Firstly, let me start by saying that it took a lot of persuading to get me to write this Double or Nothing Strategy article.
For some time now I have been making my living by playing Double or Nothing SNGs (Sit N Goes), and a very comfortable living it is too. Giving away information that will help other people “beat me at my own game” so to speak is generally not considered a good idea. I’m still not entirely sure why I agreed to write it, so don’t even bother asking. 🙂
The reason that I seem to show such satisfying results is that the correct play in a Double or Nothing Sit ‘N’ Go (SNG) is usually very clear cut. In most poker formats, you can play tight, or loose, or aggressive, or passive, or any combination of all four. You can check/raise, you can bluff, you can min-raise, C-bet half the pot, bet the whole pot on a draw etc, and a player might have the choice between many actions, several of which could be profitable in any given situation.
With Double or Nothings (DoNs) however, there is usually an optimal play, and everything else is a sub-optimal play. There is effectively less flexibility in a DoN than in a regular SNG. You either do the right thing, or you do one of the many wrong things. A proper strategy will clearly differentiate between the two.
The Double or Nothing format is relatively new in the poker world, since these games have only really been running from 2008 onwards.
This means that the optimal strategy for DoNs hasn’t really been developed publicly. There are no books on this format (as at time of writing), there are no particularly effective online articles on the subject, and there aren’t even many people experienced enough to write such an article, even if they were inclined to.
Most players who enter the Double or Nothing arena are used to regular SnGs or regular poker tournaments. They know that they should raise with big hands, fold bad hands, and see flops with suited connectors, bluff sometimes, and slowplay their monster hands on occasion, value bet with a hand likely to be best, call an all-in if you are getting good pot odds, or if your hand is likely to be ahead of your opponents range. . . and so on and so forth. These are all very common poker concepts, and you would be hard pressed to be a consistent winner in poker tournaments or SnGs until you had mastered them.
These concepts do not apply to Double or Nothing strategy however. Or more accurately, they DO apply, but in entirely different ways.
The main difference between a SnG or a DoN is of course the payout structure: In a regular 10 player SnG you will find that there are prizes for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, and the payout is usually 50%, 30%, and 20% of the total prize pool respectively. The optimal strategy for SnGs has been discussed elsewhere, but it is generally considered correct to play with the intention of accumulating 100% of the chips in play, thereby placing 1st and securing for yourself the maximum possible prize money. Certainly seems like a good idea to me.
In a 10 player Double or Nothing however, the top 50 percent of players all come 1st, and the bottom 50 percent of players all come 2nd. . .and there is no prize for 2nd. It is now no longer relevant if you finish the game with 95% of the chips or only 1% of the chips, as long as 5 other players finish before you.
This creates some significant changes in optimal Double or Nothing poker strategy:
Value betting almost doesn’t exist, because you very rarely want someone to call, even when you are a heavy favourite.
Calling an all-in is almost never done, even if your hand rates to be significantly above your opponents range.
Pushing all-in rather than raising becomes the best option, (you don’t really want a caller, even if their hand is much worse than yours).
Stack size differentials become more relevant than your hand strength.
Correct bubble play can involve some very counterintuitive situations, including folding aces pro-flop in an unopened pot.
The golden rule of Double or Nothing Sit N Goes:
Always shove, never call.
A good result for a Double or Nothing is to never ever see a single showdown. Except in very rare circumstances (which will be discussed later), you don’t want people to call when you are 50/50, such as AK vs 88. You don’t want them to call when you are a 60/40 favourite like AK vs 67suited. You don’t even want them to call when you are a 70/30 favourite like KK vs A2. In bubble situations you don’t even want them to call when you are an 80/20 favourite like AA vs 77. The overwhelmingly best result is to have everyone fold, every time you bet. That’s the dream.
Double or Nothing Poker Strategy
Here is what I consider optimal strategy. It is not complicated, it is not creative, and for many people it’s probably not even that fun. If you disagree with any of my plays, that’s fine, test out your own modifications, and see how they work. Perhaps you will discover some new way to break the format wide open. What I would recommend however is that you don’t deviate too far from the optimal strategy listed below until you get very comfortable with the structure, and start showing a consistent profit. DoNs are different from normal Sngs, just as different as No Limit Hold ‘Em is from Omaha, or even as different as checkers is from chess. Start by learning these basics, and then contemplate out how to improve from there.
For purposes of discussion, this article will be using the most common structure of Double or Nothings, which introduces antes very early (usually from the 3rd or 4th level onwards). A similar structure is used by Carbon Poker. Some sites such as PartyPoker don’t include antes at all however.
Double or Nothing Strategy: Low blinds
Early blinds for purposes of this strategy are everything up to 25/50, which are the first 3 levels. Early blinds are very easy to play: Fold everything except pocket pairs. 🙂
QQ-22: Limp or call a raise as long as the size of the raise you are calling is less than 20 times your stack. If you hit a set with your pocket pair, bet or raise aggressively to try and get all-in as soon as possible. If you don’t hit a set, check/fold for any bet, even if you flop an overpair (i.e. fold even if you have JJ and the flop comes 3 6 8).
AA and KK: shove all-in. If someone is all in before you, call all-in with those two hands. If someone has already gone all in, and another player calls, fold KK but still call with AA.
Pretty straight forward right? Well the Double or Nothing format rewards straight forward play more than any other style of poker. Having said that though, there are two obvious objections that are usually raised with this Low Blind section, and I shall address each of them in turn:
1. “What! Just play those few hands? Are you an idiot? What about suited connectors? What about AK? What about blind stealing? How are you meant to accumulate chips? You obviously don’t know anything about poker. Don’t quit your day job pal!”
Amusingly my day job IS playing DoNs, and I have no hesitation in telling you that DoNs are NOT poker; at least not in the usual sense. The goal of a regular poker tournament or SnG is to win chips, and therefore prize money. In a Double or Nothing SNG however, the goal is NOT to lose chips, and therefore prize money. It is the fundamental effect of the difference in prize structures that causes this inverse priority to come into effect.
Hands like suited connectors tend to take a few streets to make powerful hands. You might flop a flush draw, or a straight draw, but flopping an actual flush or straight is extremely unlikely. Investing chips with these hands preflop will often result in you investing more chips on the flop, and perhaps again on the turn, to see if you draw completes. Even if you get good odds for your draw, it’s not worth it, because the focus in Double or Nothings shouldn’t be to accumulate chips, it should be to avoid losing them.
AK is another fiddly hand to play. You don’t want to raise with it, because this hand usually only makes top pair- top kicker on the flop. . and even that is only half the time. You don’t want to have to “play poker” with a hand like Top Top, because the chips you lose when your opponents outdraw you (or hit a set) are more important than the ones you gain when you win (this can be shown to be true in this way: if you lose all your chips you are out of the tournament and win 0%, but if you double your chips you are still not 100% certain to win. You might only be 80% likely to win). I fold AK happily in early blinds.
Pocket pairs make strong hands or they make very weak hands, so if you put more money in on the flop, It’s because your hand is strong. If your hand isn’t strong, you just fold. There are no draws that you have to pay extra for, because pocket pairs are either hit or miss on the flop. If you hit a set, bet strongly until all the money is in the middle. Overbetting the pot is completely fine in this format. If you miss your set, just check/fold. An overpair is not much better than top pair top kicker, which is much too weak to risk your tournament life messing around with at this early stage in the tournament.
2. The other common objection is “All-in with AA? Just like that? Have you never heard of raising for value?? Who is going to call you if you just jam all in like that? NOBODY! That’s who!”
There are two main reasons to raise in poker (actually David Sklanzky correctly listed at least 6, but there are two reasons most applicable in this instance):
1. To get a better hand to fold.
2. To get a worse hand to put more money in the pot.
Obviously you aren’t going to get a better hand to fold. There IS no better hand for AA and if you have KK the only better hand is AA. . . which clearly isn’t going anywhere.
The second reason is worthy of further discussion however. Usually when you raise with a strong hand like AA or KK, you raise enough so that people are getting tolerable odds to call with their suited connectors, pocket pairs, or AK-AJ type hands. Then when the flop comes you can try and play some poker and get some more money from the worse hands, or get away from your hand when you decide that you are beaten. If you are a talented player, you can accumulate many chips this way when you win, and also lose no more than your pre-flop raise, and maybe another bet on the flop when you are behind. In a normal SnG, getting a worse hand to put money in preflop is a good situation.
But in Double or Nothings, accumulating chips early is not hugely relevant. Losing chips early is very often terminal however. So you don’t WANT to have to “play poker” on the flop and later streets. If you jam all in with KK, and everyone folds, that’s completely fine. You don’t want people to set mine with 44 or to try and hit a miracle flop with 6-8 suited.
Amusingly however, people will still call. I have no explanation of why, except that people must not think things through very well. When I push all-in with AA and KK in the first few blind levels, I often find myself getting called by AK, QQ, JJ, TT, and sometimes hands such as AJ suited.
It’s completely baffling to me. These are not $1.10 Double or Nothings that I’m playing. These are $100+, where the players are theoretically more sophisticated. I can’t explain why people call in these situations. Maybe their ego get in the way. Maybe they assume no one would push all in for 75 Big Blinds if they really had a good hand. Maybe they are just curious as to what I have. Maybe TT is their favourite hand and they refuse to fold it in any situation. Maybe they are just drunk. I really don’t know why people call is such a situation. I just know that they do, and that makes my completely mechanical early blind play amazingly profitable.
If you are completely opposed to jamming all-in with these hands, I present another option for your consideration: The Limp/Re-Raise. Limp with AA or KK in any position, and if someone raises, you can THEN Re-Raise all in. If the pot gets limped around, you must be adept at getting away from a bare overpair however. This move will not be very effective if you get stacked with your aces every time an opponent limps in and hits a set.
Double or Nothing Strategy: Mid blinds
Mid blinds for our purposes consists of precisely 2 levels: 25/50 blinds and 50/100.
A few notes about these levels:
1. Blind stealing becomes relevant.
2. Set Mining is no longer viable.
3. Position becomes more important than hand strength.
4. Re-steals become a powerful move in your arsenal.
5. Chubukov-Sklanzky shoving ranges become useful
Assuming you have between 1300 and 1500 chips at this stage (which is pretty standard), picking up the blinds represents at least a 10% increase to your stack size. Much more relevant than the 2% increase that results when you steal the blinds at early levels.
Set mining is negative EV (expected value) at this stage. You just aren’t getting the odds to try and hit a set, so don’t bother limping with low pocket pairs. In fact limping at these levels is almost always horrendous. Most hands should still be folded, but any hand you decide to play, should be raised all-in (except a very few situations described later).
Position becomes the single most important consideration at these blind levels. You will still need to play tight when in early and middle positions, but you can open up significantly when in the Cut-off, Button, and Small Blind. Here are some examples assuming a 1500 stack and 50/100 blinds:
Early position: Raise all-in with AA-QQ and AK only.
Middle position: Raise all-in with AA-TT and AK- AQ only
Cutoff: Raise all-in with AA-88, and AK-AJ only.
The button and small blind are in their own separate category, because they are the really aggressive positions. Shoving ranges that I use are based predominately on the Chubukov-Sklansky tables:
Button: Raise all-in with any Ace, Any Pair, KQ, and KJ Suited.
Small Blind: Shove any Ace, any King, Any pair, any 2 Royal cards, and any Suited Connector.
These ranges are for 15BB without antes, which is an M of 10. If your M is higher than 10 (i.e. you doubled up early), shoving weakish hands probably isn’t necessary. You can still just wait for premiums before getting involved.
If your M is lower than 10, you need to get significantly more aggressive from late position, an only marginally more aggressive from early position. With an M of 5 for example (75/150 and an 1100 stack):
Early position: Raise all-in with AA-TT and AK-AJ only.
Middle position: Raise all-in with AA-77 and AK- A9 only
Cutoff: Raise all-in with Any Pair, Any Ace, any 2 Royal cards, and any Suited Connector.
Button and Small Blind: Raise all-in with Any 2 cards.
All pretty straight forward. Why do we shove all-in, rather than just making a raise? The answer is the Re-Steal.
At these blind levels you will find a huge number of players trying to steal the blinds. They will often Min-Raise, or Small Ball Raise (2.5bb). Make a note of what these players do when they get Re-Raised, because it is hugely valuable information. Many people will make a Min-Raise on the button for example, but will fold if someone shoves all-in over the top of them. Many winning players will even Min-Raise 100% of the time that it is folded to them in that position. These people are keen to steal the blinds, but they don’t want to risk elimination, so they make a small raise and then happily fold to an all-in. Then they say to themselves “I’m glad that I only made a small raise! That guy must have had Aces; otherwise he wouldn’t have shoved all in! I’m glad I lonely lost 25% of my stack!”. It’s dazzling to me.
I will re-steal from a player making a raise like that with the top 50% of my hands. Hands like J9o or K5s is fantastic in that situation, and I will happily ship all-in. If I have a note on someone saying they often button raise then fold, I will ship all-in with any 2 cards. Calling an all-in is a much worse proposition in a Double or Nothing than it is in a regular SNG, so players will often correctly fold to an all-in Re-Steal, even when they are getting reasonable pot odds. The Re-Steal will usually add 50% to your chip stack, and is often the difference between winning and losing a DoN.
Yes, sometimes an astute player will trap you by making a small raise on the button, and your 78 suited will have to draw out against his Aces (which you will do about 20% of the time). But a single player will get dealt either Aces or Kings only about 1% of the time, and if your opponent is making non pot-committing raises from late position 30% of the time, your re-steals will show an immense profit.
Double or Nothing Strategy: High blinds
High blinds in a Double or Nothings begin from the level antes commence: 50/100 10. There are usually 7-8 players left at this stage, but it’s not uncommon for the table to still be 10 handed either. The average M in high blinds will be around 2. The strategy described in this section assumes at least 7 players remain, as 6 players makes it a Bubble situation, which calls for different strategies all together.
The most important aspect of high blind play is to realise that you need plenty of chips. It’s very unlikely that you can fold into the money when there are still several players remaining, as each trip through the blinds will take a larger proportion of your remaining stack.
A few points to keep in mind regarding High Blind Play:
1. Any hand you play, should be raised all-in.
2. Position is still important, much more so than card strength.
3. The stack sizes of the players in the blinds become a heavy consideration.
If a hand is worth playing, it should be raised all-in for two important reasons: Firstly because the amount of chips in the pot pre-flop is already quite significant, and secondly: any raise you make is usually pot committing, so it’s in your best interests to deter players from trying to Re-Steal from you.
You might be tempted to try and trap players by limping or Min-Raising with Aces or Kings; I do not recommend this line of play. The Principle of Deception states that any action you take must contain multiple hand strength possibilities, to avoid your plays becoming transparent. If you start min-raising with AA, you must start min-raising with other hands too, otherwise your plays will quickly become readable by astute opponents. Optimal play is just to push all the money into the middle, and expect everyone to fold. Then you can show your monster hand, and you will get more respect for your future shoves.
Position is extremely important in high blind play. As an empirical observation, most players in a Double or Nothing will call an all-in with the top 10% of hands (77+ and AT+) even when such a call is mathematically incorrect. Obviously some players are tighter, and some players are looser, but generally, top 10% is a good rule of thumb. If you have an M of 4 for example, you can push all in from the small blind with any 2 cards, and expect to only be called 10% of the time. Pushing all in from the button means there are 2 players left to act, each with a 10% chance of calling, for total chance of approximately 20%. This means that pushing all in from the Small Blind or Button is usually a tremendously +EV play, especially considering that even when called a random hand will beat a top 10% hand about 1 time in 3. From early positions through to the Cutoff, hand strength compared to your M should still be taken into account when considering your shoving range: The lower your M, the more inclined you should be to make a move.
The stack size of the blinds becomes an extremely important consideration during High Blinds. If they are too short, they are liable to feel pot committed, and call. If they are too big, they wont feel threatened, and therefore might be inclined to call. The best size stacks to shove on are the Mid Stacks. Not the biggest on the table, nor the smallest, but everyone in between.
Double or Nothing Strategy: Bubble Play
When you are on the bubble, then your equity based on ICM (Independent Chip Modelling, which will be discussed in another article). All things being equal, 5 out of the remaining 6 players will make the money. That means that each player has about 83% chance of winning. Being involved in a hand that goes all the way to showdown is horrendously bad in this situation. . . bad that is for the players involved. It’s great for everyone else.
Lets say that all 6 players have equal chip stacks on the bubble, and someone goes all in. Leaving aside blind levels and such, how good a hand do you need to call? Well if your opponent has A-2 offsuit and you have AK suited, then you are only 75% to win. Compared to folding where you are 83% chance to win, this is net LOSS of 8% of your equity in the tournament.
What about KK? Up against the same A2o hand, KK will only win 71% of the time, so if you call, you will actually have a net loss of 12% of your equity in the tournament. Yes, you will still be a favourite to win the hand and the tournament, but you will be MORE of a favourite to win if you fold. Even if your opponent only has 98 suited, you are still only 78% chance to win with your pair of kings, so you are still losing 5% equity by calling.
Now in most situations there will be other things to consider, like whether you are about to get blinded out, or whether you have a particularly large or particularly small stack, any of which could make calling with AA or KK correct. But often there will be times when someone else has a much smaller stack than you, or they are likely to blind out first, in which case folding Kings or even Aces can be correct.
Here is the main objective when you are playing on the bubble of a Double or Nothing.
Let the short stacks crash.
If you can, just stay out of the way until the game is over and you can collect your prize money.
If the blinds are high and you might not be able to fold your way into the money, then keep blind stealing against the other mid sized stacks. The smallest stacks are the ones most desperate to make a move, so they might call you and cause you damage, and the big stacks don’t need to fear elimination, so they might call you with any halfway decent hand. If your opponents are halfway decent, then you can shove almost any 2 cards on them, as long as there is a much smaller stack that has already folded, as they will almost always just fold, rather then putting their tournament life at risk when there is someone else about to be blinded out.
If YOU are the shortest stack, then you obviously won’t be able to fold into the money, as you will blind out before the other players. In this situation you need to be selectively aggressive. Obviously if you get dealt a big hand, then push all your chips in the middle and hope for the best.
If you don’t get dealt a good hand (a much more likely situation alas!), then you will need to pick the right player to shove on, and then push any 2 cards on them when they are in the blind. You need to push on someone who is going to have difficulty calling you. Again, this is probably going to be the medium stacks: The other short stacks might be getting desperate and decide to call you (which is bad) and the big stacks probably don’t have much to fear from you and might also decide to call (which is also bad). The medium stacks are the ones who will be most likely to fold, because they are the ones risking the most equity by calling.
Best Double or Nothing Sites
Most sites run Double or Nothing Sngs (sometimes called “Double up SNG”). The best ones I would recommend however are Carbon Poker, PartyPoker, and Titan Poker.
Here is a quick review/rundown of the top sites for this particular format:
Lock Poker is an excellent site for Double or Nothing SNGs. If you join through the link below and use the bonus code THEFUTURE you can get 36% rakeback, which translates to a massive increase in ROI. I would go so far as to say that rakeback makes such a significant difference to your profitability in DONs that it’s often worth switching sites in order to get it. Lock poker is also one of the few sites that allows players from the USA.
Carbon Poker also offers a rakeback deal of 35%, paid into your account daily. This is one of the few sites that USA players can play on that run Double or Nothing Sit ‘n’ Goes. Carbon Poker has only recently started running DoN’s too, which means that most of the players on the site are inexperienced in the format, making for some very feeble competition. At this point, Carbon Poker is probably the best site to put these strategies into practice. Carbon poker is not available to players from France or Australia however, but everyone else can play there happily! You will need to use the link below to get the 35% Rakeback offer, which makes a massive difference to your overall ROI. Use Bonus Code CARBONPK.
888 poker is another excellent site for Double or Nothings, as they run pretty regularly at most levels. They are one of the few poker sites that is directly linked to an online casino, so you tend to get a lot of poker players drifting across from the blackjack tables or the slot machines to try their luck at poker. These players don’t usually have much of a grasp of poker in general, and definitely don’t understand the finer points of Double or Nothing Poker strategy, so the tables are really soft. 888 also gives you $8 FREE with no deposit needed, which is completely insane. It’s worth going there just to get the $8, even if you don’t stay there after that.
Titan Poker: The Double or Nothings on Titan Poker have a very swiftly escalating blind structure, so it’s easy to get in a large number of games. The 6 player Double or Nothings (wherein the top 3 players double up) seem to be much more popular than the 10 player Double Up poker on this site. Titan Poker is not available for to players from the USA.
This article ended up a great deal longer than I originally intended, and it feels like there is still so much more to discuss. Double or Nothing SNGs are an extremely fast growing tournament format, and one that has fantastic profit potential for an astute player. They aren’t quite like a normal SNG, nor are they quite like Multi Table Tournaments (MTTs), and so even players who are quite experienced in those formats will need to adapt their game to be a winning player at Double or Nothings. A good player however can attain quite a strong Double or Nothing ROI. I hope that this article has been able to provide you with the information you need to be a successful.
Best of luck, and play well!
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