Multi-Table Poker Tournament End-Game Strategy Part II: The Final Table Bubble
March 18, 2012 1 Comment
As the final table of the tournament approaches, there should be only one thing on your mind, accumulating as many chips as possible.
If you are playing the tournament to maximize your potential for profit, you are playing for the win. The largest payout is reserved for first place, and if you are an experienced tournament player, you understand how important it is to win the entire tournament.
The final table bubble is the best time to accumulate chips to put you in a position to take down the entire tournament. When there are only two tables left, you must adjust to the changing dynamics of the tournament. For one, play will be shorthanded, meaning if there are 12 people left in the tournament, and 9 make the final table, you will be playing at a table with only six players. For most of the tournament, your table will consist of 9 or 10 players. Playing against only 5 opponents forces you to adjust your strategy if you want to win.
Playing at a table of only 6 players means the blinds will hit you more often. In most tournaments, the average chip stack at this point will be somewhere around 20-30bbs (big blinds). It is crucial at this time to pick up as many pots as possible by abusing position and weak players. Many inexperienced tournament players tend to play very passive at this stage, trying to simply make it to the final table.
While survival is important in tournaments, playing passive is not going to help you build a stack for the final table. Having over 20bbs gives you the opportunity to steal blinds and antes effectively, especially against these passive players. The odds of being dealt a premium hand 6 handed is greatly reduced compared to playing 9 or 10 handed. Knowing this, you should be opening a lot of pots in late position with the intention of stealing the blinds and antes without contest. A lot of players will be hesitant to play back at you without a premium holding, and you can dwindle their stacks away while you build your stack for the final table.
If I happen to have a large stack at this stage, (50+bbs), I am willing to open raise almost every hand pre-flop. Open raising with a big stack is effective because opponents with smaller stacks will most likely have to risk their entire chip stack to play a hand against you. You have the luxury of putting the pressure on your opponents and forcing them to make tough decisions that can cost them their entire tournament. No one wants to be eliminated right before the final table, especially when they know other people have smaller stacks then them.
This strategy is only effective against inexperienced players. You will have to identify them throughout the tournament. Many experienced players will know exactly what you are doing when you try to run over the table, and they will often re-raise you or shove all-in with less than premium holdings to pick off your steal attempts. Identifying the level of skill of your opponents is crucial, you want to take advantage and isolate the weaker players while playing slightly more cautious against the better players at the table.
Observing your opponents and the action at the table when not in a hand is going to be extremely important. If you are playing online and have multiple tables open, make sure to isolate the tournament so you can focus exclusively on developing reads of other players. You have to size up each player at your table if you want to accumulate chips in this crucial part of the tournament. Certain moves will work against certain types of players, but you have to recognize which players to exploit in certain spots. When the tournament has one player left to be eliminated before the final table, make sure to turn up the aggression on players with less chips than you. Not many players are going to commit all of their chips without a big hand here, wanting to at least make it to the final table. Eliminating the final player before the final table can sometimes take a long time. Using this time to apply aggression and pressure to weaker opponents can net you some additional chips without contest.
The goal is to win the entire tournament. This can only be achieved by having all of the chips in play at the end. To make this process easier, finding good situations to accumulate chips without much resistance is something you will have to get acustomed to if you want to succeed in tournament poker. Recognize that as the final table approaches, a majority of the remaining players are usually pretty good, with a few weaker players mixed in who might have gotten really lucky. If you can identify these weaker players, you can abuse them with relentless pressure knowing they probably are trying to reach the final table without having to gamble. Every situation and player are different, so you must be highly observant at all times to see how players react in different situations and hands. Once you have established good reads on your opponents, use those reads to accumulate chips as you see best fit. No situation in poker is ever the same, and there is no “standard” way to play any hand. Analyze each situation as best as you can, and trust your instincts. Making the final table is important, but don’t forget to pad your stack with some well timed aggression to set yourself up for the win!