In this series of articles, we are going to learn how to master the art of the Spin & Go. We shall develop solid pre-flop ranges and sophisticated post-flop strategies in our quest for a high win-rate over the long-term. The short-term, however, is a completely different world, full of ups and downs; and while this is true in any form of poker, the variance of the Spin & Go is somewhat unique. Let's explore what to expect as we dive into the turbulent world of grinding this form of the game.
Cash Variance vs. Spin and Go VarianceCash games can be volatile in the short-term, but the long-term graph of a winning player might look something like this:
When we zoom out, we see that the skilled player's edge plus a large sample of hands have transformed the short-term ups and downs into a relatively steady upward curve in the long-term. The reason for this evening-out-effect is that every session carries roughly the same amount of variance. Over a period of hundreds of thousands of hands, this constant rate of luck leads to a stable correlation between skill and results.
The most striking thing about the Spin & Go is that there is not one constant state of variance, but multiple layers of it. Have a look at the graph of a winning Spin & Go player:
The variance over a large sample of Spin & Go tournaments operates in three distinct stages:
Stage One – The Downslope (2x Prize Pools)The inevitable losing stretches this winning player has experienced in the graph above are the result of him playing most of his tournaments with a lower prize pool than would ordinarily be fair in a standard sit and go. In a $7 Spin and Go, the most common prize pool is $14. This prize pool will be spun roughly 72% of the time.
If the winning player was forced to play this size of prize pool in a three handed game repeatedly, he would need a 50% win-rate to break even and this is impossible at such a quick blind structure, even for the best players in the world. Fortunately, the fact that much bigger prize pools can be spun makes up for this phase of the Spin & Go grind, creating the possibility for a skilled enough player to beat the games, and indeed, many skilled players do make a living from this exciting format of the game. Nevertheless, the winning $7 player will compete in around 720 of these $14 prize pool tournaments in every 1000 tournaments he plays. His goal in this phase is to build a long-term win-rate around 35% or higher. By doing so, he will minimize the damage these small prize pool spins do to his bankroll, while awaiting the inevitable larger spins that are statistically guaranteed if he plays enough tournaments.
The good news about these prize-pools is that many weaker players get frustrated by constantly spinning them and start to play rashly, perhaps shoving all-in pre-flop with almost any hand for the 25bb starting stack. This frequent 'spew' allows for much higher win-rates in the 2x prize pool tournaments than is possible in the bigger tournaments.
Stage Two – The Upslope (4x, 6x, 10x, and 25x Prize Pools)These rarer, but still relatively common prize pools are spun 23%, 7.5%, 5% and 1% of the time, respectively. They allow the player to recoup the money lost in the 2x prize pools and make the game feel completely fair. Of course, there is a degree of variance over the short-term caused by fluctuation in how often you hit these larger prize pools, and a further layer of variance caused by how often you win them. It is possible to run good in Spin & and Gos simply by winning a high percentage of these larger pools and this will propel your upslope significantly. Play enough tournaments, however, and this will even out.
Since these prize-pools come around less often, we should expect recreational players and weaker regulars to play too tight in these games and this will allow us to expand our stealing ranges significantly in a profitable way.
Stage Three – The Spikes (120x, 240x and 12,000x Prize Pools)This is where the game gets very exciting. You might think: 'These will never happen to me', but if you make Spin & Gos your main form of the game, you are very likely to encounter 120x and 240x prize pools at some point. As for the big one; it is much more likely to fall into the hands of a regular Spin & Go player than someone who dabbles in the game from time to time. These pools occur 0.075%, 0.03% and 0.001% of the time respectively. In more human language: 75 in a million, 30 in a million and 1 in a million.
Play enough tournaments and some of these bigger pools will come your way eventually. This is the stage of variance that sets Spin & Gos aside from other more mundane formats of the game. There is no scope to win 120 buy-ins in one cash game session, unless you play for weeks on end and somehow manage to stay awake. Playing Spin & Gos can suddenly transform your poker career in three minutes. While the spike tournaments are not necessary to beat the games, they provide the lure of a fairy-tale day. Remember though, spinning the prize-pool is only half the battle; we still need to win it. So, let's get training.