Ah … the final table. Just writing those two words feels so good. I guess it feels so good to me because I haven’t made one in almost three months. I know that’s not that bad, but there were two recent stretches where I was making final tables left and right.
A lot of things going on in my life right now, and off-the-felt life events can impact your game. Your head just isn’t as clear. The only thing I like to remember when things are going poorly on the felt is that when it turns around, the momentum seems to be substantial. It’s like holding a ball down under water. Eventually, you can’t hold the ball anymore, the pressure is released, and it skyrockets upward.
What I’m trying to say is that I’m going to have to enter a different frame of mind for this article. I need to put my mind in the mindset of the final tables I’m about to write about. This could end up helping both of us. Time will tell. For now, let’s get to some Texas hold’em strategies for the final table, then I’ll write about a few experiences.
The Final Table
Most Texas Hold’em strategies are going to focus on specific hand situations. These can be helpful to your game in poker tournaments because you will see how you would have played it, as well as how you should have played it. You won’t find much information on Texas Hold’em strategies that specifically relate to final tables. And you certainly won’t find the advice I’m about to write.
The only thing I can say about that is that I have 16 final tables over the past 12 months. Most poker players have fewer than 16 final tables in their lifetime. I believe I can help you go deeper in more poker tournaments.
As you already know, most poker players have a huge Ego. I always capitalize Ego because it’s our number one enemy and so powerful that it’s a character. It’s the number one antagonist in anyone’s poker story. In relation to Ego, I remember sitting at a final table at Pearl River and another player walked by the table. He watched a few hands and said, “You’re all playing for pay jumps. I don’t play for pay jumps.” Then he walked away.
First of all, who the heck was this guy? Secondly, he’s right! But he doesn’t understand that playing for pay jumps is a good thing. Thirdly, he wasn’t at the final table.
Listen to the following final table poker strategy carefully: Watch the tournament screen more than the table. I know this sounds crazy, but just trust me. This will take you a little bit away from the game and allow you to study the pay jumps. You want to be taken away from the game because I promise you that most of the players at a final table will feel the pressure.
They’re not used to sitting at a final table, and they’re not going to know what to do, which is going to lead to them blowing up. I have seen it over and over again.
Therefore, all you need to do is wait for your opponents to make those mistakes. If you’re the one to benefit from those mistakes, great. If not, it’s still okay because someone else at the table is going to knock him out, which is likely going to mean a pay jump for you. When you’re playing in a big poker tournament, this could be a significant pay jump, as in thousands of dollars, maybe even tens of thousands of dollars.
I’ll give you an example. I was short-stacked in the WSOP Circuit Re-Entry event at the final table. I could have just shoved, shoved, shoved, but I knew someone would panic. And someone sure did panic! The player with 5 million chips was in second place by a mile. He was about 3 million chips ahead of the player third in chips.
Despite that, he went all-in pre-flop with 99. The player in the small blind was the chip leader with 7 million chips. She had KK and called. KK held. Do you know how much money I made on that hand, even though I wasn’t even involved in the hand? $10,000.
So, when people try to tell you that you need to shove, shove, shove when you’re short-stacked at the final table, I suggest you listen politely and nod your head as though in agreement. You can’t change the minds of these people because they’re all reading and talking about the same thing. All you need to remember is that the herd is not who makes the real money.
By the way, another player blew up after that (not to the extent above), and I ended up finishing in 7th place. It was a nice payday. I’ll give you some other final table experiences, and you can apply them as Texas Hold’em strategies.
Final Table at Cherokee Poker Classic
At this time, I knew very little about Texas Hold’em strategies. I won this tournament outright (no chop) for one simple reason: Focus.
I knew I was winning the tournament before I arrived. It was a decision I made in my mind and nothing was going to change it. It’s amazing what the mind can do when focused. I wish I could be that focused every single time. You can call it the zone, but you can’t force the zone. It has to come to you.
I remember this final table vividly. I knew I had one real threat. The other players all had their weaknesses, but it was all the same weakness: playing too many poker hands. They failed to realize that the cards don’t know you’re at a final table.
If you’re sitting at a table during the middle of the tournament, do you think it would be wise to play too many poker hands? Of course not! You will eventually get crushed.
Remember: The pot is a dangerous place to be in all poker games. You only want to get involved if you have an advantage, which is either your cards or your opponent.
Staying out of the way at a final table is one of the best poker tips you will ever read. By staying out of the way, you are reducing variance, allowing time for your opponents to blow up, moving up the pay ladder, and letting your opponents know that you’re only getting involved when you mean it. The latter will lead to those players respecting your raises, and taking down pre-flop pots at these levels will help you accumulate a ton of chips.
One of my opponents was shoving pre-flop whenever she had two high cards. I knew it was only a matter of time before she disappeared. She did come in 4th, but she could have put in standard raises on many of those hands.
Another player was literally waiting for AA. He had been dealt AA three times at the final table already, so he thought it was more common than it is. He folded almost everything else. Since he was to my left, I continued to apply pressure on him pre-flop. He usually folded, and when he called, I knew he had two high cards. He was too predictable to have any chance of winning this thing.
My biggest threat was a Russian kid who had helped me out previously when I didn’t realize I had a straight. He pointed it out to the dealer. When we were heads-up, I made some moves that confused him because they weren’t standard plays. You can read more about this in a previous article, but you have a lot more room for creativity when heads-up.
Fortunately, I took it down, but I did make a mistake, and it’s possible you will learn from my mistake. Since this was the Cherokee Poker Classic event, they were giving out Movado watches at the time. The watch that I won was valued at $3,000. I had two people immediately approach me and offer $3,000 for the watch. I declined both times, figuring it was something I would want to keep because it was my first win in a sanctioned poker tournament.
After that watch sat in a drawer for five years, I decided to get it appraised. The appraiser told me that Movado has focused on volume over the past several years, which has led to their value depreciating considerably. He told me my watch was worth a few hundred dollars. Ouch!
While this might not be one of your standard Texas Hold’em strategies, it relates to the game of poker. If I had sold that watch, it would have been the same thing as winning a Nightly for $3,000. The result wouldn’t have gone on HendonMob, but the money would have went in my pocket.
The moral of the story is to always consider selling poker trophies related to tournament wins. Trophies in general tend to collect dust. While it would be cool to have a trophy on your mantle or on your wrist, don’t you think it would be cooler, more exciting, and more memorable to go to the Caribbean or Hawaii, or whatever vacation destination you have had on your mind? It’s important to understand the true value of things in life, and in my opinion, nothing is more important than new experiences, with travel playing a major role.
Final Table at Coconut Creek
I was in the zone this week. I didn’t win any ring events, but I did win three small tournaments at the WSOP Circuit event. Two of them were chops, and the other was a winner-take-all event for an all-expenses paid trip to St. Maarten.
For the St. Maarten tournament, you can read about how I pulled this off in another article. I will just say that my approach was the same as mentioned above. I had a lot more experience at this time, so I knew how to pick my spots better, but my number one weapon was still patience.
The other two events were Nightly tournaments. These poker games are different than ring events because you find a lot more scared money. Since I knew this, I was applying pressure often at the final table. I was playing for thousands, not tens of thousands, and the buy-in was $135, not $1,700. This led to me being fearless, but without going overboard.
For instance, if everyone folded to me and I was in late position with a hand like JT-off, I would open-raise. It would usually work and I would collect the blinds and antes. But even if it didn’t work, I still bet out on the flop because I knew my opponents were scared money and playing their cards. I would apply pressure on the flop and they would usually fold. If they called the flop, something was up. I would slow down unless I had a hand.
When you apply pressure in soft games until facing resistance, you’re going to do well. This is one of those poker tips you’re going to want to keep in your back pocket. I wouldn’t be this aggressive early in the tournament, but I would be this aggressive at the final table. Add this to your list of poker rules for winning.
Final Table at Pearl River
I came in 7th in the Re-entry, but it took a lot of work to get there. Broke my record on bullets fired, but it ended up being very profitable, and I only did it because of a soft field. I knew it was only a matter of time. I obviously didn’t last too long at the final table in this event. In fact, I don’t remember it well. I just know I got there. But I do remember the final table of the Monster Stack well, and for a good reason.
When at the second final table, I had posted something on Facebook stating that I was playing for the little guy, but it came across the wrong way. I had shut my phone off for about an hour to focus, and when I turned my phone back on, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
For the first time ever, my fan base was pissed off at me. I apologized and explained that it was taken out of context. This was true. I meant that I was also a little guy—not a poker star on television. They accepted my apology because it was out of character. But this was all a blessing in disguise because it presented an opportunity.
I kept looking at my phone while at the final table. I would say what was happening to the player next to me out loud because she was a poker friend. After about 30 minutes of this, she said, “You’re distracted. You need to put that away.”
What does that comment tell you? I wasn’t distracted, but she was bothered by it. And if she was bothered by it, so were others. They just weren’t saying anything. Therefore, I kept going.
Despite being card dead most of the time, this lead to several of my opponents playing too fast against me (due to frustration). I waited for the right time to call and then coasted to 4th place.
Using your phone to distract your opponents at a final table is far from the standard Texas Hold’em strategies, but I can promises you that it’s more effective than any Texas Hold’em strategies you read about.
Sometimes you need to think outside of the standard poker rules for winning and use creativity. That’s what really gives you an edge because very few poker players are thinking this way.
Stop listening to the theory that you should automatically apply pressure at the final table, especially when short-stacked. Instead, start realizing that most human beings don’t do well under pressure and will make mistakes. If you capitalize off those mistakes, you might win the tournament outright. When someone else capitalizes off those mistakes, you’re still moving up the pay ladder. If you apply the simple Texas Hold’em strategies mentioned above, you should find more success in Texas hold’em poker tournaments.
Texas Hold’em Strategies – FAQ
What is your best tip for the final table in poker?
Position, Position, Position! Stay out of the way unless you have position. When you have position, Attack. At this stage of a poker tournament, position is more important than the cards.
Should I play aggressive on the final table?
If you're out of position, no. If you're in position, yes.
How often should I raise the blinds on the final table?
Often in position. You want to open-raise from late position in an effort to steal the blinds. If you get called, that's fine too; you have a backup plan. If you only have a marginal hand and you get raised, as long as the raise isn't too big, you should still call if you have position on that opponent.
If I'm short stacked should I play passive or aggressive on the final table?
You never want to play passive. You can play tight, but tight is different than passive. Tight means folding often. Passive means calling then folding. Big difference. To answer your question, you want to play aggressive when in position, Otherwise, you want to play TAG.