Double or nothing poker sit and go; the basics

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Mark | Poker Articles, Poker Strategy, Poker Tournament

This article belongs to the Poker Tournament series.

General introduction to Double or Nothing poker sit and goes

The Double or Nothing poker sit and go (often abbreviated as DoN SNG) is a relatively new form of the popular sit and go online poker tournament format characterized by a preset (most commonly 6 or 10) number of players each buying in to the sit and go with a fixed amount of money in exchange for a stack of chips.

As the Double or Nothing term implies,  you either double your buyin or walk away with nothing. In other words, if 10 players buyin with 5$ each, the top 5 finishes will win 10$ each. The payout structure of Double or Nothing SNGs is therefore very different from standard 10 player SNGs where 1st place usually wins 50% of the total prize pool, 2nd place takes 30% and 3rd place 20%.

This difference in payout structure means that you need to approach Double or Nothing SNGs with a different strategy in order to become a winning player in the long run.

The Independent Chip model

Before going into more detail with the basics of Double or Nothing sit and go strategy we will need an introduction to the Independent Chip Model (abbreviated ICM).

The Independent Chip model is a mathematical model constructed to give you an estimate of the monetary value of the chips you have in a MTT tournament or a SNG. The basic assumption of the Independent Chip model is that an individual player’s probability of winning the tournament is equal to the number of chips the player has divided by the total number of chips in play. So if you have 32% of the chips in play, your probability of winning is 32% and so on. Keep in mind that this is an underlying assumption of the ICM model and as such these probabilities of winning should only be treated as estimations. The ICM model will also calculate the probability a player has of finishing in all other places in the tournament based on his chipstack, the total number of chips in play and the chip distribution among the other players in the tournament.

By estimating the probabilities a player has of finishing in all the positions in a tournament the Independent Chip Model can assign a monetary value to the amount of chips you have. Here’s an example that demonstrates the principle:

You are playing a regular 10 person SNG and have the chip lead. Based on the amount of chips you have, the number of chips in play and the chip distribution of your opponents, the ICM model has estimated your placement probabilities as follows:

  • 1st place; pays 50$ 55%
  • 2nd place; pays 30$ 30%
  • 3rd place; pays 20$ 15%

The monetary value of your chips at this particular stage in the SNG is then simply the sum of the placement probabilities multiplied by the prizes for each placement. In the example above this amounts to 39,5$ (0.55*50$ + 0.3*30$ + 0.15*20$).

The mathematics behind the ICM model are not overly complicated, but nevertheless totally unrealistic to calculate by yourself within the typical 30s time limit available on online tables. As a result there are several pieces of software available which can show your chip stack equity in real time. Simply Google “ICM calculator” and you will get a ton of hits.

Using the ICM model to formulate a winning DoN SNG strategy

Due to the flat prize pool structure in DoN SNGs, there is a big difference in the monetary value of increasing your chip stack as compared to regular SNGs and multi-table tournaments. If you for example end up all in early in a 10 player 10$ Double or Nothing sit and go and double your chip stack, the equity of your chip stack will only increase roughly 5$ from the 10$ starting point to 15$. The remaining 5$ equity from the player you knocked out is divided among the remaining players on the table. In order to make a profit in the long run from a 10$ bet where you win 5$, you need to have a probability of more than 67% to win the the bet (I have written a series of articles that explain more about the relationship between odds, probabilities and EV in poker). Therefore in Double or Nothing Sit and Goes, you should not enter a pot unless you more than 67% probability of winning the pot. This means that you should play tight and wait for good hands. Take advantage of those players who do not understand the mathematics of the game and as a result have a much wider range for calling.

What the ICM model basically tells us is that Double or Nothing poker is all about preserving your chip stack. As a consequence, calling raises with small pocket pairs aiming to hit a set or with suited connectors to hit draws are to be avoided when playing Double or Nothing poker. Calling in general is actually a bad move from a mathematical point of view in these SNGs. Your actions should be dominated by raising or folding.

Playing a large stack in Double or Nothing sit and goes.

If you manage to double your chip stack early on, the equity of your stack will be almost equal to the prize in the tournament. This means that gaining additional chips has almost no added monetary value and as a consequence from a mathematical point of view you should be folding all hands where you are not at least an 80% favorite of winning. This is even more true when you reach the bubble and have a larger than average chip stack. Remember it is not your job to eliminate players when you have a large stack. It is your job to finish in the top 5.

Playing a small stack in Double or Nothing sit and goes.

If you find yourself with a smaller than average chip stack during the middle or late stages of the tournament, picking up the blinds and antes becomes important. When stealing blinds in a DoN SNG, the trick is to pick out players who have decent size stacks and seem to know the mathematics behind the game. They will almost never call an all in from you because they know they have to be a more than 80% favorite in order to make the call. This is where the power of preserving your chip stack really comes into play. Notice also how the dynamics of a DoN SNG are very different compared to a MTT. In MTTs it is often mathematically correct for the chipleader to call short stack all ins with marginal hands.

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