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StrategySit & Go

How to play a tournament


In this article
  • Bankroll management is the key
  • Tournaments are a different kind of poker.
  • A tournament passes through three phases, as does your tournament strategy.


The sound of clattering chips fills the room. Excitement is in the air. You look at your cards, then at your opponent across the table. It's your turn. What's the best move now?

Playing a tournament is fun. There's action, excitement and diversity. It also promises profit to those who know how to play. When you see the professionals on TV you think: "Wow, I wish I could play like them!" Well you can. Our beginner section for Sit and Go tournament play will provide you with all the necessary knowledge to jump into the fray successfully and well prepared.

So how can you win Sit and Go tournaments, or at least make money in them? You have to understand these three basic principles:

  • Bankroll management
  • What cards to play before the flop
  • What hands to play after the flop

Free poker money tip: Click here to download the chart!

Also check out the general information on how to play poker for more details.

What is bankroll management?

Thanks to the rise of online poker rooms, a totally new type of poker player has emerged. Most of the time these are young people from any corner of the world, who appear out of nowhere only to work their way up from the lowest stakes to the top in no time. These prodigies achieve in a matter of two or three years what took others half a lifetime to do in the old days.

However, the career opportunity that online poker offers through its constant availability demands a whole new set of requirements of the players themselves. If you want to advance in the world of online poker, you don't only have to be a good player - you also have to be a good manager, your own manager.

The buy-in for a tournament should always be looked upon as an investment, just as if you were trading with stocks. You only buy when there is promise of a certain return on your investment and if the risk is limited to a reasonable degree. In poker, this can be achieved through bankroll management.

Bankroll management will help you identify how much of your poker money you can invest in a tournament, in order to find the right balance between your desire to...

  • make significant progress and a reasonable profit if you win
  • avoid falling back too far and losing big chunks of your poker money when you lose.

Your bankroll is your asset, which you have to invest wisely in order to advance. You naturally want to win big when you win, but you don't want to take too much of a hit when you lose. This can be achieved by following the '2 percent rule'.

Don't spend more than 2% of your balance for a single Sit and Go (excluding rake).

You get this 2% by dividing your account balance by 50. Though it might sound exaggerated, this buffer is really necessary.

And what is this rake we are talking about anyway? Your buy-in to a tournament is almost always made up of a part for the prize pool and a fee that the poker room keeps, which is called the rake or entry fee. If the entry to a tournament is advertised at $1+$0.15, this means that $1 of your buy-in will be put into the prize pool while the poker room keeps $0.15 for itself. The first figure here is important for your bankroll management: only play the tournament if you have at least 50 times this amount ($50 in this example).

What cards to play

Imagine a Sit and Go as a game of chess. There are three phases, the opening, the middle phase and the end game - you don't checkmate the opposing king in your opening. Much rather, it's a good idea to use your middle phase to put your pieces in position to attempt a checkmate in the end game.

A Sit and Go also passes through three phases. They are derived from the size of the blinds, or rather the size of the chip stacks in relation to them. The higher the blinds become, the more your strategy will change.

The three phases of a Sit and Go

The early phase (You have more than 24 big blinds)

While the blinds are still small, you are in phase 1 of your strategy: You will not take unnecessary risk, but rather wait patiently for good cards. Patience is the most important virtue here.

The middle phase (You have between 14 and 24 big blinds)

When the blinds go up and make up a bigger fraction of your chip stack, your strategy enters phase 2. You become more aggressive and incorporate special moves into your strategy.

The late phase (You have less than 14 big blinds)

If the blinds get so high they really start hurting your chip stack, you enter the most important and main phase of the tournament, the push-or-fold phase. You will either go all-in or fold before the flop here.

Your strategy in the first two phases aims solely at bringing you to the last phase. The actual game starts here.

  • The actual game starts in the late phase of the tournament.
  • Your whole play before this is directed at staying alive until the late phase.

This is in stark contrast to other poker variants, such as cash games. Tournaments are unique though the additional strategic component of positioning yourself tactically for the end game during the early and the middle phase. How to play this in detail and what cards can bring you forward in this undertaking will be explained in the next article:

Go to the next article: How to play before the flop


Over the course of this article, one thing should have become clear to you: in poker, being a good player is not the only thing that counts. You could indeed be the best player in the entire world and still fail miserably, when you don't practice proper bankroll management.

Success doesn't happen overnight. It doesn't magically appear like a big win at the lottery - you have to plan it. The way you deal with your poker money today will decide where you will play tomorrow. If you put all your money on one hand today, chances are you will find yourself able only to buy in at play-money tables tomorrow.

The second important aspect of your poker career is your skill. The better prepared you are, and the bigger your advantage over the other players is, the higher your winnings will turn out to be and the faster you will be able to climb the limits.

The second article of these series deals with play before the flop. You will learn which cards are worth entering play with and at which stage of the game:

Go to the next article: how to play before the flop


Comments (39)

#1 lostromakos, 22 Mar 09 12:41


#2 Glopslart, 02 Apr 09 09:21

Anyone who thinks this is easy still has much to learn ...

#3 aceonetheriver, 22 Apr 09 12:50


#4 dobidobi, 26 Apr 09 08:15

good input , patience patience patience ...

#5 Sirducer, 17 Jun 09 03:06

easy daisy

#6 luckydiamonds, 16 Jul 09 13:51

It's easy if you stick to it, if you do exactly like the icm trainer until you grind your BR to higher limits.

#7 PokerOffka, 01 Aug 09 12:00

Patience is hard to master.

#8 thundergezo, 08 Aug 09 04:26

for some, patience is hard to follow :-)

#9 ryder4601, 27 Oct 09 03:13

Thanks for the tips, I don't do exactly everything right but then I never was one to follow the rules

#10 PsychoFin, 11 Nov 09 14:53

It's always good to review the basics, no matter what limit you play.

#11 squallofreeves, 13 Nov 09 07:02

though the 2% buy in rule management sounds sensible enough, it isn't so pragmatic if you are using the $50 starting capital from PokerStrategy and you're not playing at Pokertars or FTP. because you it takes a really skilled player to win so many maniacs and donkeys at the $1 tables or lower! They will bluff with and go all in with cards like 2-7 off suited and when you fold, they'll show you their cards to mock you. If you go all in with your best cards, they will call and somehow hit a straight, busting you, and call you "fish" afterwards. And before you know it, you're on tilt.
It's so so scary. Just move up one or two limits! You can follow the 2% buy-in rule later!

#12 gedwashere91, 29 Nov 09 13:04

Follow standard push-or-fold strategy and remember, PATIENCE IS KEY.


#13 xx4Deucesxx, 06 Dec 09 15:13

This is really easy to understand and the maths are simple BUT actually being patient and not getting greedy is the most difficult thing of all

#14 qwery1, 29 Jan 10 18:36

squallofreeves -> It's sound smart what you sad but its not true, don't delude beginners, higher limits are not easier

Bigger problem on lower limits is higher rake, not bad players, they really do work for you

#15 Koshburger, 06 Feb 10 08:07


#16 iMeph1sto, 21 May 10 13:23

it seems ok...not quite easy tho,still need to learn a lot :)

#17 sashenko20, 15 Jun 10 10:06

I would suggest playing double or nothing at pokerstars. It is real easy to lan in the money there. You start the game with 10 players and the game ends when there are 5 left. Everybody that survived get their buy in amount doubled. Not that big amount you can win, but it is much easier to win than regular SnG. I played 6 today and landed in money in all of them. Just follow the suggestions from the articles and you'll be growing your bankroll steadily. Good luck to you all.

#18 ayrene14, 04 Aug 10 20:19

i need a lot more patience

#19 ShadowCasino, 30 Sep 10 23:06

Patience is the key P-A-T-I-E-N-C-E
I think poker is a game of pacience...

#20 lordTeddy, 06 Oct 10 02:17

Ok i have one question maybe its stupid but when i have like 10 BB And duble up schould i play like middle phase or schould i continue with late phase strategy? I know its probably strange question but i cant find clear answer anywhere in the article...

#21 Calex999, 07 Oct 10 20:56

lordteddy, if you double up 10bb you will then have 20bb so your back in middle phase if yur following pokerstrategy rules.

#22 mattbaillon, 14 Oct 10 08:25

patience patience patience with a little bit of a psycho mixed in works.
and its easy to wait, you should be always doing something ie, observing others

#23 manuqe, 05 Jan 11 16:18

folowing starting hands chart got me in the buble almost every time

#24 markoAs999, 09 Jan 11 20:12

Nice article

#25 billyboy67, 11 Feb 11 15:00

patience is evrything s$g mtt's but i do love the players who think well its only a $1 and push with any 2 cards lol great advice from the icm

#26 givusabit, 25 Apr 11 14:15

got starting 50 followed rules to letter and won!!

#27 mariostoona, 19 May 11 19:14

i started with the 50$ dollar of pokerstrategy and that worked for some days at 2$ sng.after a few bad sessions i need new

#28 REIDSA1, 04 Jul 11 22:03

we will see how I do with my gameplan

#29 Eight38Three, 13 Jul 11 17:37

I personally prefer the '4-5% rule' with SnG tournaments with the '1-2% rules' applying for MTTs.

Even with this increase you shouldn't go broke if you play steady and can also increase your bankroll slowly.

Only works if you're strict with yourself about dropping a level if needed though. =)

#30 krilli46, 22 Jul 11 11:45

Hi! Im using mac and I noticed that your software for training to play in the late stage is in .msi (Microsoft installer files). Is this the only format for this software?

#31 David, 25 Jul 11 08:16

@30: ICM Trainer is only available for Windows PCs at the moment, sorry for that.

#32 ntvvl, 28 Aug 11 22:20

Thx for this great topic. Just started working with it on S&G's and it seems to work nicely. Got a couple question: sometimes the s&g's go really fast and you end up with only 3 players and low blinds. Then it would stil quallify as early or middle stage but these hand ranges are very tight. Can we open up our hand range a bit more in these situations? Furthemore, what about preflop hand that offer great odds to call? E.g. holding 56s in SB with 3 limpers in. Should I play these? Last, what is the rationale of calling with low pair in early position with small pairs? According to the Sklansky tables these are only +EV when there are already some limpers in front of you. Thx!

#33 David, 30 Aug 11 08:27

@32: Hi ntvvl, your question is in the safest possible hands in our MTT strategy forums:

#34 mirac12, 07 Dec 11 22:01

nice ggzug hand wwddftetdt

#35 mirac12, 07 Dec 11 22:08

i have no comment at all

#36 LuiVampa, 23 Dec 11 01:34

Pain has brought me here... And adrenaline!

#37 payizan, 30 May 12 10:54

i love this page

#38 imriverd, 07 Aug 14 10:54

this is great

#39 arasan2ela, 31 Dec 14 13:31

wait good cards always and survive long as possible