SNG Strategy: The Middle Stage

In the middle stage the blinds go up which usually causes the players in the blinds to play tighter. They are afraid that defending their blinds could put a big portion of their stack at risk. That's why it is more important for us to steal the blinds in appropriate situations or to take advantage of our tight image to make some moves, i.e. resteals. But the higher the blinds, the smaller the raise size can be.

Of course, this strategy shouldn't be exaggerated and the basic rule is: play tight!
Especially speculative hands like suited connectors or small pairs lose value in this phase because entering a hand is often so expensive that the implied odds for speculative hands have become unfavourable

In the middle stage, a lot of moves now also depend on our own stack size in relation to the big blind (BB):

  • With 25 BBs or more we have enough chips to take advantage of every good opportunity to steal and shouldn't be afraid of keeping our opponents constantly under pressure.
  • With 15 to 24 BBs we are in a situation where a failed steal attempt can hurt our stack. But we usually still have enough chips after giving up our hand to be able to wait for a playable hand.
  • With ten to 14 BBs it doesn't make sense any more to steal the blinds with marginal hands because an unsuccessful attempt would now affect our stack too much and put us in a highly unfavourable position for the rest of the game.
  • With ten BBs or less, a better alternative to a normal blind steal is pushing all-in to increase the fold equity.

When should we steal the blinds?

Our own position (cutoff, button), the fact that everyone has folded so far and the stacks of the remaining players are the factors that make a good opportunity to steal the blinds. In addition it is also important to be able to categorize the players behind us and at least roughly divide them into one of the following categories: tight, medium or loose. Here we should focus our attention on the big blind.

The tighter the big blind, the worse our own hand can be in order to steal the blinds.

If the steal-raise is called, we should make a continuation bet on all dry flops (flops where only few draws are possible such as ). A continuation bet that is a little higher than half the size of the pot is usually enough.

We often completely miss the flop (in two out of three cases), but this should not keep us from continuing to put pressure on our opponents. In the rare cases where the opponent calls or even raises after the flop and our hand happens to be very weak, we should give up so we can wait for new and better spots.

Resteals and squeeze play

Before we try a resteal, we should figure out what the actual raiser is trying to achieve with his raise.

A raise in late position can roughly be divided into the following two categories:

  1. The opponent is holding a strong hand and wants action.
  2. It is an attempt to steal the blinds.
  • Here's an example:

    The blinds are 100/200, a passive player with a stack of 1,700 raises to 500 from the button. In contrast to a raise of an aggressive player who raises from the cut-off with blinds of 100/200 and a stack of 3,800, this raise indicates a significantly stronger hand.

When differentiating between the two raises it is therefore important to categorize the opponent's playing style and take his stack size into account.

Since these two factors only give us a rough guideline, we should only make a resteal if there is a very high probability that the raise is a steal.

When making a resteal our position is also very important since the chance of someone "waking up" with a monster hand behind us depends on the number of remaining players.

Normal resteal vs. all-in resteal

While going over all of these things we should distinguish between an all-in resteal and a normal resteal:

  • We should try an all-in resteal if the effective stack size is somewhere between ten and 13 BBs (or 11 and 15 BBs in case there is an ante). We have enough fold equity with these stack sizes.
  • If the effective stack size is between 20 and 35 BBs, we should avoid the all-in resteal.

The hand selection with an all-in steal is secondary and should be taken into account only as a last criterion.

  • The normal resteal should only be made if the effective stack size is at least 35 BBs. Here we have enough leeway to fold if the original raiser does re-raise or go all-in.

When selecting hands for a resteal, we should be more conservative than with the all-in resteal and choose "playable" hands like suited connectors, high cards or suited aces, because if someone calls it will be easier for us to continue playing the hand and we will have a certain showdown value.

Squeeze play

Squeeze play means that we are stealing back from a raiser AND a loose caller. Due to the extra chips in the pot from the caller, we can win almost twice as many chips as with a resteal against a raiser with no caller.

  • The effective stack size should be a little higher for a squeeze play than for an all-in or a normal resteal.

The concept of the move is based on the fact that we take the original raiser and "squeeze" him.

The raiser is now confronted with the problem that another player still has to act behind him and he doesn't know how strong this player is. That takes away his weapon of raising again, which still might enable him to fend off a resteal attempt by a single opponent, but becomes significantly less effective against two players, and this in addition to the danger of losing his whole stack.

But a call isn't advantageous either, because on the one hand, the original raiser is out of position and on the other hand, a call can't end the betting round yet. This means that the third player (who just called initially) could now raise again, as well. Even if the hand of the squeezed player would justify a call against a re-raise (e.g. or ), his hand must be extremely strong (AA to QQ) to be able to continue playing against two players out of position in a re-raised pot.

These negative factors usually force the squeezed player to fold. The caller now often has the problem that his hand might have been good enough to call a "normal" raise in position, but not a re-raise out of position. So we can usually assume that this player has a mediocre hand (middle or small pair, AQs or something similar) that he doesn't want to play against a re-raise either.
That's why this squeeze play can be pretty lucrative for the squeezer, often even more worthwhile than a normal resteal.

  • The following example illustrates the squeeze play:

A player raises pre-flop who has made many pre-flop raises before. He is called by a very loose player who has cold called before with JTo or K7s. We are last to act (since we're in the BB) and think that the conditions are given for a squeeze play. Our stack is large enough to generate enough fold equity. In the unlikely event that someone calls us, T9s is a good hand against the calling range of the other players. We push and the opponents fold.

Stop and go

Stop and go is another concept that can give us an advantage over a normal all-in, especially when we are the short stack. There are a few factors that significantly increase the chances of success of this move.

  • Somebody has to raise in front of us and we are out of position in relation to him, e.g. in the big blind. The big blind is optimal in so far as we are last to act before the flop and we therefore know how many players are still in the hand and which of them might pay the player's raise or already have.
  • The effective stack size should be between five and seven BBs. If we have fewer chips, we should go all-in immediately, but if we have more, there are other concepts that would be more appropriate.
  • If we assume that we have only little or no fold equity, we should go all-in pre-flop.

We don't need a strong hand for this move because we are actually planning to avoid a showdown. But we don't want to be holding a bad hand either in case we need a little showdown value. So this hand should be playable.

The situation at the table should be as follows: A player raises either first to open or after another player has limped. All players fold to us in the big blind.

If these conditions are met, call the raise and push all-in on every flop. The idea behind this move is that we assume that a player who misses the flop will generally also fold against a "small" all-in. And since the raiser misses the flop in 68% of the cases, the profit is better than if we go all-in pre-flop. Because even a raiser with small or middle pair will fold often enough if the flop consists only of overcards, but would almost always call an all-in pre-flop from a short stack. So despite the lack of fold equity before the flop, we can use this move to create new fold equity after the flop.

  • Example:

MP2 (t6.000)
CO (t4.000)
Button (t3.000)
SB (t4.000)
Hero (BB) (t3.000)

Blinds: 300/600

Pre-flop: Our hero is sitting in the BB with . MP2 folds, the CO raises to 1,500, fold, fold, hero calls.

Flop: (t3,300) . Hero pushes all-in (1,500), CO folds.