Final Table Strategy

Your objective from the very 1st hand of the poker tournament was to reach the final table. You made it and are now less than an hour away from a large payout. Strategy adjustments at the final table are critical – one wrong move and much of your hard work will be undone. This article looks at the key strategy adjustments for multi-table tournament final table play to ensure your payout is the biggest possible.

We start by looking at your final table opponents, it is their stack sizes and objectives which are key to your strategy. Next we discuss your chip stack and how this influences your hand selection and overall play. Finally jumps in the payout structure and heads-up play on the end are covered.

Stack Sizes

The first thing to do at the final table is to observe your opponent’s stack sizes. The presence of one or more ‘micro stacks’ (in relation to the size of the blinds) is significant.

The reason is that the presence of players with only a few blinds will affect the play of the rest of the table – in particular those in the 8 to 15 big blind range. Most players will (correctly) wait for the micro stacks to bust out, and the payouts to increase, before taking risks with a medium sized stack.

Big stacks should also be noted, this includes both their tendencies (are they raising a lot of hands?) and their position at the table relative to you and the other stack sizes. If you have one or more big stacks to your immediate left then stealing blinds is going to be more difficult.

A big stack who raises every hand but is across the table from you is going to put pressure on the other players – you can afford to tighten up, especially if other players are fighting back.

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Adjusting Your Strategy

Adjusting your own strategy to your opponents stack sizes is a matter of asking yourself the question, ‘Where are my chips coming from?’ This will depend where the other stacks are in relation to you and each other. Stealing blinds and antes will be easier from medium sized stacks, especially when there are several small stacks at the table.

The flexibility with which you can play hands at the final table is largely affected by the number of blinds in your stack. With less than 10 times the big blind you are pretty much restricted to all-in moves. The strength of hand you move all-in with will again be affected by the other stack sizes and their objectives (to move up in the money or to ‘gamble’ for a higher payout).

With a big stack yourself you are able to threaten your opponent’s with elimination – a threat they can not return. Selective aggression – taking advantage of tight opponents - can pay dividends here.

Shorthanded Play

Short handed play, when there are just 3 or 4 opponents left, requires yet another strategy adjustment. Hand strength criteria for raising before the flop must be adjusted, pairs and ace-hands going up in value at this point. You still need solid starting values to call a raise – however raising often at this point will take advantage of those opponents who have not yet adjusted their own starting hand selection.

Heads Up Play

Heads-up play is very important in multi-table tournaments, the jump from first to second often being substantial in terms of prize money. Relative hand strength changes significantly here, as does the importance of position - the small blind / button position being worth more than at a full table.

Try to assess your opponent’s heads-up play and adapt to their weaknesses. If your opponent is too tight then avoid big all-in confrontations and take their stack slowly. Conversely, if your opponent is obviously more skilled than you are make big all-in bets to nullify this advantage.

To summarize, final table strategy is all about awareness of, and adjusting to your opponent’s stack sizes. Your own stack largely determines the number of hands you play and how you play them, but what your opponents are trying to do is the key factor. Success at the final table involves adjusting to short-handed and heads-up play, ensure that you understand the relative adjustments in starting hand selection for this part of the game.

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