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Early and Middle Phase

The Middle Phase

General rules as the Sit & Go field thins towards the bubble...

This article looks at the middle stages of a single table tournament (STT), from around the fourth blind level to the point when only four players remain. If play gets down to only four runners in the first three levels, there is no middle phase. It is possible, but rare.

Again it is worth stating that STTs tend to have fewer variables than many other types of poker, which makes it easier to follow general rules of play. These guidelines cover nine-handed STT, played with a regular structure (as opposed to a turbo or hyper-turbo) and for low or micro stakes.

General guidelines: The middle phase

The fewer chips you have, the more aggressively you should play

When the blinds are big and your stack drops to fewer than 10 big blinds, you cannot wait around to be dealt the next Category 1 or Category 2 hand. Instead you should be willing to raise or move all in with a wide range of hands, in order to stay in contention and make it to the bubble.

Don't get blinded away

You can avoid losing chips by folding trash hands, especially when in the blinds. But don't play too passively at this stage. If you have five big blinds or fewer you should be looking for good spots to get all your chips in. It is better to go out fighting with a fair chance of doubling, as opposed to being tight and getting eaten by the blinds.

You are pot-committed with a third of your stack in

When you raise for a third of your stack or more, you have committed so many chips that you have to be willing to get the rest in. Therefore it is ofter better to push all in pre-flop, instead of making a big raise. This will not only put pressure on your opponent but also increase your chances of a double up (providing you have a strong hand). If you are raising post-flop for a third of your stack, you should do so with the idea of getting the rest in on later streets, even if there are scare cards on the board.

Moving all in means an opponent can't raise you out

This is based on the power of aggression - one of the core concepts in no limit Hold'em. By pushing all in you have two ways to win the hand. Your opponent can either fold, or they can call, which means you still have a chance to win at showdown. This is the reason why you can push with more hands than you can call. If your opponent pushes all in you may have a difficult decision to face and can make mistakes, either by folding the winning hand or calling while too far behind.

Be aware of other players' stack sizes

The size of your opponents' stacks is one of the most important factors in playing your way through a STT. You should be willing to play pots against players with smaller stacks but avoid the bigger ones. A big stack can bust you and is more likely to give you action. They will also put pressure on you with raises or re-raises that put your tournament life at risk. A short stack will be more likely to fold, unless they have a good hand that they think they can earn them a double up.

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