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Shove The Line
Kyle "Againstime" Marshall is an instructor for Grinderschool. Subscribe today to download and view his poker strategy videos.
Ever since the launching of online poker rooms, single-table sit and go tournaments (SnGs) have served as one of the staple varieties of online poker. Many devoted poker players and theorists have studied these mini-tournaments in an attempt to maximize the effectiveness of their play. Of course, there are many factors in poker that determine your profitability over the long-term if you are indeed a winning player, but one aspect distinct to these SnGs is the rate at which the blinds increase. As a result, a great deal of your success in these tournaments will depend on your ability to steal the blinds during these critical levels. While there are numerous ways to approach this through open-raising, isolation raises, and restealing in profitable situations, open-shoving remains the most influential of these factors. Whether you are a novice poker player seeking to learn the fundamental aspects of profitable play, a dedicated grinder who is constantly developing and evolving his game to make a solid profit, or a consummate professional the single most influential factor on your profitability in these tournaments will depend on your ability to shove correctly. Of course, this skill alone will not propel you to success. You will also need to address the many other aspects of your game including: discipline, objectivity, coldness to money and good bankroll management. Let's address proper shoving in greater depth.
Amir Vahedi once said about poker: "In order to live, you have to be willing to die." I can think of no quote more appropriate than this to describe the mindset you should have at the tables when you get shortstacked and your play becomes limited to strictly all-in or fold decisions. To be precise, you should be strictly shoving any hand you want to play once you reach 10 big blinds (10xbb) or less without antes in these tournaments. That said, there will be situations at slightly deeper stack sizes (11-15xbb) where you can choose to open-raise or shove depending on the particulars of the situation. Many grinders use programs like SnG Wizard and SnG Power Tools to help them find appropriate shoving ranges based on their hole cards, position, effective stack sizes, type of players acting behind, and total number of players remaining at the table in relevance to the prize pool distribution. These programs use these variables in conjunction with ICM calculations to give you appropriate shoving ranges. While I absolutely recommend the use of these programs to improve your game, you may come to realize that they alone are insufficient as they do not take into account if the blinds are about to go through you again, how soon the blinds will rise, nor do they consider the advantage in occasionally passing up slightly +cEV plays in favor of better future situations. For these reasons, ICM programs will nearly always have you shoving slightly tighter than you should, thus depriving you of some additional equity.
Now that we've discussed this subjectively, let's address some real situations so that I can better illustrate some of these concepts. Most of these tournaments begin with 9 or 10 players and often reach the shoving stage after the first 3 or 4 blind levels. At this point in the tournament, there are often 6 or 7 players remaining, so let's begin by looking at a pretty typical situation you might find yourself in. Let's say you're under the gun (UTG) with 6 players left to act in a typical SnG with a 50/30/20 prize distribution. For simplicity, let's assume that it's the 75/150 blind level, you have 1500 chips, and that the effective stacks are 10xbb deep. That is to say, no one has fewer than 10xbb. Now if we plug this situation into SnG Power Tools with reasonable villain calling ranges, we find that we can shove the following hands: 55+, ATs+, AJ+, KJs+, QJs. This seems like a pretty reasonable shoving range for effective stacks of 10xbb into 6 people in these SnGs, but we can actually do a little better than this. As I mentioned earlier, there are several factors not taken into consideration by ICM programs. Most notably, we should consider the effect of the blinds hitting us on the next hand on our equity in the tournament. Without the presence of antes, most professional players begin taking a slightly negative or breakeven edge on their UTG shoves with 10xbb, and an increasingly negative edge with shallower stacks since your fold equity and your share of the prize pool diminish more dramatically as the blinds become a greater proportion of your stack size. I generally find that a negative edge of about -0.05% is acceptable in this situation. Using this important adjustment, we find that we can actually shove somewhat looser than we had previously thought: 33+, A9s+, A5s, AT+, K9s+, KQ, QTs+, JTs, T9s. While this may not seem like a notable difference, we are actually getting it in about 5% more often, which really adds up over thousands of tournaments.
Now, let's look at a more extreme example of the same premise. Let's say that the situation is identical, except that we now have effective stacks of 6xbb, and we are the shortest stacked player at the table. At this stack size, I am generally willing to take a significant negative edge and shove UTG with some fold equity intact rather than let the blinds go through me again in the dim hope that I will see a quality hand before I blind out. Essentially, I would rather take my shot with a marginal hand having more fold equity and the appearance of strength due to my position than get it in with a better hand and a shallower stack with nearly zero fold equity. So I often will take a negative edge as extreme as -1.50% in these spots. Using this adjustment, I am essentially shoving nearly any two cards (ATC) when I'm UTG with 6xbb. If you do not factor in the effect of the blinds going through you on the following hand, you will find that SnG Power Tools and other ICM calculators will actually having you shoving quite tight in these spots. Consequently, you may ask yourself, "Won't I be getting it in bad a lot more often shoving so light in these situations?" Well yes you will, but it is very much what you should be doing. It is a great insight when players realize the advantage of shoving with marginal hands in advantageous situations while having fold equity rather than waiting for a stronger hand with less chips and thus less fold equity. That being said, you should be willing to get it in with ATC when you're UTG with 6xbb, but you should not do so without considering some other factors first. Sometimes it is ok to let the blinds hit you again if you have a weak hand and any of the following are true:
There is another shortstacked player who is very likely to get involved.
The player in the big blind is pot-committed to call you, or he is a loose fish who is incapable of folding.
You are playing in a Bounty SnG.
The table is loose and you have a bottom 20% hand.
Now I mentioned earlier that there were several variables not considered by ICM programs than can affect your shoving ranges. So far, we have only addressed the effects of the blinds going through a player the next hand on his shoving ranges. While this factor is often the most influential of those not considered by ICM programs, we should also look at another important one. The blinds increasing is also a factor you will want to consider before deciding just how loosely to shove. The effects of this variable are far more difficult to account for, but thankfully this is a situation that arises less frequently. You will want to be making similar adjustments here, and so you should be checking the timer on all your tables that are approaching the higher blind stages so you can do so effectively. Depending on the magnitude of the blind increase, your shove adjustments may be quite drastic. The calculations involved for these modifications are too complex to do at the tables, and so it is best that you develop an intuition on how to do this. Most importantly, it is vital that you are aware you should be making adjustments here; just be careful to not take any of these too far or you may be spewing equity unnecessarily rather shoving the line to maximize profit. Here is one example of this to give you an idea though:
The table is 5-handed in the 100/200 blind level with a 50/30/20 prize structure. You are in the cutoff with 65s and 10xbb. You have the shortest stack at the table, the blinds will increase to 150/300 next hand, and the action is folded to you. If the blinds were not going to increase the following hand, I would only be shoving 65s into opponents that I classified as particularly tight. However, if we fold here, then we will have just over 6xbb the following hand and we will be UTG. This is a terrible situation to be in, as we will have to either shove all-in or let the blinds hit us and cause our equity in the tournament to plummet; and as we discussed before, we would rather shove all-in with nearly ATC rather than let the blinds go through us again at this stack size. While this is somewhat of a simplification, the net result is essentially the same: we can either shove all-in with ATC having 6xbb the following hand, or we can shove 65s for 10xbb from the cutoff. I think the choice becomes pretty clear at this point, and we jam it in with 65s. I would highly recommend you make similar adjustments in your shove game to avoid unfavorable future situations such as the one that would have occurred had we folded here.
Always remember that our greatest edge over our opponents in SnGs is our superior knowledge of how to steal the blinds. While there are a variety of ways to put this understanding to use, precise open-shoving ranges will provide you more profit in these games than any other single factor. Consequently, you should be seeking to get all-in every time that you can increase your equity in a SnG tournament by doing so. Consider not only ICM in your decisions, but these other factors as well to truly maximize the effectiveness of your shoving, and you will surely reap the benefits in the long-term.