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Multi-Table Poker Tournament End-Game Strategy Part III: The Final Table

Part I: The Money Bubble
Part II: The Final Table Bubble

Reaching the final table of a poker tournament is very exciting. You have outlasted the entire field of players, and now it is down to 9 to play for the big first place prize. As I detailed in the previous articles, the main objective to maximize your profit in tournament poker is to win the entire tournament. The top prize is reserved for first place.

scott clements WSOP

You must play aggressively if you want to win.

If you have been able to accumulate a lot of chips by playing aggressive poker and putting a lot of pressure on opponents, you are now in a good position to take down the entire tournament. Depending on the structure of the tournament (turbo/non-turbo), there will usually be opponents at the final table who are desperate for chips and a double up. These opponents may also be playing very passively if they are trying to slide up spots on the money ladder by letting other opponents eliminate themselves first. If you have taken good mental notes on opponents up until this point, you will know who is not willing to risk their entire tournament on a mediocre hand.

Your table position at the final table is very important. The best case scenario you can hope for is that the two opponents to your left have less chips than you. As a bigger stack, you can attempt to steal their blinds without having to risk much of your stack. You put the pressure on them to play back at you, or dwindle their stacks away as the blinds and antes continue to increase. You also must pay careful attention to your opponents on your direct right. These opponents will most likely be trying to do the same thing you are.

This is where re-raising pre-flop without a premium hand can be very effective. A lot of the time, you can pick up your opponents initial raise along with the blinds and antes. You do not have to risk a lot of chips to do this either. I like to size my 3-bets between 2.5x-3x the initial raise. If I am re-raising out of position (the blinds), I might raise as much as 4x to not give my opponent good odds to see a flop with a weakish hand in position. I want to risk as few chips as possible to achieve the desired result of taking down the pot without having to see a flop. Of course there will be times where your opponent wakes up with a monster and 4-bets you, but an overwhelming majority of the time, the re-steal works to your advantage. Pay careful attention to every hand, there will be opponents that pick up on your 3-bet tendencies and might throw in a 4-bet without a great hand. You have to be able to switch gears and slow down if your opponents pick up on your tendencies.

As each player gets eliminated, it becomes increasingly important to steal blinds as they will hit you more often each orbit. Starting hand requirements for an initial raise become much wider as there is less of a possibility one of your opponents will pick up a big hand if you are playing 6-handed or less. Good tournament players will be putting in a lot of 3-bets pre-flop, especially if they have more chips than you. This is where you must really trust your reading abilities. At this stage, putting in a 4-bet might mean putting all your chips in the middle. If you want to win, you must get in there and gamble and hope your opponent doesn’t have a big hand when you 4-bet light. If he does, you still have a chance to win as no hand is a lock before the flop.

Getting premium hands at a final table are a luxury, but doesn’t happen very often. Position, remaining opponents, and remaining opponent stack sizes are more important to pay attention to. You might get away raising the button with 2-7 off-suit against a weak player in the big blind, but at this stage, don’t expect many opponents to give up their blinds easily. With a lot of 3-betting and 4-betting going on pre-flop, you won’t get the chance to play much poker on the flop, turn, or river. Most hands go uncontested pre-flop, and the ones that see a flop probably won’t see a turn or river without an opponent all-in.

jerry yang 2007 WSOP winner

Jerry Yang: 2007 WSOP Main Event Winner

If you are fortunate enough to make it to heads-up play, you have done well, but aren’t finished yet. Heads-up matches at the final table are a big mental game. Hands such as Q-K off-suit are considered almost premium at this stage given the small chance your opponent was dealt a better hand. Playing aggressively from position (the button) is your best bet. Getting involved in hands a lot out of position will force you to play the guessing game. You want to be the one applying the pressure, not making the tough decision. Having the power of position enables you to see what your opponent does first before you act. You can use this to your advantage to narrow down your opponents hand range as the hand plays out. Contrary to the earlier stages of the final table, there is a lot of play on the flop, turn, and river when you are heads-up. Making accurate reads on your opponent is essential. Putting in a big bet on the river as a bluff puts your opponent in a very tough spot. If they have a weak pair, it will be a tough call for them to make even if they believe you are bluffing.

Heads-up matches often last a very long time with big chip stacks. Chips are constantly traded back and forth until one player has all of the chips in play. Maintaining your focus is an absolute must if you want to win the heads-up mental match. Losing a big hand and a lot chips often puts opponents on tilt. You must recognize when your opponent appears to be tilting and take advantage of it. Most opponents on tilt are more prone to bluff, trying to chase their losses and rebuild their stack. If you notice this, calling down with as little as a pair may be the right play. Every situation is different however, so you must always be observant of your opponents tendencies. If you are able to eliminate your opponent and win the tournament, you have accomplished your goal! There will be weeks and months where you put in a lot of tournament volume, but never reach a final table. When you do in fact make it to the final table, focus on taking the best strategy to win the entire tournament. You want the first place prize to maximize your investment. Taking a calculated risks to reach this point may be necessary, and even if you lose, you will still take home a healthy prize for your efforts.

Good luck at the tables! 🙂

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