In SNG turbos, late-stage hand ranges open up

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By Jay Houston

If you’ve ever played a 180-player turbo sit-n-go on PokerStars, then you undoubtedly know the late stages of these tournaments consist mostly of just shoving to steal blinds because of the five-minute structure. However, when the occasional flop is shown and two bigger stacks consisting of 20-30 big blinds have to actually play some poker, some pretty crucial mistakes can be made.

Recently I was playing a session for a student when an interesting hand arose. We were close to the final table with the blinds at 500-1,000 with a 100 ante. Everyone at the table was a standard tight aggressive player or unknown with a stack anywhere from eight to 22 big blinds. I was dealt Q-Q in the lojack seat (this is three seats to the right of the button). I made it 2,500 with 18,500 behind to make it look like a cheap steal so someone would reship on me light. To my surprise, the other big stack at the table, directly to my left in the hijack with 20,000 chips, decided to call. The action folded to a flop of K-5-2 rainbow.
At this point my student made a huge sigh. He was disappointed we had to check-fold or blindly stab at this flop and fold to a shove. Then I asked him: “What range of hands do you think our opponent is holding?”

Basically, our unknown opponent’s flat-calling range preflop is incredibly polarized and doesn’t consist of a king a high percentage of the time. The reason for this is because so many players in a turbo SNG reraise all-in with A-K in that spot. K-Q can be ruled out not only because we have two queens in our hand, but because the chances of him wanting to get involved in a raised pot with K-Q (or a worse king) are slim to none at this stage of the tournament, especially when he’s doing well on chips.

After you eliminate a king from his range, you still have to think about how you’re going to get max value. What I chose to do in the situation was to check-raise all-in or check call an all-in, and here’s why:

I hate leading out because if he jams we have to make a crying call, and most of the time he’s just going to throw away weaker hands than ours and we miss some value.

When we decide to check and our opponent bets 5,000 on the flop, the only play to make is re-raising all-in. If we just call right there, our opponent is rarely going double-barrel the rest of his chips off in a bluff, and we’re letting him see a free turn.

So when you break it down, check-raising all-in ends up being the optimal play. Of course, our opponent could have trapped us with aces, but then we were going to go broke in the hand regardless and there isn’t much to worry about anyway.

So the next time you’re in a similar situation, don’t instantly shut down. You can use this concept of preflop hand ranges in turbo SNGs to get max value even when an over card hits the flop.

— Jay Houston is a young poker pro with DeepStacks University and is a sit-n-go specialist. You can email him at editor@anteupmagazine.com