayable hands.

Nowadays, algorithm-assisted studies of the stats underlying Texas Holdem have produced an invaluable resource known as the “Push / Fold” chart. These charts boil down sit and go situations based on big blinds in your stack, position at the table, and number of opponents remaining to tell you exactly which hands are shove-worthy given the circumstances.

Below you’ll find a standard Push / Fold chart showing how to approach a 10-BB stack, depending on how many players are left at the table:

Push Hands with 10 Big Blinds Left

Opponents Push Hands
8 33+ A8s+ A5s AJo+ K9s+ KQo QTs+ JTs T9s
7 22+ A8s+ A5s ATo+ K9s+ KQo Q9s+ J9s+ T9s
6 22+ A8s+ A5s-A4s ATo+ K9s+ KJo+ Q9s+ QJo J9s+ T9s
5 22+ A2s+ A9o+ K8s+ KJo+ Q9s+ QJo J8s+ JTo T8s+ 98s
4 22+ A2s+ A5o+ K7s+ KTo+ Q8s+ QTo+ J8s+ JTo T8s+ 98s 87s
3 22+ Ax+ K6s+ KTo+ Q8s+ QTo+ J8s+ JTo T7s+ 97s+ 87s 76s
2 22+ Ax+ K2s+ K8o+ Q6s+ Q9o+ J7s+ J9o+ T7s+ T9o 96s+ 86s+ 75s+ 65s
HU 22+ Qx+ J2s+ J6o+ T2s+ T7o+ 94s+ 97o+ 84s+ 86o+ 74s+ 76o 63s+ 53s+ 43s

This table is a simplified example for explanation’s sake, so it doesn’t take position into account, but you can get the idea. As it turns out, you should be shoving that K-8 suited against five players or fewer, while folding it against six players or more.

For a more detailed, positionally-based glimpse into this essential sit and go tool, check out this detailed Push / Fold chart graphic posted by poker strategy site Float the Turn.

4 – Failing to Take Position into Account in Pivotal Preflop Decisions

One of more fatal mistakes a sit and go player can make involves forgetting to account for table position when calling preflop.

Let’s say you look down at something pretty like K-Q suited. At first glance, this suited Broadway hand holds tons of potential, so you splash out a raise.

That might be all well and good from the hijack, cutoff, or button, when late position ensures you’ll only face a few potential opponents.

But opening with K-Q suited from under the gun or early position is a recipe for bankroll disaster, what with six, seven, or even eight opponents still left to act. You might be three-bet by a better hand or a bolder player, or maybe you’re called and forced to act out of position for the rest of the hand.

To avoid this trap, be sure to study your positionally-based hand ranges, as seen in the table below:

Sit and go Hand Ranges by Position

Early Levels (30 BBs or More)

Raise as First In Limp or Call Limp Re-raise
Early Position 88+, AJs+, AQo+ 66+ QQ+, AKs
Middle Position 66+, A10+ 22+ JJ+, AK
Late Position 22+, 23s+, A7s+, Q10+ 22+, 56s+, A2s+, A10o+ JJ+, AK

Middle Levels (20 – 29 BBs)

Raise as First In Limp or Call Limp Re-raise
Early Position 66+, A10s+, AJo+ 55+ JJ+, AQs
Middle Position 55+, A10+, KJs+ 22+, AJs+ 99+, AQ+
Late Position 22+, 23s+, A5o+, J10+ 22+, 45s+, A2s+, A5o+ 88+, AQ+

Late Levels (20 BBs or Fewer)

Raise as First In Limp or Call Limp Re-raise
Early Position N/A N/A QQ+, AKs
Middle Position 55+, A10+, KQ 44+ 1010+, AQ+
Late Position 22+, A8+, Q10+, 78s+ 22+, A10s+, KQs 88+, AQ+

5 – Confusing Big Slick with Pocket Rockets and Overplaying Ace-King

Ask any sit and go player which hand has led to more eliminations than any other, and you’ll likely hear horror stories about “Big Slick.”

Ace-King is an extremely tricky hand to play in any context, as it looks and feels like a made monster, but fails to connect with the flop a whopping 67 percent of the time.

The majority of sit and go players are notorious for shoving with every A-K they see, hoping to turn a coin flip situation into a super-sized stack. Others are happy to call off significant chunks of their stack preflop, only to see 2-9-J flops throw a monkey wrench into their plans.

Every situation in poker is situational, of course, but don’t be the sucker jamming an unmade hand for 50 bigs or more.

6 – Mistaking Frequent Clashes with the Same Opponent as “Bullying” or “Rivalry”

Emotions can often get the better of beginners at the poker table, and sit and go’s are no exception.

With only nine players present, you’ll wind up squaring off against the same player several times in the span of a few minutes. Depending on your propensity for “tilt,” going toe to toe with the same opponent over and over again can cause emotions to come into play.

Maybe they’re out-flopping you and forcing you to fold sweet starting hands like A-K and 9-9. Or perhaps you’re getting the better of them, to the point where you think you’ve found the table fish.

In any event, letting inevitable showdowns against the same handful of opponents is a fool’s errand. Nobody is targeting you or bullying you, or any such nonsense involving a personal rivalry, so don’t let nine-handed single-table play convince you otherwise.

7 – Playing Too Defensively on the Bubble as a Big Stack Instead of Punishing Shorties

Many players are fully capable of running up a big stack during the early phases of a sit and go, but only the best know how to finish.

You’ll see people out there cruise from 1,500 to 5,000 chips or more, then turtle up into a shell once the money bubble approaches. Knowing their opponents are severely short-stacked, these big stacks believe it’s best to wait things out, folding playable hands and erring on the side of caution.

Their goal is to let the short-stacks wage war until the bubble bursts, thus guaranteeing a dividend on their ability to build a big stack. And while that makes sense on an instinctive level, logic shows us that the correct course of action is actually to ramp up the aggression with a big stack on the bubble.

All of those shorties are desperate to make the money too, so why not put them to constant tests with preflop opens and three-bets? You’ll earn folds around the table more often than not, and even if you get played back at by pocket Kings when all you hold is A-6, you’ll still have a 30 percent chance to notch the knockout.

Playing boldly with a big stack on the bubble is definitely better than waiting for others to do your dirty work for you. All it takes is a few shorties to double up, after all, and suddenly your big stack won’t mean nearly as much as it did a few minutes ago.

8 – Playing Too Defensively on the Bubble as a Short Stack Instead of Stealing Blinds

Mistakes #7 and #8 are essentially two halves of the same coin, so we’ll leave this one short and sweet.

While other short-stacks are folding everything but monsters by default, you should be looking to exert maximum pressure while you still have “fold equity.”

Going all in gives you two chances to win – one when you get called and wind up with the best hand, and another when everybody folds to your aggression. Fold equity is extremely valuable late in a sit and go, so when you’re short-stacked, try your best to pick on tight players who are also short, while challenging the big stacks to break out of their aforementioned shell.

9 – Opting for an All-In Heavy Strategy in Heads-Up Play

When you reach the penultimate stage of a sit and go, with just one opponent standing between you and the top payout, it can be quite tempting to put the pedal to the metal.

But whether you have the short stack or the chip lead, going for the gusto during the endgame can be a big mistake.

Remember, you played hard through the entire sit and go to reach heads-up play, and the difference between 1st-place money and runner-up status is quite significant. With that in mind, exercise caution and try to apply skillful play – rather than reckless preflop shoving – to seal the deal.

Conclusion

Sit and go tournaments are a beloved segment of the poker economy for many reasons.

Players who have limited free time to work with love the idea of grinding out a win in under an hour. Full-time grinders appreciate the nonstop availability of eight opponents willing to tangle. And recreational poker enthusiasts looking to parlay a few bucks into a buy-in for a major event use sit and go’s as the de facto qualification system.

Between the big online poker rooms, and live circuit staples like the WSOP and WPT, the sit and go landscape is more diverse today than ever before. To take full advantage of this unique single-table tournament format, be sure to examine your game and eliminate any of the nine common sit and go mistakes listed here.

Michael Stevens: Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for GamblingSites.org since early 2016.