Thursday, August 23, 2012

Sit and Go Strategy

A sit n' go (SNG) tournament is typically a single-table tournament with an unscheduled start time. When a predetermined number of people register, the tournament begins. The number of participants is determined by the site and the game. Several sites use 9-person tables, while others use 10-person tables.

Stud variations typically seat 8 players. Stakes range from $1 to several hundred dollars, but the focus of this article is the lower-limit, No Limit Hold ‘Em SNGs, the $5 and $10 buy-in levels. Multi-table SNG tournaments are now available on many sites, but we will focus on the single-table versions for this article. These tournaments provide the player with several things: the ability to play in a tournament setting without committing several hours of time; the ability to hone short-handed and late-tournament tactics; and the thrill of winning a tournament with very little risk due to the low stakes involved.

Typically, SNGs pay out the top three places. First place receives 50% of the prize pool, with second and third receiving proportionately less - finishing lower than third rewards you with experience, but no money. So our goal, first and foremost, is to finish no lower than third. With a third-place finish, we are guaranteed a profit on our tournament buy-in, and we are then free to take more risks while playing for the win.

This strategy for playing SNG tournaments is divided by blind levels. You must be able to adapt your style of play to the escalating blind structure in any tournament. You must be even more adaptable in SNG play, as you are not only adjusting to the escalating blinds, but you must also adopt different playing strategies based on the shrinking number of players at the table. This is not like a massive multi-table tournament, where new players will be sent to your table to replace the players that ‘bust out.’ You will begin with a full table, and usually within one hour the field has dropped to two or three players. So you must stay focused and remain flexible in your playing style.

Level 1-3 (7-9 players) - Usually in the first level of blinds at least one player will go all-in and lose. If you have found a particularly loose table, 2-3 players will be sent to the rail in the first few levels of blinds.

The key to these first levels is to play tight. Maintain aggression when you have solid hands, but play extremely conservatively early on. Be very wary of overvaluing your hands, and be willing to fold almost anything to a raise. Raise pre-flop with A-A, K-K, Q-Q, A-K and that's all. It’s often wise just to fold most other hands outright. One of the most overvalued hands in these early rounds is A-X, suited or unsuited. Don’t commit too many chips to hands like A-7, A-5, A-J or any other speculative hand.

You can make some ‘late position limps’ into unraised pots with speculative hands like suited connectors or middle pairs, but be prepared to fold them at the first hint of strength in your opponents. Accumulating chips in these early stages makes you a dominating factor, but it also makes you a target, and you don't want to be a target. You want to be the quiet watcher, watching everybody else play, watch their stacks flow up and down, then watch them fade away. Remember that players finishing four through nine get paid the same amount - NOTHING. So stay out of the way unless you have a great hand and a chance to bust an opponent. Your goal here is survival.

Level 4-6 (3-6 Players) - Life on “the bubble”. Patience is important here, because at the lower buy-in SNGs, your opponents are paying very little attention to table image and they will pay you off when you find yourself with a premium hand, no matter how tight you’ve been playing.

Continue to stay out of the way. Dodge the big stacks. Don't get upset when they steal your blinds, and don’t feel pressured to defend your blinds with mediocre hands. The blinds are still relatively low, and if you haven't made many mistakes you've probably still got 8-10xBB, more than enough to play solid poker in a single-table tourney.

These are the levels, though, when you begin to switch gears and steal a few blinds. Steal attempts from the button are strong moves here, as are strong raises out of either blind, as long as you stay away from challenging the big stacks. You should also be wary of challenging stacks that are short, but still big enough to cripple you if you double them up. Yes, take any opportunity to knock an opponent out, but pay attention as to whether or not a short stacked player is going to feel pot-committed if you re-raise them with A-10 pre-flop. You don't need to play many hands. Actually, the fewer you play, the better. I typically play no more than 23% of my hands (including blinds) until I'm in the money. Typically you shouldn’t call a raise or re-raise unless you’re willing to go all-in with your hand, because that is frequently going to be the result of a high-action hand.

When you get down to four players, if you've played solid poker up to this point, you should be 2nd or 3rd in chips, with one really big stack (about 50% of the chips in play) and one really short stack (about 5-8% of the chips in play). You should be able to time things right to pick off this short stack and then make the money. Once you’re one player out of the money, the big stack will typically begin to bully people around, so be very careful about timing your moves. Don’t commit too many chips with medium hands, just wait for your opportunity to steal and force the short stack into a mistake. Usually it only takes a few orbits of four handed play to burst the bubble and send the remaining three players into the money. Your goal is to be one of them.

Late Game - 3 players – You’re in the money. Your goal has been accomplished; you have now entered the profit column for this tourney. Now it’s time for your biggest gear-shift yet - your previous rock-like demeanor goes into hyper-aggressive mode. Your Dan Harrington suddenly morphs into Gus Hansen, taking your opponents by surprise. You were playing to make the money, and you’ve done that. Now play to win.

Aggressive raises pre-flop are the way to go here. Previously unplayable hands are now worth 4xBB raises, because your opponents won’t be expecting them. You will show down very few hands for the first ten hands after the bubble bursts, because if you have junk, you fold pre-flop, but suited connectors; any two face cards, any Ace with a medium kicker (7 or better), or Ace-suited, are raising hands. If you get a re-raise, fold immediately unless you have a premium hand. Don't be afraid to push all-in over the top of a raise, especially against the other middle stack. They won't have made the same shift that you have, and are just trying to climb the money ladder. Your goal is to win – period!

Really, don't show down many hands here. You want folks to think you're raising with junk when you have the nuts, and think you have the nuts when you have garbage. Resist the temptation to flash your cards when your opponent folds, you should keep their information as incomplete as possible.

Exceptions are when you have MASSIVE Implied Tilt Odds - a concept I lifted from Phil Gordon's books. If you have a good chance of throwing a tight opponent on tilt by flashing a stone cold bluff, by all means show the Hammer (7-2 off suit).

I'm not suggesting that you raise every hand, or go all-in every time you have an Ace. Just widen your range of playable hands, and push with your junk as often as you push with premium hands. You will still have to exhibit good decision making, especially when your opponents tire of this tactic and re-raise you all in. That's usually a good time to fold and tighten up for a few hands.

The key to remember is that for the first few levels, you just want to stay out of the way, accumulate a few chips to hold your own, and make the money. But once you’ve cashed, it is ‘full-tilt boogie’ until you drag the last pot; leaving your opponents to wonder where that 6-1 chip lead they had went.
Good luck, I’ll see you across the virtual felt!


Friday, August 10, 2012

Marvin Rettenmaier Wins WPT Cyprus Classic, Makes History

Germany’s Marvin Rettenmaier is continuing what has been an outstanding 2012 tournament poker season for him to this point, emerging last night as the champion of the World Poker Tour’s Season XI debut at the WPT Merit Cyprus Classic. In winning the tournament, Rettenmaier also etched his name into the WPT record books for an achievement that may never be seen again.

The six handed final table gathered at the Merit Crystal Cove Hotel and Casino to determine the final survivor from the original 329 player field. Rettenmaier, who had been near the top of the leaderboard throughout the event, started the day in third place behind chip leader Ran Azor and Artur Voskanyan.

Joining them on the felt were Kiryl Radzivonau, Victor Paraschiv and a short stacked Joseph El Khoury, who came to the final table with only 435K in chips.

El Khoury was expected to depart the proceedings quickly, but he would do the exact opposite. Through the usage of two all-in moves, El Khoury was able to replete his stack before making a big move up the ladder. On a Q-7-3-10 flop and turn, El Khoury was able to get his chips in against Radzivonau and was leading with his Q-6 that had out-flopped Radzivonau’s pocket Jacks. When the turn failed to bring one of Radzivonau’s two outs, El Khoury had some newfound ammunition (up to 1.4 million) while Radzivonau dropped to the short stack at 825K.

The PartyPoker sponsored Rettenmaier would take some of those chips from El Khoury soon afterwards as his A-3 off suit surprisingly held up against a check-calling El Khoury on an A-J-2-6-5 board. This put Rettenmaier close to the two million mark in chips, which he would pass in taking a nice sized pot off of Azor. Azor, however, would maintain his chip lead from his active play in the early going.

The sextet continued for almost two and a half hours before one of them was dispatched from the table. It came when Radzivonau moved all in from the small blind against Rettenmaier, who woke up with pocket Queens and – after some deliberation – made the call against Radzivonau’s J-10. A ten came on the flop for Radzivonau, but it was joined by a Queen for Rettenmaier to keep him in the lead. After the turn six, Radzivonau was drawing dead and out of the tournament in sixth place while Rettenmaier moved into the lead.
As the action continued, the blinds and antes began to take their toll. The players were reduced to a “push fest” as their primary method of play and El Khoury was the beneficiary of that move the most. He climbed above the two million mark at this time and became a force to contend with as the evening hours approached the Mediterranean.

Rettenmaier would put an end to El Khoury’s hopes after El Khoury once again shoved all in. Rettenmaier made the call on his last attempt, holding an A-Q to dominate El Khoury’s A-2, and dodged the three deuces on the flop, turn and river to knock out El Khoury in fifth place. With the elimination, Rettenmaier was dominating the table with his 5.3 million in chips and, once he eliminated Paraschiv in fourth place, the defending WPT World Champion cracked through the seven million chip mark.

Azor would be the next victim for Rettenmaier, although there would be a sweat to it. After Azor committed his stack with pocket sevens, Rettenmaier made the call with a lowly Q-9. The J-10-6 flop kept Azor slightly in the lead and a five on the turn made him a favorite to win the hand, but lightning struck on the river when the Q♣ nestled onto the baize. With that stunning card, Rettenmaier eliminated Azor in third and entered heads up play with Voskanyan with almost a 10:1 lead.

It would only take two hands to determine the champion of the WPT Cyprus. After Rettenmaier put Voskanyan to the test with an all-in move, Voskanyan made the call and was ahead, his A-10 off suit leading Rettenmaier’s J-9. A 9-8-4 flop changed everything, however, pushing Rettenmaier to the lead. Although some drama would be added with the Q on the turn (opening up outs to a straight for Voskanyan along with his over card draw), a 7 on the river ended the tournament and crowned Marvin Rettenmaier the champion.

1. Marvin Rettenmaier, $287,784
2. Artur Voskanyan, $184,020
3. Ran Azor, $118,360
4. Victor Parashiv, $87,610
5. Joseph El Khoury, $65,770
6. Kiryl Radzivonau, $52,590

With the victory, Rettenmaier etched his name into the WPT annals for an achievement that might not ever be equaled. He won the WPT Championship in May to end Season X and, with his victory in the WPT Cyprus Classic to kick off Season XI, becomes the first player to win back-to-back tournaments in the history of the WPT.

Unless Rettenmaier has a teleporter, the streak will more than likely end there. The next event on the WPT Season XI schedule starts today at the Parx Casino in Bensalem, PA, making it unlikely that Rettenmaier will go for three in a row. Still, making history in poker is a difficult thing and Rettenmaier not only should get kudos for his outstanding play in the Cyprus tournament but also for his excellent performance to this point in the tournament poker season.


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

PokerStars Will Pay $731 Million To Settle U.S. Government Charges and Buy Full Tilt Poker

PokerStars, the world’s biggest online poker company, has agreed to pay $731 million to settle the U.S. government’s civil charges that the company used fraudulent methods to process payments and evade U.S. restrictions on Internet gambling.

Under the agreement, PokerStars, based in the Isle of Man, will also purchase Full Tilt Poker, a former rival which collapsed following the U.S. government’s move in April 2011 to shut down the U.S. operations of the major online poker operators. The deal calls for PokerStars to forfeit $547 million to the U.S. government and  make $184 million available to reimburse non-U.S. customers of Full Tilt within 90 days who had money on deposit at the company.

The deal will end the saga of Full Tilt Poker, a company built by Ray Bitar with the help of poker champions like Chris “Jesus” Ferguson and Howard Lederer that Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, has repeatedly said was a Ponzi scheme. But Bharara’s crackdown on the online poker industry continues, including against Isai Scheinberg, the founder of PokerStars, who has been indicted by Bharara for operating an illegal gambling business. Bitar, who recently returned to the U.S. from Ireland to face the criminal charges Bharara has filed against him, pleaded not guilty and is currently out on bail. Scheinberg is believed to be in the Isle of Man.

“Over the past few days, I signed the papers necessary to complete Full Tilt’s deal with the US Government,” Bitar said in a statement. “I believe that this deal will result in Full Tilt’s customers being repaid.”

U.S. players who had money on deposit at Full Tilt when the company collapsed will be able to apply to the Department of Justice to get reimbursed out of the proceeds from the forfeiture. Bharara is trying to tie up some loose ends from his crusade against online poker, which has been led by Assistant U.S. Attorney Arlo Devlin-Brown. For years federal agents successfully worked to cut off companies like Full Tilt from the financial system and by 2010 Full Tilt started to credit customer accounts even though the company could no longer withdraw money from their bank accounts. This game, however, came to a close when Bharara shut down Full Tilt’s U.S. operations last year, exposing a large financial shortfall that Bharara claims was exacerbated by the large payments the company continued to make to its owners even after Full Tilt could no longer access the financial system.

While federal prosecutors in Manhattan have taken the position that Full Tilt was well on its way to financial disaster prior to the April 2011 crackdown on online poker, it was clearly important for Bharara to deal with the perception that U.S. citizens had been overwhelmingly left in the lurch because of his intervention in the online poker industry. But in order to pull off a sale of Full Tilt’s assets, Bharara needed to make a deal with PokerStars, a company whose founder is under indictment. Still, the balance sheet for Bharara looks pretty good given the large obstacles he faced when he first launched his online poker crackdown: the U.S. online poker industry has been decimated, six of the 11 individuals indicted have pleaded guilty; Full Tilt CEO Bitar is being monitored in California, and the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan has secured lots of money. In addition, Scheinberg has agreed to not serve in any managerial or director role at PokerStars while the criminal case against him remains ongoing.

“We are pleased to announce these settlements by Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars, which allow us to quickly get significant compensation into the victim players’ hands,” Bharara said in a statement.

But Scheinberg had some good reasons to ink this deal. While giving up $731 million will hurt, PokerStars can now continue to dominate the international online poker market without the complexity of dealing with a massive civil forfeiture complaint filed against it by the U.S. government. PokerStars will not have to worry about competition from its longtime rival, Full Tilt, and its standing in the online poker community, which was already strong given that it paid all of its customers back and continued operating outside the U.S. after April 2011, will only be helped because it will be seen as coming to the financial rescue of the online poker community.

For PokerStars, the big question is how U.S. gambling regulators will end up viewing the settlement. Las Vegas casino companies like Caesars Entertainment have been working to get Congress to pass a federal law that will green-light online poker while other interests are championing state efforts in places like California. The biggest threat to PokerStars’ dominant market position around the world would be getting locked out of a robust U.S. market. In a statement, PokerStars says that under its agreement with the Department of Justice, the company will not admit to any wrongdoing. PokerStars also said “the agreement explicitly permits PokerStars to apply to relevant U.S. gaming authorities, under both PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker brands, to offer real money online poker when State or Federal governments introduce a framework to regulate such activity.”

“We are delighted we have been able to put this matter behind us, and also secured our ability to operate in the United States of America whenever the regulations allow,” said Mark Scheinberg, who is Isai Scheinberg’s son and now chairman of PokerStars. “This outcome demonstrates our continuing global leadership of the online poker industry, and our commitment to working with governments and regulators to ensure the highest standards of protection for players.”


Facebook Launches First Real-Money Gambling App

Online poker players, don’t get excited just yet. Don’t start running around the neighborhood yelling about how your “One time” has finally come in.

Ok, fine, get a little excited.

For the first time, Facebook is offering a game in which players can wager real money, not simply things like in-game currency or Facebook credits. The game is Bingo Friendzy, created by London-based Gamesys. It’s not poker, so that time has not come yet, but it is still a game in which users can gamble real money on the outcome. Right now, it is only available to residents of the United Kingdom who are over 18-years of age. In fact, Facebook users in other countries will not even be able to see the application.

Bingo Friendzy is the creation solely of Gamesys, maker of the popular Jackpotjoy Slots and Jackpotjoy Casino apps on Facebook, amongst others. Facebook is only the vehicle for offering the game to the public; the social networking behemoth was not involved in the development of the game.

A game like bingo makes sense as the starting point for real-money gaming on Facebook, largely because it is about as simple and casual a form of gambling as there is. After all, the stereotype of a bingo player is a senior citizen in a retirement village or a parishioner at the local church.

“Bingo is at the softer end of the gambling spectrum and online bingo often has chat forums alongside, so it’s an obvious match for Facebook,” Remote Gambling Association chief executive Clive Hawkswood told the Financial Times. “A lot of people have said why haven’t they done it before because there’s a difficulty in monetising what they have – this is one way of bringing in revenues.”

In the same article, Julien Codorniou, Facebook’s head of gaming for Europe, Middle East and Africa, added, “Gambling is very popular and well regulated in the UK . . . for millions of bingo users it’s already a social experience [so] it makes sense [for us] to offer that as well.”

A number of protections for users will be in place on Bingo Friendzy. According to TechCrunch, users will be required to verify their identities to prove that they are of age and located in the United Kingdom. 

Facebook also has what is called “age-gating” technology which prevents underage Facebook users from seeing the Bingo Friendzy activity of their friends. Thus, even if, say, a 30-year old Facebook user broadcasts every single game-related achievement to all his friends, none of his Bingo Friendzy activity will be visible to his 16-year old cousin.

A Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch, “Facebook is a place that allows people to connect and share. Real money gaming is a popular and well-regulated activity in the UK and we are allowing a partner to offer their games to adult users on the Facebook platform in a safe and controlled manner.”

Should this venture succeed, it could open the door to further real-money gaming on Facebook. In July, social gaming giant Zynga opened a tender for real-money poker with developers such as Microgaming, GTECH G2, Playtech, and Intralot. Zynga’s current play-money offering, Zynga Poker, is one of the most popular games on Facebook, drawing well over 100,000 play-money users per day, according to