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Reader Email About DoNs

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A few weeks ago a reader, Rishan, sent me an email with some questions about Double or Nothing Sit-N-Go's.

He had some good questions pertaining to variance, bankroll management and some strategy. With his permission I'm posting his email along with my answers in case others find it helpful.

It took a while to find the time to reply but hopefully it's worth the wait.

Here's the email:
Hey Micro, I've had the pleasure of stumbling upon your site while googling DoN strategies and tips. I find your site very helpful!

I'm fairly new to DoN compared to many people. I also felt that I've pretty much grasped how to play the game, and how to play at different stages.

I originally bought in with 20 dollars trying to just experiment with DoN. After about a few months of fluctuating around there, I went bust.

Then just last week I bought in with 10 dollars and turned that to 70 dollars
in 1 weekend playing 10.20 dollar DoN on pokerstars. I felt so happy after that, and more than the money, i felt that i finally learned how to play DoN and play profitably consistantly.

However just over the last 2 days through about 20 games or so, I manage to go down to just 8.20.

I'm fairly new to bankroll management and i understand i shouldnt be more than 5-10 percent of my stack for every buy in... but it just seems rediculous that i'll have these huge upswings and then these huge downswings.. over the last 3-4 months of playing DoN i havent really been able to tell myself that i haev a steady winning strategy... which really sux :(

so i guess i just wanted to ask someone who clearly has experience in this for any advice, anything u could tell me that u learned when u started playing... and links to any good books or articles that u found helpful.. anything!

i just wanna learn how to get better... even though my main goal is to play profitably at a consistent rate... (even if it's just about 40 bucks a week)... i do play because i love the game and i feel i have what it takes to master it.

sorry this is so long and i'll understand if u dont reply (but please do! haha)
but basically my main problem when playing is that i end up in all in situations that i lose. i found that the pattern during DoN is that i usually get a good stack going until about mid-late game. then ill be forced to go all in on a hand and somehow lose.

for example yesterday i went in with AA twice mid game preflop and lost both times and got felted.

then there are many times where ill raise pre flop and get called with something like AJ or AQ suited. then flop top pair with A kicker. and ill raise, and get re-raised all in. and my gut says... you're beat u should fold.
but my brain says you're the worst player in the world if u fold this.

i think that's my biggest problem.... getting into those all in situations somehow.
everything else like stealing blinds and staying alive i can do... it's just that 1 part that kills me.

so that's basically how i feel.
any wise words from a pro would help me out alot!

thanks alot and keep up the great site! it really helps me with my game and
keeps me motived to see someone else doing so well!

good luck! thanks!
First let me preface this whole thing by stating I've only played Double or Nothing SnG's on PokerStars because I like their software, they have a lot of games going and I find their support to be the best. Most of what I write in the rest of this post should apply to other sites.

Understanding Variance

Upswings and downswings are part of poker. While Double or Nothing SnGs have lower variance than other games they are not completely immune to variance and you'll experience swings.

A while ago I ran across this video on variance in cash games and it gives a good explanation of variance and what it's effects can be. (When you click play a pop up will appear and then you have to come back and click the play button again, sorry about that, the site that hosts it does it.)

Another tool for seeing how variance can effect you is the ROI simulator. You enter buy-in and prize info, tell it how many simulations to run and games per simulation as well as your expectation for each finish position and it will show you the results of the trials.

With DoNs, if all 10 players were at the exact same skill level each one would have a 50% chance of winning each game. So let's take 1,000 of these players and have them each play 1,000 games. For each game they play they have a 50% chance of winning and from what I can assume ROISimulator generates a random number to determine if they win or not based on their win rate. It seems to be close enough to predict how often players will achieve their expected results.

With a 50% winrate, the expected ROI is -7.41% due to the rake. The chart on the right shows the distribution of ROI. The highest peak is at -7% ROI which is what we would expect but as you can see there are some players that did significantly worse or significantly better than the others.

About 60% of the field was within +/- 2% of the 7% ROI figure though.

Over the short-term, players can experience an even greater range of actual ROI given their same 50% expected win-rate. Some players will run hot and others will run cold. The only way to concur variance is to put in a lot of volume.

The following two charts show simulations run with the same 1,000 players playing 100 and 10,000 games respectively. In the 100 game simulations some players managed to achieve as much as 20% ROI and as little as -31% ROI while in the 10,000 game simulation all players were closer to their expected ROI but even then there were some who ran better/worse than others. Running the same simulation with 100,000 games 90% of the players achieved a -7% ROI.

To beat these games you have to have an edge over the rest of the field. You need at least a 4% edge just to beat the rake. Let's say some how you knew you're win-rate should be 58%, running simulations over 100 games for 1,000 players actual ROI ranges from 20% to -16%. So even though you have a winning game the effects of variance could make you think you're a losing player.

This is where it can get difficult starting out. In the beginning you don't have enough games under your belt to know if you have an edge or if you're running hot. Your short term results may cause you to make adjustments to your game which may hurt you in the long run. The more you play the more you'll realize what works and what doesn't.

Proper Bankroll Management

The purpose of Bankroll Management is to keep short term swings from busting you. As we've seen from the charts above, the short term results may be horrible. You need to make sure you start off with enough money to withstand any swings.

Starting out with $20 or $10 is not enough to play $10 DoNs as you said you did. You would need to start off running very hot for that to work and as we've seen from the simulations that's not likely. Even when you got your bakroll up to $80 that wasn't enough to play the $10 DoNs using a 20 Buy-in rule. You dropped around 7 buy-ins. Running simulations for 1,000 players over 1,000 games, 90% of players experienced a drop of at least 7 buyins and 60% experienced a losing streak of at least 7 games in a row. So your downswing isn't uncommon even if you had a winrate as high as 60%.

Below are a couple of charts showing the biggest downswing and worst losing streak from the simulation of 1,000 players with a 60% winrate playing 1,000 games.

The size of your bankroll is dependent on your stakes, winrate, variance and acceptable risk of ruin. I haven't come up with or come across a formula but one I found for cash games is Bankroll = - (SD^2 / 2*HWR) * ln(RoR). I post here just to illustrate how win-rate and variance play into your starting bankroll requirements. (Variance is standard deviation squared.)

You can't roll yourself to completely prevent yourself from going bust which is where the Risk Of Ruin comes in. You allow yourself a certain percentage of going broke. As we've seen from the simulations, over the short term some players will just run horribly bad even if they're playing a winning game. Playing a winning game but running bad or playing a losing game and running hot can cause big problems.

Since you're just starting out, you don't have a good indication of what you're true win-rate is. You're also learning the game and need to allow for mistakes. As you move up in stakes you can expect your win-rate to decrease which also means you'll have to give your bankroll some more room.

The buy-in rules I'm using for my DoN SnG Challenge are:
Buy-In Bankroll Num Buy-Ins
$5.40 $150 27.78
$10.80 $1,000 92.59
$21.60 $4,000 185.19
$54.00 $12,000 222.22
$108.00 $25,000 231.48

You might want to follow similar guidelines for yourself to keep from going bust again. You can use my DoN SnG Bankroll Management Spreadsheet. To help keep on track. It will let you know when to move up or down in stakes based on the rules you set.

I haven't played all the stakes enough to know if my game is profitable in each so I wanted to leave myself enough room in my bankroll to develop my game. As you move up the competition gets better and you can't get away with some mistakes you could at the lower stakes.

My bankroll rules are a bit nitty but it gives me time to work on my game and get a feel for the regulars I encounter.

Improving Your Game

The best thing you can do to improve your game is go over your previous games and see what works and what doesn't. A tool like Holdem Manager will help analyze your stats and replay sessions.

There are a number of good articles out there on DoN strategy that are easy to find. They're all pretty similar though.

I don't think there's any one right way to play DoNs. I've come across a lot of players and some of the best regulars I've seen have vastly different strategies. Everything from ubernit 4% VP$IP to mid 20% VP$IP. When it comes down to it, DoNs are still poker and it's all going to depend what you're more comfortable with.

Everybody has different strengths and weaknesses in their game and you want to do what works best for you. The only way to do that is to put in a lot of volume and analyze your results to see what works and what doesn't.

The bubble in a DoN is very important obviously and you might want to work on your bubble play. Learning more about the Independant Chip Model (ICM) can help. A good tool is SnG Wizard You can download a free trial and run through some of your previous games. It's worth purchasing it because it takes a long time to master ICM and you'll want to constantly review your games.

There's a good introductory video on the SnG Wizard website.

One important skill you'll need to work on is estimating opponent's hand ranges for calling, raising, pushing, etc. Working with a program like Holdem Manager that provides you with a heads-up display (HUD) can help you with that. It still takes a lot of practice and experience to be able to know a certain players range in different situations.

Bad Beats

Bad beats happen. It's part of the game. Some days it'll feel like none of your hands hold. I've lost hands with top set to nearly impossible backdoor flushes, straights and even quads. It happens.

That's where proper bankroll management comes into play. If you're properly rolled for the stakes your playing the bad beats won't cause a big hit to your bankroll. When you lose a significant portion of your roll it can effect you mentally and cause you to play less a less than optimal game.

In the long run things will even out. You just need to make sure you have enough money to make it to the long run. The long run is also longer than most people think it is.

Sometimes you may want to let good hands go at the bubble. If you're in good shape chip wise and there's another big stack that decided he wants to be the table bully, let him if there are a couple of smaller stacks that are desperate.

Even if you have a hand like pocket aces and you know he's shoving any two cards, his any two cards still have a 15% chance of winning. Why take a 15% chance of losing the game when there's a couple of short stacks that are desperate and have to make a move?

Your goal is to win the game. It doesn't matter how many chips you have when you win.  This is where understanding ICM becomes important. You need to know how much equity you have in the game, how much equity you're risking by getting involved in the hand and if it's worth it.

I've been on all sides of this situation. I've won a game with less than 10 chips because two big stacks decided they wanted to go at it with AK vs 22. I've also been the big stack that was pushing any two and busting out medium stacks when there were shorties with less than 1BB left. I've also made the mistake of trying to take on the table bully when I didn't need to and regreted it.

It's frustrating when someone's trying to run over the table but you have to learn to not get emotionally attached to any one hand and focus on winning the game.

There's one hand that I still remember. I was second in chips and there were 2 short stacks left on the bubble. I limped into one short stack's big blind to trap him with pocket kings. The big stack was behind me and he shoved all-in. I folded and he showed pocket 8's. It ticked me off but I would have been risking too much equity for not much gain in that situation.


Hopefully something in this long mess can help answer your questions. It basically comes down to understanding how variance can effect your short term results over a limited sample size, practicing good bankroll management and constantly analyzing and improving your game. There's no secret formula to beating DoNs.

3 Response to "Reader Email About DoNs"

Rishan Says....

Hey Micro,

Sorry it took so long, but I finally
found the time to get through the blog.

It was really helpful. I look forward to
putting these tips into practice.

Again thanks so much for taking the time to
post such a detailed and long blog.
I'm pretty sure it will help alot more people
than just myself ;)


Rishan Says....

Hey Micro,

I posted a comment before, but it didnt show up
so just posting another one.

Thanks for taking the time to write such a well detailed and lengthy blog.
This is really what I needed.
I'm sure this will help alot of others besides just myself too ;)

I look forward to putting your tips into practice, and also looking forward to letting u know that i'm doing well in my DoN games!


Anonymous Says....

Hi. You write: "One important skill you'll need to work on is estimating opponent's hand ranges for calling, raising, pushing, etc. Working with a program like Holdem Manager that provides you with a heads-up display (HUD) can help you with that. It still takes a lot of practice and experience to be able to know a certain players range in different situations."

Everybody says this, but few gives advice on actually how to study it effectively. Say you're facing an AIPF from MP1, you're BB and it's folded to you (you close the action!) Villain got you covered for 5BB (100/200+20). Your HUD shows MP1 (VPIP/PFR/Att. steal/ Fold to Steal) = 37/5/7/100, or 6/5/30/90, or 35/25/65/55, or 12/9/40/90.

Now what? How do you assess the ranges. What do you do. Clock is ticking - 15, 14, 13, 12... :) Would enjoy a post about something like that. Br Alex (bookmarked your blog).

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