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Final Table Poker Strategy

Optimal Play Once You Reach the Final Table

There is nothing like the feeling of reaching the final table of a tournament, whether playing live poker or online. You’ve battled your way past the rest of the field and you are sat there facing eight or nine players aiming to win the ultimate prize. That sense of satisfaction should be short lived however, as you are now entering the most important phase of the tournament.

While you’ve done a fine job of reaching the final table, the jumps in prize money at this point can make the cash you’ve won so far seem almost insignificant. A good strategy at the final will therefore make a huge difference to your bankroll. Here are some key strategies you should you be employing.

Measure Up the Rest of the Table

The first thing you should do when reaching the final table is to have a scan around and make sure you know exactly how many chips each player has. Then aim to quickly gain a feel for how each player is playing. Some will be playing tight, protecting their chips in the hope of seeing another player bust out and therefore moving one rung up the cash ladder. Others will be playing more aggressively, intent on winning the tournament.

If you’re playing online, it might be an idea to prepare early, by opening up and watching the other table when you reach the final two tables. This will enable you to gain a good read on your opponents before the final table opens.

Take Advantage of Different Stack Sizes

The first thing to be aware of is if there is one tiny stack at the table, with maybe just a couple of blinds in their stack. This player will bust imminently, so this will lead to a natural tightening up around the rest of the table, as players will not want to risk their stack at this point. This is the perfect time to go the opposite way and play more aggressively – you’ll be surprised how many steals you can get away with in this situation.

If you are playing with a mid or large stack, you can play very aggressively against the smaller stacks too, even if you only just have them covered.  Many players will only make a stand against a larger stack if they have the goods, so many free chips can be gained by making a raise in these situations, especially on the button or the cut-off.

Large stacks can be bullies at the final table and fair play to them, because they’ve earned that right. However, you can take advantage if you have a mid-sized stack against these guys. Consider you are blind versus blind against the large stack and the other player has been raising constantly. If they put in a raise, a good sized re-raise here will certainly make the large stack think you have the goods and they will usually find a fold (when you reach the final table, most of the players who can’t fold are gone by now!). Yes, you are risking exiting the tournament, though letting the table bully walk all over you is a sure way of ensuring you don’t win the tournament.

Aggressive Play When Short Stacked

If you have a small stack yourself, forget about trying to move up the cash ladder by playing safe. While this intuitively might seem like a good idea, playing safe and hitting the fold button over and over to ensure an 8th place finish instead of finishing 9th isn’t a good strategy, as you’ll still win a relatively small amount in comparison to the big prizes. Aim to never let yourself get below 10 big blinds and if you do reach that point, you should be aiming to shove as soon as is right. Yes, you do risk going out immediately, but just a couple of shoves without being challenged can make a huge difference to your position, as you’ll win both the blinds and the antes. Play this way and you will soon find yourself right in the mix for winning the tournament.

Heads Up Final Table Play

When you reach the point when there are just two players left, there is no time to be passive either. Usually, the blinds will be relatively large in comparison to the stacks at this point, so it’s highly probable that one of the two stacks will have 10 big blinds or less. This means that it is simply push or fold poker and with a short stack you can’t afford to be folding too often. Whether the large or the short stack you should be shoving with a wide range and calling a little wider too.

Final Table Learning Tools

There are two important learning tools you could use having reached the final table. The first of these is read up on Harrington’s M, which will give you a good guide to how aggressive/passive you can be at any point. Reading up on ICM (Independent Chip Modelling) will also aid you in perfecting your push/fold strategy at a final table.