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Turbo SNG Bubble Strategy for 18, 45, 90, and 180 Man SNGs

For most turbo sit and go's (18, 45, 90 & 180-mans) on PokerStars and Full Tilt, you can generally use the same strategies. You want to stay tight early on and once antes kick in, you'll want to loosen up and become more aggressive so you can try to build a stack for the bubble, not to mention the final table.

Now, while the basic approach to these sit and go's will be similar from one to the next, there are going to be some differences. Some will be more subtle than others. One of the more noticeable differences will be your bubble play strategy. Below, I'll explain why it should change from one game to the next as well as outline the general approach I suggest you take for each game.

Why You Need to Adjust Your Bubble Strategy

You will want to adjust your bubble strategy from one SNG to the next primarily because of the difference in payout structures. To better understand what I mean, go look to PokerStars and compare the details between 18 and 180-mans. This is what you'll see:

  • 18-mans pay the top 4 places. 4th place receives 10% and each pay jump increases by 10% (1st: 40%, 2nd: 30%, 3rd: 20%, 4th: 10%).
  • 180-mans pay the top 18 places. 10th through 18th receive 1.2% and the pay increases from 9th to 1st start at about .9% and eventually make it to 10% (1st: 30%, 2nd: 20%, 3rd: 11.9%, 4th: 8%, 5th: 6.5%, 6th: 5%, 7th: 3.5%, 8th: 2.6%, 9th: 1.7%, 10th to 18th: 1.2%).

You might be wondering what this has to do with anything, much less your bubble strategy. Well, that's simple.

See, in a game where there is a steep payout structure, just making the money is worthwhile. Don't get me wrong, 1st place should always be your goal. But you can't complain (too much) getting 4th place in an 18-man and 10% of the overall prize pool. I'll go in more detail below, but this type of structure will change your bubble strategy to trying to cash at all costs.

Now, if you look at a flat structure like 180-mans, cashing in last place is peanuts, especially when compared to the 1st place prize. And it doesn't even improve much when you final table. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that you should be trying to cash in the top 2-3 places. This will change your bubble strategy to a much more aggressive one since building a stack (for a top 3 spot) is a much better strategy than trying to min-cash.

Specific Bubble Strategies for 18, 45, 90 and 180-man SNGs

Ok, so hopefully that all makes sense. If not, I think you'll get the idea after going through my strategies for each individual SNG below.

Please keep in mind, however, that these strategies are very general. My goal is to simply show you the differences in strategy from one kind of SNG to another, not show you strategies for very specific situations.

18-Man Bubble Strategy

As I mentioned above, you should be trying to cash in an 18-man at all costs. To give you a better idea, your ITM% (in the money) should be somewhere around 24 to 28 percent. This means you should be cashing in 1 SNG for every 4 played.

So, the first thing I suggest doing is avoiding thin calls on the bubble. If someone else shoves, you shouldn't be calling with hands like AK. Many times your range will be as narrow as jacks plus, if not better, all depending on stack sizes. Even if you have the player covered, AK is a thin call at best. Losing can cripple you and result in you bubbling the tournament.

If I'm acting first, I do play an aggressive game to exploit the fact that players should be extremely tight. However, whether you push or raise will depend on who's to your left. If you have someone capable of re-shoving light, you'll want to lean towards shoving and maximizing your fold equity since it's bad to make a thin call on the bubble (obviously hand dependent). If there are tighter players or fish to your left, than raising is definitely acceptable.

If I have a short stack with no fold equity and there is someone equally as short, I'll try to outlast them. A good way to do this is to look ahead a few hands to see who will blind away first. If it's you, you should then be in push mode. If it's not, I'll only push very good hands and just try to wait it out.

45-Man Bubble Strategy

Your strategy will change slightly from that of an 18-man in that it's not an "at all costs" type of situation anymore. While you certainly want to cash, the real money is going to be in the top 3 to 4 payout spots. To give you an idea, I would say your ITM% should be in the ballpark of 20% or 1 in every 5 games. Keep in mind though that this is data pulled from my own relatively small sample size.

I think a few of the main differences in my strategy from 18-mans is that one, I don't wait around as a short stack. I feel that there is more benefit to shoving crazy wide when short to either rebuild my stack or bust and then load a new game. Secondly, thinner calls are going to be much more acceptable, especially if you have a stack that is somewhere in the middle or below average. I will make calls with hands like AK, AQ and medium pocket pairs if doing so will give me one of the biggest stacks at the table.

90-Man Bubble Strategy

My strategy is drastically different from that of an 18 or even a 45-man in that I not only take thinner spots, I'll even go as far as to set them up. There is definitely no make the money 'at all costs' in a 90-man. I don't have an ITM% to give you as mine are skewed from KO's being added. But you can assume that it's less than a 45-man (20%). If I had to guess, I'd say somewhere around 15% or so.

But as I said, I don't just try to make the money. Instead, I try to build a stack. This means that my strategy shifts from being slightly aggressive or even borderline passive to flat-out aggressive. I open a lot of hands (to steal), 3-bet frequently (to steal/abuse) and I make calls that are considered thin in smaller field SNGs. In fact, I'll open with hands like AK, AQ, AJ, KQ and even medium pocket pairs with the intention of calling a re-shove that is trying to exploit me. Their re-shove range is much wider than my calling range and unless I have a 75k+ stack, I need to be adding as many chips to my stack as I can.

Keep in mind that only 9 players cash in these (12 on Stars) and the majority of the money to be made is in the top 3 places. So, I'd much rather bubble while trying to build a massive "top 3" chip stack as opposed to barely making the final table and busting for a min-cash in 9th place.

180-Man Bubble Strategy

180-mans are going to technically have two bubble situations. One will be from 19th to 18th place known as the money bubble and the other will be from 10th to 9th place, also known as the final table bubble. Again, I don't have a large enough sample size to give you an ITM%. But you could probably assume somewhere in the range of 10 to 15% is decent.

My strategy to the bubble(s) in these is a little different then what you might expect. For one thing, I don't abuse the money bubble all that much. Players are much more relaxed on the money bubble since a min-cash is only double that of the buy-in. So, I do steal and try to keep my stack from blinding away, but that's about the extent of my aggression.

Once you get into the money, this is where you should pick up the aggression. You need to keep in mind that 9 of remaining 18 players will be paid the exact same amount. So, there is no need to be a nit. You should be playing all of your hands hard and fast. Also, since there is more value in building a stack than trying to squeak into 9th or something, you should be pushing any edge you have. Again, I'll make calls with AK or KQ if I think I'm ahead of someone's range. I'll also set players up by open-raising trying to get my opponents to 'exploit' me.

Summary of Different Bubble Strategies from One SNG to Another

I realize that this is all quite a bit to soak in. But what you should take away from this is that your bubble strategy is (should be) drastically affected by the payout structure. As you increase the field size, the more players who are paid and the flatter each payout is. Because of this, your aggression on the bubble should increase as the field size increases and your strategy should go from trying to make the money at almost any cost to trying to build a stack in order to cash in a top 3 position.

More Sit and Go Strategy
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