In any tourney, your most basic goal is to last until you’re in the money, somewhere, anywhere.
Your ultimate goal of course is to win the tournament, in other words, win every tourney chip doled out to all the players who originally entered the self-enclosed universe of the tourney when it first started. This contrasts with cash play, where your goal is to maximize your win or minimize your loss on every hand, with every hand being an independent event in a theoretically never-ending game.
In SNG play, to reach the final three money positions, you must keep a vigilant eye on the level increases (your relative chip stack count to that of your opponents) and the “bubble.”
The bubble is the situation reached in a tournament when the very next player who is to be knocked out finishes out of the money, and the unlucky but also lucky bloke next given the boot finishes in the money.
In a typical SNG, where the last three players will finish in the money, you’re said to be on the bubble when four remain. All four should know they are sitting on the bubble at this point, and it is here, at least temporarily, when players may change tactics.
If they’re short stacked, they’re more likely going to play tight, if not super tight, desperately trying to hang on to get that third and final payoff position. If they’re one of the chip leaders, some pros like to bet aggressively to the hurting players in order to steal the blinds and increase their chip count during this vulnerable period.
Phil Hellmuth said “I advise people to wait out all of the reckless players, and then start playing a bit when you hit four handed. Patience is an even bigger deal in Sit-n-Go’s. As I said, wait out the bad and reckless players, hopefully you will bust one or more of them with strong hands like A-K.”
Glenn McDonald, in his internet poker book, Deal Me In, refines that a little, by recommending a strategy of “swimming upstream,” which takes into account both loose or wild tables, and tight or conservative tables. If your table happens to be comprised or composed of tight or conservative players early on in the game, play against the stream, bet aggressively. You can pick up some pots, setting you up well for the later, higher betting and blind levels. And like Hellmuth recommends, if there are maniacs at your table, stay out of those wild waters, sit back, let them knock each other out.