PokerStars Step tournaments are SNG tournaments that are generally used as satellites for large live tournaments (learn more about what Steps tournaments are). Because they often pay several places, but pay many of those places prize money either equal to or less than the buy in, proper strategy is often counter intuitive, even for players who have a decent amount of SNG experience.
This article is intended to help bridge that gap by providing a core overview to a profitable strategy for playing Step 3s through the first bubble. Step 3s are the $82 buy in level and pay 5/9 places. Third through fifth receive a Step 3 ticket (break even) while the top two finishers receive Step 4 tickets ($215 buy in level). It’s likely that Step 3 are much softer than your typical $82 buy in (or thereabouts) SNG on Stars or Full Tilt, and Step 3s are also unique in that the prize you win – the $215 ticket – is the only ticket that can be used (generally) outside of the Steps system (Step4 tickets can be used to buy into the $215 major tournaments on PokerStars), so they’re worth playing even for people not interested in advancing up the Steps system.
A couple of important caveats: one, this article offers guidelines and makes generalization. It would be a pretty massive undertaking to address every possible situation that could occur in a SNG, even if you just focused on, say, the bubble. We try instead to focus on employing examples that highlight the basic rules of the strategy instead of worrying about noting every possible exception. Second, if you’re going to be playing these tournaments, you must invest in a copy of SNG Wiz (or a similar program) to help you study your game and improve.
Ok, with that said, here’s the approach we’re going to take. We’re going to break the game into two basic sections – the opening game and the bubble game (6 handed play). Future articles on Steps strategy will handle play ITM (in the money).
Step 3s can be played as Regular (10 minute blind level) or Turbo (5 minute blind level). A good amount of the time there’s not much divergence between proper strategy for Regular and Turbo; where there’s something significant , we’ll make a note.
You start with 1500 chips and blinds at 10-20. For the first few blind levels, there’s actually a reasonable potential for post-flop play. Post-flop play largely disappears by level 5, although depending on the chip distribution, it may make a reappearance in some of the later levels.
There’s been plenty written about the popular early stage approach to SNG play – snug – so we won’t spend too much time repeating what’s already widely covered. Playing tight in the earlier stages of SNGs and essentially conserving your chips until the game becomes a simple push-fold decision is an absolutely reasonable strategy for Step 3, especially given how flat the payouts are – you’re really not rewarded for taking chances early in the structure. Sticking to super premium hands and placing emphasis on pot control over thin value betting will net you positive results.
Some people find this approach too boring, and while boredom is rarely a reason in and of itself to divert from a winning strategy, you can make a case for playing a slightly looser style in the early levels. The basic tradeoff is that you’ll be adding some extra risk in exchange for more chances to get into confrontations with the worst players (assuming that bad players are more likely to bust early and that good players are likely to be playing ABC in the early stages, so you won’t be in pots with them as often).
While you’re still playing solid poker, you’ll be opening up your game a bit. If the table is typical, you’ll be able to limp from a variety of positions with speculative hands and not be confronted with a raise that often. You should also consider challenging the limpers from time to time with a late position raise with the weaker part of your range. Don’t be afraid to take a flop or two against a preflop raiser if you have good position – for the first couple of levels you’re playing fairly deep stacked poker. You can also get away with a light three bet against the right players in later position, but it’s a move you should probably restrict to the first two or three levels, as it becomes prohibitively expensive as the blinds increase.
If you manage to chip up a bit in the early levels with this approach, great – the cushion will come in handy as the game moves into the push-fold stage. If, however, you take a couple of swings and net a couple of misses, put on the brakes and revert to tight play to conserve your chips so that you’re still a stack that can inflict damage as the game moves into the later levels.