Final Table Strategy for Poker Tournaments

(This article is a follow up to "Late Stages Tournament Strategy")

Final Table StrategyIf you have reached the final table of a poker tournament, you have clearly been doing something right. However, the correct strategy for final table play is much different than the correct strategy for play at previous points during the tournament.

The most important factor in deciding your final table strategy is your stack size. At this point you may be entering the final table with a short stack, with an average stack, or even as the chip leader. This page will provide strategies for each chip stack, and will teach you how to advance in the pay scale and have a shot at winning the entire tournament.

Also, now that you are at the final table of the tournament, you are likely to run into some skilled players. The strategy on this page will help you deal with skilled players at the final table:

Evaluating Your Opponents

Since there were only ten players left prior to the final table, you should have a pretty good read on at least four of the other players. Your first goal at the final table should be to develop an opinion on each player's style of play. Use the note taking feature to record your thoughts so you can come back to them later.

Make sure to note if players like to limp/fold, steal in late position, defend their blinds, or get all-in preflop. This information will come in handy later in the tournament when you need to make an important decision.

Playing the Short Stack at the Final Table

We consider any stack that has around ten big blinds to be a short stack. The blinds/antes at the final table will be very significant, and will place enormous pressure on your stack. Because of this, short stacks have to take a very aggressive "all-in or fold" approach just to survive.

As a short stack you should be opening pots with an all-in raise any time you have a pocket pair or two face cards. If someone has raised the pot in front of you, you should only call your whole stack off if you have a big pair or two big face cards. The reason why you can raise all-in with worse hands is because you may win the pot uncontested, but if you call all-in you have to go to a showdown no matter what.

Also, any time you are in late position and the other players fold to you, you should push all-in. There is a good chance you can pick up the blinds/antes with this steal play, which will pad your stack and let you survive a little longer. If possible, you should steal against average stacks because they are most likely to fold.

Short stacks are so desperate they may call your steal attempt with a marginal hand, and big stacks have enough chips to call with a weak hand and take a shot at knocking you out. Average stacks, on the other hand, are trying to advance in the pay scale, and are most likely to fold to a steal attempt.

Playing the Average Stack at the Final Table

Average stacks have more freedom to operate than short stacks, because they aren't quite in "all-in or fold" mode. We consider any stack between 15 and 40 big blinds to be an average stack. Even though these players aren't short stacked, they still have to be aggressive to combat the ever-increasing blinds and antes.

At this point, you can use some of the plays discussed above (stealing) along with a few other strategies (squeezing, calling bluffs, and re-stealing) to build your stack and advance in the tournament.

To make a squeeze play, wait until you are in late position and an early position player has made a raise. If a few other players smooth call the raise, go ahead and put in a large re-raise with any decent hand. Since the early position player made an average raise, and the other players simply smooth called, it is likely that everyone has a marginal hand such as KQ suited or pocket fours. Your re-raise should take the pot (which will be pretty big because of the blinds, antes, and the raise/smooth calls).

If you suspect that a short stack has pushed all-in with a less than spectacular hand, go ahead and call him down with a better hand. If a short stack goes all-in in front of me, I would call with any medium-big pocket pair, AK, AQ, AJ, KQ, or even QJ if I thought they were really desperate. Busting short stacks is a great way to pad your stack.

Also, if another player continually steals your blinds, go ahead and put in a re-raise every once in a while to keep him honest. This is called "re-stealing".

Playing the Big Stack at the Final Table

Big stacks should follow the advice listed above, but should take everything to a higher level. Big stacks should play very aggressively to knock other players out and win more and more chips. If you can amass an enormous chip lead by the time you reach four- or five-handed, you will be a huge favorite to win the tournament.

Note that this aggressive strategy is best for players who want to win the tournament, and are ok with a lower finish if things don't go their way. If you absolutely need to guarantee a top three finish, go ahead and play more conservatively while the short stacks knock each other out. You will have less of a chance of winning the whole thing, but you should be able to safely reach the top three prize bracket.

More General Poker Tournament Strategy: