Texas Holdem Sit and Go Tournament Strategy

Texas holdem sit and go tournaments are one table poker
tournaments that can usually be completed in less than an hour.
The most popular variation is no limit Texas holdem, but you can
also play limit and pot limit at some rooms.

While a few land based casinos have started offering sit and
go tournaments, the majority of them are played online. Some
poker rooms offer two or three table tournaments, but the
traditional sit and go is a one table event with 9 or 10

A common payout structure for a 10 seat game is 5 times the
buy in for first, 3 times the buy in for second, and 2 times the
buy in for third.

Here’s an example:

In a sit and go tournament where the buy in is $100 plus $10,
the first place finisher wins $500, second wins $300, and third
wins $200.

In a tournament with 9 players instead of 10 a common payout
for first is $450, second place gets $270, and third place wins

Break Even

If you’re going to be a long term profitable sit and go Texas
holdem player you need to know your break-even point.

It’s helpful to understand exactly how many times you have to
finish in the money and how many times you need to finish at
certain positions in order to break even in the long run.

In the long run you should finish in each of the first three
positions roughly the same amount of times. While this isn’t
100% true for every player, it’s close enough to get an idea for
calculating how often you need to get in the money to break


We find it easier to visualize and understand if we base all
of my long term projections and calculations on 100 events. So
in this example we’re using a buy in of $100 plus $10 over 100
sit and go tournaments.

Our total cost of entry is $110 times 100 for a total of

For a 10 person table the average win spread over the three
top spots is $333.33 when you get into the money. So you have to
get in the money 33 out of 100 time in order to break even. You
get this number by dividing $11,000 by $333.33.

If you’re playing at a 9 seat table the average win is $300,
so you need to finish in the money 37 times to finish slightly
better than break even. 36.67 times is the actual break-even

A good goal is to finish in the money 40% of the time.

  • When you finish in the money 40% of the time, your
    profit in the first example is $2,333 per 100 tournaments.
    This works out to $23.33 per tournament.
  • In the second example 40% works out to $1,000 per
    tournament, or $10 per tournament.

Realize that with one fewer entrant in the second example it
reduces your average win rate if you finish in the money the
same percentage of the time, but it also makes it easier to
reach the same percentage.

To make the same amount per tournament on average at a 9 seat
table as a 10 seat table you need to finish in the money 44.44%
of the time instead of 40%.

In the Money

Of course the goal is to finish in the money in every Texas
holdem tournament you enter, but figuring out what it takes at
each stage of the tournament can involve a few more

It helps to understand how many chips you need to finish in
the top three spots in a sit and go. Many tournaments start with
stacks of $1,000 so it’s easy to determine the average stack
size for the final three.

Of course you only need a single chip to get into the top
three, but by using the average you can quickly determine where
you stand at any point in the tournament.

  • In a 10 seat sit and go each player will have an average
    of $3,333 when the field is reduced to three players.
  • In a 9 person tournament each player will have an
    average of $3,000 chips.

When you find yourself in a position with over $2,000 in
chips with four players remaining you’re in decent shape, but
you can’t afford to let down or make any big mistakes. If you’re
in the same position with $4,000 or more in chips you can
usually slow down and only play your best hands.

This information also gives you a good idea of how many times
you need to double up to get where you need to be. You might
start feeling pressed when you get down to $500 chips, but you
only need to double up twice to get to $2,000.

Even if you’re down to $200 in chips you only have to double
up three times to get to $1,600.


The blinds force action in sit and go tournaments just like
in ring games and multi table tournaments, but they force action
faster in sit and go’s.

The blinds go up quickly so you have to play aggressively
early in order to build a large enough stack to survive until
you get into the money.

We’ve seen many players complain that sit and go tournaments
are reduced to luck because of this, but it’s simply not true.
The best poker players win more often than poor players in the
long run, so it can’t all be about luck.

Skill is what determines sit and go winners, not luck.

What you have to do is adjust your game so you take the
rising blinds into account.

Reducing Players and Hand Strength

Another interesting thing that happens while you play sit and
go tournaments is the number of players goes down as the
tournament progresses so the relative hand strength changes.

Few poker players are able to play their best game at both a
10 person table and a 6 person table, but a sit and go combines
both of these as well as short hand play that ends with heads up

Hand strengths change depending on how many players remain.
Here are some examples:

Example 1

If you get a pair of kings at the table with 9 other players,
they have 18 of the 50 remaining unseen cards. 4 of those cards
are aces. This means that the odds are that at least one of them
has an ace in their hand.

When you get a pair of kings and only have 3 opponents they
only have 6 of the remaining 50 cards so it’s much less likely
one of them holds an ace.

Of course a pair of kings is a strong starting hand in any
situation, but if an ace lands on the flop you can judge how
likely an opponent is to have one in both situations.

Example 2

With a full table a pair of nines from early position should
usually be folded, but when the table is three or four handed it
becomes a strong starting hand from any position.

Example 3

Any hand that contains an ace also greatly improves in value
as the tournament goes on. You don’t want to play aces with poor
kickers at a full table but with three players they’re usually
strong hands.

Two Distinct Strategies Plus a Bonus

Most successful players use one of two different strategies.

Strategy 1

The first strategy is folding all but your best hands until
you’re forced to play because the blinds are getting too high.
When you do enter a hand you play aggressively, usually over
betting, in an attempt to get all in every time you play. This
gives you a chance to double up with your best hands until you
get a large enough chip stack that you can adjust your play
until you get into the money.

If you play in sit and go tournaments with many of the same
players over and over a few of them may get wise to this
strategy and stop giving you action early in the tournament. But
most players don’t pay attention and will give you action on
most hands.

This strategy works well for many players, but the key is
learning how to value starting hands while you have an average
stack and when you get low and are forced to play because of the

The mistake many players make is losing patience and playing
hands that aren’t as good as they need to be or jump into a pot
before they have to.

If you have enough chips to pay the blinds for three more
rounds you have plenty of time to pick up a good hand to make a
move with.

We’ve seen players push with middle suited connectors and
small pairs at this point, and it isn’t a good play. If you’re
down to your final round of blinds you can play these hands, but
you don’t need to before.

When we’re looking for a hand to push with when we get short
stacked in addition to the top normal hands here’s a list of the
types of hands, somewhat in order from best to worst, that we

  • Any hand with an ace, but suited is better
  • Medium pairs, 7 and above
  • Any two face cards
  • Any king with a suited second card
  • Suited queen

Strategy 2

The other winning strategy is playing a wider range of hands
with high aggression from the beginning of the tournament. The
idea is to bully the table and steal many blinds and small bets.

If the table lets you play this style you may be able to
build enough of a stack that when one of your opponents lands a
strong hand you’ll have enough to take the loss and continue

One main problem with this style is you rely on too much luck
early to stay in the game and not run up against a big hand.

More players are successful playing the first style than the
second, but some players are good enough to make money with the
second style.

Successful players who use the second strategy are really
good at using their position, stack size, and knowledge of the
other players and situations at every point in the tournament.

Alternative Strategy

A third strategy is an all-in system. The basic concept is
every time you play a hand you move all in until you reach the
money. Once you reach the money you usually adjust your play to
maximize your chances of winning.

The reason we list the third strategy as a bonus instead of
three different strategies is because the first and third
strategy are similar. This strategy stems from a multi table
Texas holdem tournament strategy that can be used to give an
inexperienced player a chance.

An inexperienced player is given a list of starting hands and
they fold everything not on the list and move all in with
anything on the list. It’s not a long term profitable play in
multi table tournaments, but with some thought and practice it
can work at some levels of sit and go play.

Top Tip

Notice that all of the strategies discussed here are
based on aggressive play. The blinds go up too fast for passive
play to be profitable in the long run. You have to play in an
aggressive manner if you hope to turn a long term profit at the
Texas holdem sit and go tables.


Just like Texas holdem ring games, the competition gets
better as the buy ins go up in sit and go tournaments. This
isn’t always true in multi table tournaments.

At the lower buy in levels you can usually turn a profit by
playing solid poker, remaining tight and aggressive, and
focusing on not doing anything stupid. As you start playing for
higher stakes the competition gets better, but most tables will
still have a few poor players. At the top buy in levels the
overall competition is much better, but you’ll still see a few
players who don’t seem to know what they’re doing.

During the online poker boom when Party Poker was the biggest
poker room in the world you could play in many low limit sit and
go tournaments, with buy in levels of $10 plus $1 or so, and
simply fold everything except high pocket pairs and get into the
money enough times to break even or turn a small profit.

The games were filled with poor players and all you had to do
was be patient. We distinctly remember playing in a few games
where we didn’t play a single hand until we were in the money.

Things have changed and you have to play a few hands even at
the lowest levels today, but the same basic concept still seems
to work well. Be patient, focus on your best hands early, and
play solid ABC poker.

At the higher levels you have to combine solid poker
fundamentals with knowledge of the other players. The top buy in
levels have a much smaller number of regular players so you need
to start building a database of information about them as soon
as you start playing. You need to be able to exploit playing
tendencies and poor playing decisions at this level if you want
to win enough to overcome the rake.

The rake is the extra add on instead of a charge per hand. In
a $10 plus $1 sit and go tournament, the $1 is the rake, or fee
the poker room collects.


Texas holdem sit and go tournaments require a different set
of advanced skills than larger tournaments and ring games, but
they can be quite profitable if you’re willing to learn the best

Even if you’re an experienced Texas holdem player, try your
hand at the lower buy in levels until you grasp the subtle
strategy adjustments you need to make. Remember that it could
take hundreds of tournaments to get a real picture of your
success. Don’t be in a hurry to move up to the next level until
you’re convinced you’re playing winning poker.