The Middle Phase of a Sit & Go sees the tension ramped up considerably. With a few levels having gone by, the blinds have increased to such an extent that there’s simply much less room for manoeuvre compared with the earlier phase of the game. This tends to be compounded by the fact that by now players will usually have been eliminated, which has the knock-on effect of the blinds coming around even quicker and, in turn, stacks coming under more pressure!
Thanks to this effective deterioration of the stack sizes and the increasingly reduced flexibility we’re afforded as the Blinds continue to rise, we won’t be able to see as many Flops as we might like. The emphasis during the Middle Phase shifts considerably to pre-flop play, and the greater urgency narrows the already thin line between success/survival and elimination.
Players react in different ways to the game having stepped up several gears, especially in terms of their stack size, and the cut-throat intensity adds to the mix to make players much more susceptible to making mistakes than they were in the Early Phase.
Pre-Flop Pressure Poker
With such restricted room for manoeuvre, so options are restricted, and the implications of a pre-flop bet assume much more significance. Every hand in poker – whatever the game or variant – has the potential to be decisive, but this is even more so when we reach the Middle Phase of a Sit & Go. Not only can putting in a pre-flop raise mean committing a sizeable chunk of a player’s stack, but the same goes for calling; and it’s even more to (re)raise. Consequently, any kind of action tends to come to a climax pre-flop. Indeed, when a hand does reach the Flop, any further action usually leads to the protagonists being all-in.
Much of the time in the Middle Phase the chips will be won pre-flop, and an important means of adding to our stack is through stealing Blinds and Antes. This might not seem too significant for those with little Sit & Go experience but, by this stage, picking up a pot uncontested with a raise will make a difference. Furthermore, being able to do this numerous times is of course going to greatly contribute to the chance of winning.
It’s also possible to hoover up chips pre-flop by shoving. Compared with ‘stealing’ with a raise, going all-in at first seems like a more urgent, risky approach. However, at this stage, even raising – and the implied suggestion this brings that there’s a willingness to invest further – is in itself a tacit warning that a player is happy to get busy, so going all-in with strong hands isn’t necessarily a huge leap in comparison. If we want to progress, then now is the time to adapt and to be proactive, in whichever way we can.
Observe the opposition
Both courses of action indicate intent, and both feature inherent or absolute risk. The trick is to assess when such favourable spots present themselves, and which strategy holds the best chance of success.
It’s imperative, then, to closely observe opponents. Again, this is generally applicable in any form of poker but, in this specific case, it assumes even more importance. Some players become way too passive in the Middle Phase of a Sit & Go. They might perceive such a policy as ‘sensible’ or ‘safe’, but this is to not properly appreciate the mechanics of Sit & Go poker. This will always be the case – there will always be players who play in games that they don’t fully understand. They opt for the variant that they will most enjoy, which is understandable, but a fact of poker that we need to understand and subsequently exploit.
With this in mind we need to identify which players are noticeably (and often unwittingly, which is even better!) vulnerable to exploitation, and chip away at them relentlessly.
As well as finding which players are afraid to get involved, we also should be on the lookout for those who seem happy to gamble. Accordingly, when we get a strong hand we should be looking to get as many chips in the middle as we can rather than trying to gradually build a pot.
Bet big with big hands
The Middle Phase isn’t a time to be too circumspect with bet sizing. Moreover, during this phase it’s almost expected by some that we take risks and play overly aggressively and bluff, so the circumstances afford us a kind of ‘cover’ that allows us to make big – all-in – bets that otherwise might arouse suspicion or telegraph to the table that we have a strong hand.
This is a very important characteristic of this phase, and one which needs some aforethought so that when we sit down to play we already recognise that, as we go through the gears of a Sit & Go, we should be ready to make a stand with our strong hands. Note also that, as the number of players decreases, so our strong(er) hands improve in terms of their relative strength. If this is an aspect of the game with which you’ve not yet got to grips, then you’ll find that having the confidence to go to town with your strong hands means you’ll be rewarded over time with better results.
As always, it’s important to understand how the opposition is thinking. Human nature is often easy to tap into, and poker psychology can be a surprisingly simple exercise. For example, it should be fairly obvious that a good target during the Middle Phase of a Sit & Go is the player who has shown a deliberate avoidance of getting involved but who also has a decent stack. This player is hoping that they have enough chips with which to weather the storm until the smaller stacks and the risk-takers have been eliminated. They might well commit to some extent with big hands – and even then could find themselves backing off if faced with the prospect of being all-in – but, in the meantime, will sit it out, folding hand after hand. The fact that such an approach is often the wrong one doesn’t matter, because we need to be aware that this is a typical mindset. It would be a mistake – and a lost opportunity – to think only short stacks should be attacked, when it’s the average stacks that so often make the easiest targets.
Indeed short stacks can be quite dangerous. Putting them all-in for the sake of it when we don’t have a hand that’s robust enough to fight it out in an all-in showdown is a reckless approach and shows a lack of understanding of how players think. All too often we see a player with a relatively big stack find themselves at the bottom of the pile, reversing roles with short stacks thanks to getting unnecessarily involved. The short stacks are NOT the scared/tight players in this scenario!
While all situations are different, the Middle Phase of a Sit & Go generally means needing to change gears to keep up with the pace and identifying those players who not only have failed to adapt but who appear to be deliberately approaching the game with too passive a strategy. Any such weakness should be punished accordingly. To do this requires selective aggression and, given that this phase tends to feature an emphasis on pre-flop play, the trick is to be the aggressor from the very beginning of a hand. Well-timed pre-flop bets/(re)raises and a willingness to shove with strong hands can be a winning recipe.
Observing opponents and appreciating how they think is a must, without which the above wouldn’t be possible to properly carry out.