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Poker Strategy With Bryan Pellegrino: Heads-Up Sit-N-Gos

Pellegrino Explains The Techniques That Made Him One Of The Best Online Sit-N-Go Players In The Game Today

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Bryan PellegrinoBryan Pellegrino has spent years building up an image as one of the most feared high-stakes heads-up sit-n-go players online.

Playing under the handle “PrimordialAA,” Pellegrino has won several hundreds of thousands of dollars beating heads-up sit-n-gos. The Lock Poker Pro has been an instructor with both PokerStrategy and CardRunners where he produced heads-up sit-n-go videos. This year, Pellegrino has decided that he is going to make a run at achieving Supernova Elite status on Pokerstars by playing heads-up hyper turbo sit-n-gos from the $200 buy-in level all the way up to the $1,000 hyper turbos.

Pellegrino isn’t just strictly an online specialist though. In 2009, at his very first World Series of Poker, he came in eighth in the $10,000 heads-up championship event. He followed this up with a deep run in the main event in 2010 and had a second-place finish in the $1,500 pot-limit hold’em event in 2012.

Card Player caught up with Pellegrino to talk about heads-up sit-n-go strategy.

Steve Schult: Let’s say somebody is transitioning to heads-up sit-n-gos from six-max or full ring sit-n-gos. What would be the biggest adjustment that player is going to have to make?

Bryan Pellegrino: Playing a lot more hands. Obviously in those other games you will be playing far fewer hands than in heads-up. In heads-up, you will be playing 70 to 100 percent of hands in position and around 60 to 80 percent of hands out of position. That means you will be put in spots with a lot of weaker hand strengths on average and also where your opponents hand strength is weaker.

It makes hand reading and adjusting a bit trickier when people have ranges that are much wider so most six-max and full-ring players have a hard time with that.

SS: So would it be easier for someone to transition to these games from heads-up cash? What are the differences in skill set between the two?

BP: Obviously, it will be much easier for a heads-up cash player. Though it depends on if they are going to move to hypers, turbos, or regular speed games before you can talk about the skill sets. Hypers require a much different skill set than the other two because you need to know how to play a much shallower stack size very well. Most cash players are really poor at that since they rarely play less than 50 big blinds deep and are usually deeper than 100 big blinds.

Turbos and regular speeds are a bit easier for them since your starting stack is 75 big blinds deep and frequency wise it plays pretty similar to 100 big blind stacks, so they are more comfortable. But everybody moving over has to adjust to playing shallow.

Less than 10 big blinds, 11-to-15, 16-to-25, 26-to-35, and 36-to-50 big blind stack sizes each have lots of different nuances. Anybody coming over will have trouble if they haven’t played those stacks frequently and will need to work on their game in those spots a lot.

SS: So what are some examples of the things you are able to do shallow stacked as opposed to a deep-stack cash game structure? How do hand values change with regards to stack depth?

BP: There are a couple different things. At around 16-to-25 big blinds a lot of people stop having a non all-in three-bet range, so they will just three-bet jam if they three-bet or they will flat otherwise. This takes away the initial raiser’s ability to flat hands to a three-bet and the more frequently the opponent does it, the more it will change the raiser’s opening range.

For instance, once you get shallower than say nine or 10 big blinds, the big blind pretty much never flat calls a min raise anymore. So now the options they have are either three-bet shove or fold their big blind. That means in our mind, hands you can’t raise/call with, like J-3 suited or 7-2 offsuit, have the same value. There are tons of interesting calculations about how you should structure ranges here against different frequencies once they have a shove or fold reaction, but the fact of the matter is that lots of people don’t take it into account, especially when they are moving over from other games.

SS: Can you talk about the importance of the button? Everybody knows position is of the utmost importance in all forms of poker, but is it more or less important in a heads-up match?

BP: In my opinion it’s much more important in heads-up sit-n-gos. With hand ranges being so wide and less polarized (meaning they either have the top of their range or a complete bluff) in a lot of spots, thin value betting becomes very important. Having the button means you have the most information and that helps a ton in being able to value bet thinly.

SS: Let’s talk about your opening range on the button. How wide are you going to be raising from the button? Does your range change if you are playing a good player or a bad player?

BP: I open wide. Very wide. I open around 85 to 95 percent from the button. It doesn’t change too much against a good player or a bad player, but people’s three-bet and flatting frequencies will make me change my own a bit. Not how many hands I play necessarily, but which hands I min-raise and which hands I limp. So I don’t really start to play fewer hands, I just change how I structure each min-raise and limp range against different players.

SS: What about playing out of position from the big blind? You have stressed the importance of the button, but how wide are you defending your big blind?

BP: It depends on how wide they are opening. Good players tend to open lots of hands. Bad players don’t open that many. I am defending pretty wide though. Somewhere between 65 to 80 percent usually and it’s obviously mixed between calling, non all-in three-betting, and three-bet shoving.

SS: How do you decide whether to flat call, three-bet, or three-bet shove?

BP: Based on a couple of things. The wider guys are opening, the wider I’ll be three-betting. Then it kind of depends on if they call a lot, four-bet jam, or fold.
For instance, someone who never calls a three-bet and only four-bet jams or folds, I would make all of my three-bets non all-in.

However, most people do a mixture of both, so naturally you’re always jamming hands that you definitely don’t want flatted, like pocket deuces through fives and A-2 through A-6. Then you need to balance the rest between value and bluffs in both your three-bet shove and non all-in three-bet. You should have some of both in both ranges for sure.

You pretty much flat everything else that’s left and adjust based on how they play.

SS: Moving to some postflop strategy, how about your continuation betting frequencies? Since most of the time, neither player makes a hand, how often are you continuation betting flops and what types of boards are you going to bet or check back?

BP: Again, it obviously depends greatly on who you’re playing. A lot of people are the brainless kind who just like to check-raise every good hand or strong draw they have.
So for instance, on a board like 10Heart Suit 8Heart Suit 7Club Suit, there are just infinite board runouts where you can just bet flop, bet turn, and jam river where they can’t call any of their range, but more balanced players are going to make it tougher to do that. They will also have a leading range so the action doesn’t just default back to you on the flop. Against those players it’s important to balance your continuation bet and check-back range and be thoughtful of how likely they are to hit the flop, check-raise, lead turns when you check back, and other factors like that.

SS: Lastly, I wanted to ask about return on investment (ROI)? What kind of ROI can you achieve in different structured games?

BP: It’s an interesting subject. In turbos, you can probably hold 5 to 7 percent at reasonable stakes, where as in hypers it’s more like 2 to 3 percent. The fact of the matter is though that the hypers have about 50 times the action that the turbos have. So when it comes down to hourly rate, most of the hyper players are killing similar stakes turbo players. That’s also why the Sharkscope leaderboard is filled with hyper turbo players.

So while you can maintain a much higher ROI at turbos and regular speed games, the hourly is almost way too low to justify it. A lot of good players play both though.

SS: Thanks for your time Bryan. Good luck chasing Supernova Elite this year.