The situation where their are two big stacks versus one small stack when three handed is a very interesting situation, and sometimes a little short term luck is needed.

Sit n Go Advanced Strategy: Two Big Stacks vs One Small Stack

The situation where their are two big stacks versus one small stack when three handed is a very interesting situation, and sometimes a little short term luck is needed. Lets look at how you play as one of those big stacks.

How to Play as One of the Big Stacks

You still want to be very aggressive, but when you are on the button, you need to limit your raising range to approximately the top 30% hands, because the other big stack will have better odds to call if there is dead money from the other blind in the pot.

We’ve talked about Expected Value (EV) in previous lessons. When it comes to calls (as opposed to raises), there is a difference between ChipEV and $EV to be considered. Although a particular play might have positive expectation when tournament chips are considered, if the prize structure is factored in, the play might have negative prize money expectations.

Look at this example: In a $20+2 SNG, you and another big stack both have exactly 6,500 chips, and the small stack has 500. You know your big stack opponent to be a good, thinking player.

The small stack is on the button, and the ante is 75. The blinds are 300/600, so the small stack will be all in on the next hand against (likely) two opponents, since you know your opponent will check the hand down with you to give you both the best chance of knocking out the third player. The button (small stack) folds preflop. Your opponent in the small blind raises all in and tells you she has KQs (just pretend for the examples sake!). You believe this and have 33. KQs versus 33 is almost a perfect 50-50 if the pocket pair has one of the KQ hand’s suited cards.

Lets do the Math!

The best play from a strict chipEV standpoint is to call. You are 50-50 to win the hand and the presence of the antes puts this as a very slight call, when only expected value of tournament chips is considered.

There is an extra consideration, however, and that is the money you will (or won’t) win in this tournament. That is where $EV is considered. (Substitute another currency for $ if you prefer, but a lot of online poker is played in USD, so that is the symbol used.)

If you call and win (a 50% chance):

  • You will be virtually guaranteed to win the whole tournament, for a prize of $90. (97% chance)
  • Since there is a 97% chance you will win, you have a $EV if you win this hand of $52.38 ($36 has already been earned by each player, so we use 97%*($90-$36).
  • If you call and lose, your $EV is zero and you are out. The net $EV for calling is $26.19, since you have a 50-50 chance of winning the hand.

If you fold:

  • There is a 2/3 (33%) chance the small stack will be knocked out on the next hand (and an even better chance they will be knocked out in one of the next few hands).
  • If you fold this hand, and wait until the small stack is knocked out, you will probably be at somewhere around a 6-4 chip disadvantage (as opponent will win the chips).
  • If we do the same $EV calculation now, you will have a 40% chance of winning an additional $54 (1st place), and a 60% chance of winning an additional $36 (2nd place). Your net $EV of folding and trying to knock out the short stack is (40%*$54)+(60%*$36)= $43.20.

This type of calculation is called an Independent Chip Model (ICM). Doing some simple calculations, and plugging hand ranges into calculators like Poker Tracker and Poker Stove can allow you to study your play offline and improve your decisions when you are at the table.

Final Points

In general, as one of two big stacks, raising is better than calling. Being the raiser puts a lot of pressure on the other big stack, and they usually must have a much better hand to call.

Finally, when you are one of the big stacks, and the small stack goes all in, consider the size of their raise, and make a quick estimation of your pot odds. Anything better than 1.5-1 is usually good enough to call with even medium hands, unless you see them as very tight or calling will cost you more than half your stack. In those cases, 2-1 odds might be required. Obviously big hands are an easy call. The other consideration is if the other big stack remains left to act behind you. If so, you want to be more selective in your calling.