I'm not sure if it's still the case, but when I used to play poker online, one of the most popular forms was the single table sit-n-go (or SNG) no-limit holdem tournaments, where you just buy in and wait for 9 other people to join. Sometime last year, the Mirage started offering their own SNGs. I actually wasn't sure this would work, since in a live environment, people have to actually sit and wait for enough players to show up. Online, on the other hand, you can much more easily occupy yourself with other things (another poker game, for instance). Notwithstanding my skepticism, the live SNGs seem to have caught on. Until Monday, though, I had never tried one. This is mostly because a floorperson told me I couldn't get a $15 food comp for playing in them, so I always just played cash games instead.
As I arrived Monday afternoon, I heard an announcement that there was one seat left in a $70 SNG. They also offer $115 and (I think) $170 SNGs. Despite the lack of a food comp incentive, I've been interested in trying one, so I decided this would be a good chance. Taking my seat, I recognized no other players at my table, usually a good sign. We were given 1000 in chips, with the blinds starting at 25 and 50, so our starting M was just over 13, which is rather low (anything under 20 or so and strategy adjustments need to be considered). Inquiring with the dealer, I learned the blinds would increase every 15 minutes, also rather fast. The dealer dealt for the button, and I was placed 6th after the blinds. For the first 8 hands or so, I was dealt nothing playable, and folded. As I was watching, I began to worry that this might be a limit tournament. Every bet and raise that was made was the exact amount that would be required in a fixed-limit game, be it pre-flop, on the flop, or on the later streets. Could it really be that my opponents are so unsophisticated that they don't realize they should be betting more than the minimum? It hardly seemed possible. For about two hands I had become convinced that I was, in fact, playing in a limit tournament, when suddenly someone made a raise of 3 times the blind. I looked up at the dealer, expecting her to explain that the player had raised too much. She simply announced "raise to 150, " and looked to the next player. At that moment, I realized the incredible degree to which my experience in no-limit poker outpaced the rest of the table. My competition was about as soft as I'd ever seen. When it got to heads up, I had almost a 4 to 1 chip lead on my opponent, who was one of the better players, but still mediocre. He folded way too often heads-up, but he managed to stick around for about 20 minutes before I finally won. First place $420, second place $180. The whole thing took about an hour and a half.
Tuesday I played another SNG at the Mirage, this one for $115. Looking around the table, I recognized the player two to my left, a dealer. All the others were new faces. We started with more chips this time (1500), but the rest was structured the same. I drew the big blind to start, and there were about 5 limpers. Since in tournaments players tend to play rather straightforwardly, I was pretty confident nobody had a big hand, or they would have raised. So, I raised to 300, expecting everyone to fold their mediocre drawing hands. The first player mumbled about "300 just like that?" before folding. However, I got two callers. Foolishly, I had expected these players to be reasonably typical tournament players, in spite of my previous experience that suggested the contrary. I missed the flop and folded to a bet of only 200. After that, I adjusted my strategy to sticking around and looking for big edges because my competition was, once again, astonishingly weak. The only other decent player was the one I recognized as a dealer. He and I got to head's up, with my holding a 3 to 1 chip lead. After about 12 hands I had won again. This one took only about an hour. First place $700, second place $300. The floorman even offered me an unsolicited $15 comp when he paid me my winnings.
I certainly don't expect to win every time, but the competition in these SNGs is so weak that I believe I should come in the money at least one third of the time. Assuming I win about $540 on average when I do cash (minus the $115 buyin and also the dealer tip), and that I cash 40% of the time, the expected value of one of the $115 SNGs would be about $90. For an 1 to 1.5 hours of play, that comes to $60 to $90 an hour, which is quite good. Another consideration is, of course, whether the risk involved in playing these SNGs outweigh the EV. Considering that my current hourly standard deviation is almost $300 playing cash games, it's hard to imagine the an hour long, $115 SNG being any riskier, although I haven't bothered to do the actual calculations yet (based on the above approximations). If these approximations are anything close to accurate (a big "if"), I should probably be playing in these SNGs as often as possible.
Update (3/2/12): Mirage SNG Update posted 9/18/06