I won’t try to fool you here: tournament structures bend the values of chips. You should be well aware of it, but chances are you are, because, well, every player is. The clearest example of this is satellites. In satellites you often have from a few to hundreds of prizes that are worth the same – you have many people tied for first. Say a satellite awards seven seats to the Sunday Million. There’s no three-handed or heads-up play. There will be no champion. The tournament ends the exact moment someone busts out in eighth, and at that point the player who has 10 million chips gets the same as the one who was holding tight with one ante left – although the first guy was probably a lot less stressed toward the end.
It’s common for people with some seven big blinds to fold AK, QQ or even AA in this sort of position, which would normally be preposterous. Of course, with Queens you have the expectation to win chips if you open-shove 7 BB, so why would you open-fold them? In such a satellite bubble, the answer is almost always this: you think someone else is going to bust first, maybe this very hand, and you are not the chip leader, so by folding you make sure you are not all-in this hand, and you may win your ticket by just waiting around. Since you are not going to keep playing down to a single winner, there is no more need for chip accumulation. If there is one player all-in in the big blind, then automatically the goal of every other player is to knock him out, simply because it would be the quickest, safest way for everybody (but him) to get what they want.
Normal, single-table sit-and-gos have that too, but to a smaller degree. If three are paid and there are four left and one guy is supershort, then the other two non-chip leaders often want to refrain from risky moves before they see if he doubles up or busts – thus guaranteeing the other players a cash.
But look! There is a major different between this SNG and the satellite, and that difference is that there will be an actual winner, meaning you should still take the occasional very profitable chance if it’s not entirely obvious the shortest guy is gonna bust out in fourth. I mean, if he has a half big blind left and he’s the big blind next hand, that is a clear situation where he has no choice but to be all-in in what is looking like a pretty terrible spot, but things are not so clear if you have 8 BB and he has 6 BB.
Many aggressive players (and even some passive ones, in a complete 180) will go absolutely crazy here. You should not. I mean, they have the chip lead with 4 left and one guy shorter then the other two, and they start shoving 100% of their hands. My friend, you should be aware that this is just almost never good. You either don’t have such a big lead, and getting called by someone with you embarrassing 94o would cripple you terribly, or you do have a big lead, you’re completely comfortable, you are gonna cash almost surely, and there is no need to spew chips like a retard! Even if the two medium stacks are cowards, remember that at least the shortest one is probably looking for a good spot to triple up, and you are handing it to him, just like that, and maybe turning a hopeless situation into a game where everyone has chances.
With Perfect Preflop Play you will be very well equipped to deal with the idiot push-every-hand chip leader. After five straight pushes you can easily put him on the “psycho” range (and that’s if you wanna be cautious, because he may have the all-hands range), and by taking one second to type in your hand, you will be surprised at how many good calls you can make with stuff like 98s and K2s.
But there is one money bubble where chip values are not distorted, and that’s the last one, when you’re heads-up. Let’s take the actual numbers from a 9-player, $15 knockout SNG on Pokerstars. Second place gets $30.45 and first gets $50.77, but since the winner will be necessarily be knocking out the runner-up and not be knocked out himself, he also wins two bounties for his win, so we’re gonna count first place as $56.41, so this is a $25.96 bubble between second and first.
There is no more waiting around, of course, because there isn’t a third player to knock out the other guy for you. We can, in fact, interpret the $30.45 as a thing of the past. You are both fighting just for that $25.96. This is now the same as fixed-buy-in heads-up cash game that only ends when one player loses their buy-in. 13,500 chips is worth exactly (no relativity) $25.96; 0 chips is worth $0.
So before you two post for this hand you both have 6,750 chips, and since there is no distortion your expectation (disregarding skill disparity) is $12.98. The blinds are 300 / 600 with a 50 ante and you’re the big blind. Your opponent is definitely capable of stealing, and he’s been very active, and there is just no better spot to steal than heads-up with short stacks, so you’re not gonna give him much respect for his raises – unless he starts folding the button several times. You pick up QJs and he goes all-in. From the description you should put your opponent on the “loose” or “psycho” range (you should seldom assume the all-hands range unless a player is ultrashort or in maniac mode; remember you are never being cautious if you assume 100% of hands – you’re either right or you’re optimistic).
Well, against the “loose range” PPP will tell you that you need 1.11 to 1 or greater to call, and that you can call up to around 20 big blinds. There are no more players that can bust if you fold, so this is just a plain positive-expectation call, so you call. Needing 1.11 to 1 means you are gonna win one time in 2.11, or 47.43% of the time. So your equity in this 13,500 pot is 6,403 chips, which, of course, is better than retaining your 6,100 by folding.
Since each chip has a fixed dollar value, it’s obvious that 6,100 chips are worth $11.73 and that 6,403 chips are worth $12.09. So 36 cents is what you gain by calling here against the “loose” range. Doesn’t sound like much, but this is meant as an example of a close call. Short-stack heads-up play can be very brutal in that every pot conceded increases you disadvantage by a lot, so you must be ready to take a stand against aggresive players soon, or not at all.