Tournament poker play has a lot of differences than cash ring games and even short-handed play. The most important difference for me has to do with the feel of the game. It is not simulation like roulette where you turn the wheel and although there are a lot of numbers, you know exactly where you need to bet because it is recorded on every single thing that you see. No, tournament poker is a game of predictions. You never know exactly where you stand in the game. You watch your opponents and even when you make a big raise you do not know if you have enough to take down the pot.
When you are playing in MPO500 tournament your stack size is always the most important consideration. If you have a small stack you can be out before you even have a chance of getting back in the game. When I say small stack I mean that in a short table tournament you are not going to be as big a stack as you would be in a 9-player normal ring game. The 9-player tables are much more difficult to take down. So when you play a short table tournament and have only 4 or 5 big blinds to protect you do not really want to push all-in with any hand. You should be playing much more conservatively and let other players be excited about playing a short-handed table. In a 9-player tournament the blinds move really quick so you do not have a lot of time to think about what position you are in.
When your chips are about 50-60% of the total chips in play then you really want to be aggressive. When your chips get lower than this percentage then you need to take more risk in order to stay in long enough to double up. For example, a table of 500 players has each player having a stack of $2000. The average stack is $1400 and the top 20 players are all at $2000 or more. The first 20 players at $2000 or less should be all-in every hand with the exception of Ace-King, King-Queen, Ace-King, and King-Queen. When you reach this point you should be pushing all-in with any hand. The reason for this is simple. If you are low, you are going to have to take some risk to stay in the game. If you wait for a high hand, you will never get one. So once you get a low hand, all the other players will be thinking they have higher cards than you and they will be right. If you double up from $2000 you will have a heck of a time keeping the blinds down so you can get back in the game.
Once you get to the top 20 players and you are down to 6 spots, then you need to take a different approach. You no longer have the advantage of blinds anymore. Now you are waiting for players to go all-in with any hand.green players will call you all-in with any hand while red players will never call you all-in. After the first 10 hands you will be doing well and you will have more than enough to build a nice stack of chips. The problem is with cards that reach the turn and river, most players start to lose their chips back to the blinds and it is very difficult to come back and win chips in short handed play. The only real way to win chips in short handed SNG games is to have a very strong hand. You can take risks and you will still probably end up taking down first place but it is easier to make it to the money if you have a stronger hand than everyone else. Take advantage of the weak players and try to build your stack from there.
For those players still wondering how to adjust their game to short-handed SNG play, I have created a short video which should help your transition from full-ring SNG play to short-handed SNG (Remember, that you can still play full-ring SNGs with 9 players allowed and 10 players allowed with 6 players allowed. The transition from full-ring SNG to short-handed SNG is just that – the difference of being able to play 9 players for a short period of time to 6 players for a long stretch).