Tournaments – The Final Table
In the last article in our series looking at the different stages of an MTT we will discuss strategy for the final table. This will depend on many factors, including the ratio of blinds and antes to player’s chip-stacks, the variation in those stacks between the players and the exact nature of the payout structure. One thing is for sure, once you reach a final table your sole objective should always be to win!
Before going into the details of MTT final table strategy adjustments we will step back a little – to the final 3 tables. You should be watching the play at these tables and taking notes on any unusual plays, aggressive players and passive ‘calling station’ type players. The information you gain on your opponent’s tendencies in the run up to the final table will be a great assistance in adapting your plays to those individuals.
In online poker tournaments the blinds and antes are often – but not always – a large proportion of the average stack by the time you reach the final table. Having only 10 or 15 times the big blind drastically affects your play. For example with 10 blinds any raise you make will usually commit you to calling a re-raise – due to the huge pot-odds on offer. If you have to call a raise then logically you should get the maximum leverage for your stack by pushing all of your chips in first – unless, of course, you have a hand that wants to encourage action.
The first thing to observe when starting a final table is the distribution of chips among the players. In particular, any very small and very large stacks should be noted. The smallest stacks will have a big effect on those players with medium sized stacks, who will not want to bust out of the tournament before the small stacks do. Adapting your strategy, to steal blinds from the medium stacks while there are small stacks still present, can be a profitable move.
Very large stacks have the advantage that they can bust opponents in a single hand. Playing correctly ‘loosely’ in order to put pressure on opponents is the optimum strategy with a big stack. If you hold a big stack yourself then be a little cautious playing pots with opponents who have half or more of your chips in their stack, especially if those players have raised the pot ahead of you. Medium and small stacks are your natural targets.
Individuals will have different objectives when playing at a final table. It can be profitable to quickly identify those players who are trying to move 1 more step up the payout scale, rather than playing to win. If you find a positive expectation situation then take it! As will the tournament as a whole, the risk of busting out will be more than balanced by those times you make it into the highest paying places.
As the game begins to get short-handed you will need to adjust your starting hand requirements downwards. Again the stack sizes of opponents, together with the payout jumps, must be factored into the decision making process. By the time you get 4 or 3 handed then any ace, king and most other high cards become very strong holdings. Being aware of which of your opponents have adjusted in this way and those who are still playing ‘tight’ will allow you to spot profitable stealing situations.
To summarize, MTT tournament strategy for the final table is an extension of your overall tournament objective – to play for the higher paying places, even if this involves taking some risks. Profitable ways to adjust include awareness of the ratio of stack sizes to blinds and antes, the stack sizes and objectives of different opponents – and adjusting your starting hand requirements as the game becomes short-handed.