5 Tips To Improve Your Poker Tournament Final Table Strategy

Reaching The Tournament Final Table Is Only Half The Battle!
This Article Shows You How To Adjust Your Final Table Strategy To Maximize Your Returns.

Let us set the scene… after several hours of play you have just reached the final table of a poker tournament at your chosen online poker room. 700 players are already out - just you and 9 others now remain. The prizes now climb steeply for each place – in fact you are looking at your biggest cash to date, one that could transform your poker bankroll overnight...

While getting to a tournament final table is the dream of many online poker players how many have actually thought through their strategy for when they arrive there? After all, one mistake could now cost $100s if not $1000s!

This article looks to address final table strategy for beginning and developing players by looking at 5 tips that will help any player improve their final table play - after all, you can not control the cards or other players, but can make sure you do many things to ensure you maximize your potential payout..

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Poker Tournament Final Table Strategy: Tip #1 - Watch The Last 3 Tables!

Having ‘reads’ on your final table opponents before reaching the very last table will give you an immediate edge. When the game gets down to the last 3 tables make sure you are watching each one closely and are taking notes on the style of your potential opponents. Things to watch out for include aggression, bluffs and strange bet sizes. Any information that gives you a read on an opponent is an important aspect of NL Holdem Final Table Strategy.

Poker Tournament Final Table Strategy: Tip #2 - Who Is Playing to Win?

Sure, everyone would like to take first prize - but there are many players whose first priority will instead be to move up the payment scale. A valuable part of your final table strategy is to identify who is ‘playing to win’ and who is playing to move up the payment ladder. If you do identify timid opponents who are less likely to take risks then you should ensure you play many hands with them. Conversely, those players willing to 'gamble' in order to take the first prize are candidates for big bets only when you have premium holdings.

Poker Tournament Final Table Strategy: Tip #3 - Learn Basic ICM

ICM is an acronym for the 'Independent Chip Model', this formula works by taking into account that tournament chips change value as the game progresses - and that jumps in the prize pool at the final table mean that chips lost are worth more than the chips won in individual hands. I have explained this concept using examples in a dedicated article here. While you will not be able to do the complex calculations required in-play, simply having an idea of this model and the changes in strategy associated with it will give you a mathematical edge over new opponents. Even if you choose not to use it yourself, experienced opponents will know about it - so having a basic understanding will give you a better understanding of their play.

Poker Tournament Table Strategy Tip #4: - Awareness Of Stack Sizes.

By the time you reach the online final table players will have a wide range of stack sizes. Awareness of each persons stack size will help your final table strategy in many ways. Some examples include:

  • Small Stacks might be desperate enough to go all in with medium strength holdings, and may shove 'any two' when folded to in later positions. Note that some small stacks will desperately try to survive, hoping to move up the payouts.
  • Big Stacks may raise without strong hands to 'bully the table', this is a great strategy when there is a short stack around, since people are often reluctant to bust before the short stack does.
  • A medium stack who raises after a small stack has already entered the pot usually has a stronger hand than when that same person is first to raise. This is because players who expect to be called do not usually raise without good hands.
  • Stacks of 12 to 17 times the big blind are ideal for re-stealing (re-raising over an opponent's raise to steal the pot). If an aggressive opponent has a 'resteal stack' you can often 'induce' them to go all-in over the top of you when you have a premium hand.

Your own stack size, especially in relation to the blinds and antes, is also a significant factor in your final table strategy. Calculate how many times you can go through the blinds before your stack disappears and use this to decide how tight or loose to play... Dan Harrington's 'M' gives a great framework for judging the flexibility you have in your play with various stack sizes.

Poker Tournament Table Strategy Tip #5:- Practice Heads-Up Play!

To win an online NL Holdem tournament you have to beat your last opponent heads-up. For players who are used to full tables adjusting to this can be a big challenge. Practice heads-up poker play in advance, either with a friend or at an online poker room. Experience in the relative strength of hands in heads-up situations will greatly assist your NL holdem final table strategy… remember that the jump from 2nd to 1st prize can be several thousand dollars!!

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Final Table Tournament Strategy - Bonus Tip #1 - Deal Making

Especially when you get short handed, the jumps in payments mean it can be beneficial to make a deal to share the prize money. This is especially welcome when the chip stacks are shallow compared to the blinds and antes - meaning the chance fall of the cards will make a big difference to who gets the money. If the money makes a big difference to your bankroll (it often will!) then you should go ahead and negotiate a deal. 'Chopping' is automated at some sites including Party Poker and Full Tilt. PokerStars allow this, though you will need to write to support to get a moderator to assist you, other sites are more tricky - leaving it to the players to transfer the money. The simplest chops are based on chip-counts, though the prize money can also be divided using ICM or you can haggle over a custom deal to take skill differences into account. My advice for newer is to make a deal when the jump in prize money is big enough to affect your play. Depending on the skill of your opponents, it might be more profitable in the long-term to play the game to the end - but when the money will make a big difference, I would go right ahead and deal.

Final Table Tournament Strategy - Bonus Tip #2 - Look Up Your Opponents Stats

Some of your opponents may be experienced small-stakes pros, for whom this is just another day in the office. Others will be brand new to the game and at their first final table, or long-term losers who have just got lucky. You can find out by looking up your opponent's win / loss statistics at services like Sharkscope or the excellent Poker Pro Labs. Knowing which type of players you are up against will help you decide how to play against them. Is that pro making a move to put pressure on you, since he knows it is your first final table? What hands will a losing novice player call with that a more experienced player could fold (suited cards and aces with bad kickers come to mind). Player stats might even give you information on who is playing above their normal buy-in level.

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