Tips for Playing the Final Table

Saturday, 19th August 2017

Hitting a final table never gets dull. All the hard work navigating different stages of the poker tournament have paid off and you are in contention for the big prizes. Knowing what to look for and what adjustments to make can make a big difference at this point. This article covers the different strategy adjustments to make to make sure that your final table experiences are positive ones.

First of all I have explained how the prize pool distribution affects your decision making, including why you can afford to bust early a couple of times in order to get the coveted first prize more often. Next assessing the stack sizes is discussed, including where the different stacks are positioned relative to you. Figuring out who is happy to climb the payouts ladder and who is going for the win is covered next – then finally some words about practicing and adapting to short-handed play.


The Prize Pool Distribution at Final Table

You will usually find that the top 3 places have large payouts compared to the rest – and that the first place prize is the biggest of them all. I like to demonstrate the importance of aggressively aiming for 1st place with an example using the following payouts.

  • 1st $1500
  • 2nd $1000
  • 3rd $750
  • 4th $440
  • 5th $360
  • 6th $290
  • 7th $200
  • 8th $150
  • 9th $100

Imagine you have a chance to double-up early on in final table play, this is a 50% / 50% and you might well bust. If you do not bust, you will be chip leader at a reasonably passive table and give yourself a great chance of hitting one of the top prizes. How many 9th prizes would you swap for a much bigger chance of the top 3?

With 9th being $100 and 8th $150, you should be happy to give it a shot. No need to take a negative expectation gamble, but you should be willing to end up with a ‘disappointing’ payout a couple of times to balance against the times you win and have a real shot at the big money.


Stack Size Adjustments

Things are rarely so clear. In fact multiple factors interact to decide your final table strategy. A key factor is stack sizes. The first thing you should do is look for small stacks. If there are one or more players with very small stacks (just a few big blinds) then people will naturally tighten up waiting for this player to bust in the lower paying places. If there are several reasonably small stacks, then they will all be eyeing each other up for a double-up, and are less likely to fold after entering a pot.

Next look out for the big stacks. Is there a single giant stack who will be controlling the final table? If there is, where is this player seated in relation to you? If the big stack is to your immediate left then you will have to be patient – there is a big risk of being re-raised when you enter a pot. If they are to your right this is better, you can see what they do before you act. Mid-sized stacks to your left is a great situation, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to steal blinds!


The Final Table – Who Wants To Win?

Many players get tight and passive at the final table, they are trying to move up the payouts ladder and do not want to risk busting out. You can take advantage by stealing lots of small pots from this type of player – though you need to be prepared to fold when they move all in, they are much more likely to have a monster.

Simply watching the action for a round of blinds will give you a clue as to who is trying to accumulate chips. These players make great candidates for a timely re-steal.


How to Play Short-Handed and Heads-Up

Many novice players know that they are supposed to adjust their starting hand ranges when heads-up, but do not realize just how much the strength of hands goes down. You need to keep pushing edges when you go to 4 and then 2 handed, but the time you get heads up you should be opening a huge range of hands from the Small Blind / Button position. You will have position after the flop and the lead in the hand, a powerful combination heads up.

Summing up final table strategy: Play to win, even if that means busting out in 9th or 8th now and again – the times you do make it to the top few will more than make up for this. Make sure you are aware of the stack sizes around you and try to figure the intentions of each opponent. Once you have this information you will find multiple spots to keep accumulating enough chips to get you to heads-up – and hopefully to victory.