The Final Table

It can get pretty tedious sometimes on a final table when all the stacks are about the same size and things get gridlocked as no one wants to go out prebubble. And it is already after midnight and you want to go to bed and sleep.

In real money tournaments it would not be rare for the players to chop the prize money first, then play for bragging rights. But you can’t do this on RP, so it can go on for a long time, because late in tournaments the blinds are so high that it becomes almost impossible to call a raise without becoming pot-committed. And then if you limp and flop a draw, you can never afford to pay to see the turn.

Often the deadlock is only broken when an immovable object is encountered by an unstoppable force. Like when QQ is up against KK and both are all in preflop.

The other situation that often breaks the deadlock is when a pocket pair makes a set on the flop, which is often lousy luck for the loser.

Here is a hand from last night where I was a lucky winner, but I have often been on the other side too. Final table, four paid places, now four players left in. Who will crack first?

I think that most players on RP would shove the flop here, but having already made it into the money, I wanted to keep both opponents in, trap, and let someone make second best hand. If I got beaten by set over set, then c’est la vie.

Note that opponent is also trapping on the flop. Poker is such an evil game.

https://www.replaypoker.com/hand/replay/776121911

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More from the final table.

“The last shall be first, and the first shall be last.”

As noted before, it gets tough on the final table and no one wants to call shoves from small stacks without a premium hand for fear of themselves being crippled.

One of the worst things that you can do is to let a small stack triple up, but in this hand here, that is what happened when button had JJ, SB had TT and BB shoved.

https://www.replaypoker.com/hand/replay/776761051

Ouch! Should I have folded? The odds were too tempting and if both opponents had Aces, then the gate was wide open.

Then, on the very next hand… I pick up fishhooks (pocket Jacks) and UTG limps and all fold to me in the SB. I just call, because I don’t like raising here, because I want to keep the BB in the hand to see if the two small stacks want to enter into Mutually Agreed Destruction, and I would like to see the flop, before taking on the likely shove from UTG that could severely damaged my stack.

As it turns out I do flop the set and both small stacks get all in on the flop and I knock them both out and grab the lead.

https://www.replaypoker.com/hand/replay/776761221

How would you have played the pocket Jacks in either of these hands?

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WP on the pocket jacks!

Your raise for almost their entire chips stacks was perfectly played. They had the option to fold but, you and I know they weren’t going to do it after the BB’s raise and the other’s call.

If everyone is playing super tight, waiting for someone else to bust, then you should ramp up the aggression. This is how you win tournaments.

If you consider a game where everyone has 10 BB left, when the big blind folds, he’s just given you 10% of his stack without putting up any resistance. You should be shoving with a very wide range and simply blinding them out of the tournament.

A lot of people on Replay seem to complain about “Bingo Players”, but when short stacked, the optimal strategy is to shove a lot of your hands. It is not poor play.

The JJ hand is a shove.

Which hand are you referring to? Both hands illustrated feature JJ. In the hand where I had JJ myself, I did not want to just knock down the blinds preflop, nor did I want to reraise the early limper to find that he was slow playing a big pair. With position I could guage how he liked any overcards to my jacks that fell on the flop.

In the other hand where BB has JJ, I agree that he should have shoved preflop, although the end result was the same.

Here is an interesting hand for you:

It was semi- final table last night in the Widow’s Bite Sunday tournament. I was sitting there with a pair of 6s on the button. Cutoff put in a large preflop raise of 6.5 BB, I shoved, and he folded. I did not win the tournament (finished 2nd), but I think this hand made a significant contribution towards getting into the money and was really a turning point after a spell of stagnation in which I had slipped down to last place, and this large pot which increased my stack by 50% without seeing a flop put me back in the hunt and was noted by other players at the table.

In this tournament there were only 3 paid places, so this was a tough crowd and the atmosphere was tense as no one was safe. The first task at this stage was to make the final table of 9 players, and then pick off the small stacks and inch towards the money.

If the villain had shoved preflop, I would have folded, but my perception was that he was making a large bet of about 25% of his stack hoping to take down the pot preflop, but reserving enough chips to have a chance if he whiffed. I thought perhaps he had a hand like AJ or AT that was probably ahead, but subject to domination by AK, AQ, in which case plan B (folding) would come into effect if he did not like the flop or got reraised preflop.

With a small pocket pair, he probably would have limped intending to stack mine, slow play, then double up on a later street. With a large pocket pair, he probably would have made a smaller preflop raise seeking a caller to. With a mid range pocket pair JJ to 88, I suspect he would have called the reraise.

I had been playing pretty tight due to having a terrible run of low cards and high-low hands,so that probably gave my reraise some extra cred.

Here goes:

https://www.replaypoker.com/hand/replay/778022144

Nothing to see, but a tournament turning point.

Shoving preflop can be a good strategy, but depends very much on the players you are up against, how big is the stack in the BB, whether the blinds are loose callers who will call with any pocket pair or broadway, and so on.

In the hand shown above opponent should have shoved, as I may have folded 66, which would have put me all in with (most likely) a 55% chance against 2 overcards, but anyway his fold equity plus his high card equity would have offered him better odds. As it was, showing weakness with a scared raise that didn’t want a call was his eventual downfall.

I counter bubble nittyness by min raising preflop with a wide range if I’m above average stack, planning to fold if facing aggression. Also open shove wider if below average stack. Just take a standard push fold chart and assign yourself a few less blinds to make up for the increased fold equity from expected tighter calls. I’m often criticized for being a bingo player late in tournies but I think it works. Because I have terrible luck I usually get it in good and lose.

I think your Rep had something to do with his fold to your all in preflop. I don’t think he had a pair or something like QJs or higher. Congrats.

I think everyone agrees that you need to be aggressive in the final stages so that you don’t get blinded out or reach the point where you can be swatted like a fly.

However, I think you have to also be selective, based on facts like who is in the BB and other factors.

I have never looked at a push-fold chart, or even knew that there was such a thing, but obviously you can do some back-of-envelope mental arithmetic.

For example you have A2 and you are UTG, and there are 3 opponents left, and you are on the bubble. You are the small stack.

What are the chances that another player has an Ace? If they have an Ace, then it will always start ahead of you unless they also have A2. 6 cards out of 50 are dealt to your opponents. 3 of those 50 cards are aces. If there is only one Ace in the deck, then the odds of an opponent getting an Ace are clearly 12% (or 6/50), so with three Aces, it will be 36% or (18/50).

And since any pocket pair will also start ahead of you, that accounts for 6% for each opponent adding another 18% to the hands that start ahead of you, making a total of 54% of hands beating you.

But now if you partner your Ace with an 8, there are only 6 aces that dominate you, and the percentage chance of you starting from behind is reduced to 36%.

Now make some tweaks to account for suited or non-suited, whether your hand can make the nut straight using both cards, how likely the BB is to fold, based on his stack size vs your stack size and the size of the blinds, and you are in business.

Or alternatively, if you can, you wait for an opponent to make a shoving or calling error or just get unlucky. Which is most likely to happen on RP?

My view is that you have to calibrate your raises and shoves carefully according to the situation and the positioning of the stacks at the table. With 4 players left, if you are the number 2 stack, it may be best to attack the BB of the number 3 stack, who is hoping that the number 4 stack will be eliminated on the bubble. With 4 stacks left, you know that the number 4 stack is most likely to shove with a marginal (=lousy) hand, and this may be taken into account.

If all 4 stacks are about equal, calling may be more valuable than shoving since whomever calls a shoves and wins will now have the dominant stack and the greatest chance to win the whole game.

Ultimately you need a bit of luck and to avoid bad luck to win at the final table.

Next time I meet you in a tournament, I will bear this in mind. Min raise = weak. My own strategy is to make a small raise if I want a call or to see a flop, and a large one if I would prefer not to. But sometimes I will shove preflop with AA or KK if I have been making a lot of raises recently in case someone wants to play table cop. Then again I might limp or flat call from the BB just for the surprise effect when I flop a set and they lose all their chips.

Unfortunately poker is a game of deception and aggression best suited to sharks.

If you’re at a tight table play a bit looser. If you’re at a loose table play a bit tighter. RPP tournaments are extremely tight on the bubble especially the higher buyin events. It calls for being a bit more aggro than usual.

Naturally I balance my minraise strategy, so I’m not overly worried about revealing this. I invite you to play back at me next time we meet at the tables. Though you will win because I don’t actually know what I’m doing.

poker is a game of deception and aggression best suited to sharks.

Indeed. No shark am I. Was born a minnow and will die one.

I’m referring to the one where you had JJ in the SB. You are only 9.5BB deep effective stacks. This doesn’t really leave any room for playability post flop, and what do you do if a Q or higher cards come on the flop? You’ll be in a difficult situation. You have a very strong hand for a short stack and should be bumping up the stakes to take advantage.

You also have both of the opponents covered with you stack. This means you can maximise pressure on them because their tournament life is at risk, but yours isn’t. This forces them to fold a lot of their hands, because if they loose they’re out. You need to press home this advantage by raising all in with a wide range.

You might be thinking “I don’t want them to fold”, but that is not the correct way to think about poker. You should not determine your bet size by what cards you have. You should set your bet size by the situation. Then have a range to go with that bet size. In a situation where you can get two opponents to give you a big chunk of their stacks a lot of the time, you need to open up and shove a wide range. JJ is very easily part of this range.

And if you’re still thinking that you’re wasting your JJ, think about how advantageous it is when they fold after you’ve shoved with hands like 56s or J9s. You’re raking in money that shouldn’t really be yours. And it’s not easy for them to call because they will bust if they loose, and your range has JJ+ in it. And even if they call you that time you have 56s, you still have a reasonable chance to win, no matter what they have. And you will still have a decent stack even if you loose.

As a side note, I personally would not shove if there wasn’t the limper. I would min raise with a very wide range if it was blind on blind. But with the limper, you can’t really raise other than all in.

For the hand where your opponent had JJ on the button, this is a totally different situation. He has 23BB effective (3rd highest at the table), and the small blind has him covered. He should not shove here. Busting while 3rd in chips is a terrible outcome in a tournament. His raise size is ok. I prefer a smaller raise though. I would have folded in your position. I don’t think QTo when facing a 3.5BB raise is good enough to shove with.

The 66 hand is an interesting one. The initial raiser has 30 big blinds, reasonably deep for a tournament and 3rd at the table. The blinds both have him covered. He should not shove here, as in the above hand, to avoid busting. His raise to 6.5BB is strange. It’s a very big size. It puts your 66 in a difficult position. I’m not sure what the best action is here. I would probably fold due to the large raise and the fact he has you covered. You still have 22BB which isn’t desperate yet. I think the shove with 66 is still fine though. Especially if you suspect he is raising to that size to try to get people to fold while leaving the option to fold to a shove.

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A very well argued response, and while I have no doubt that you are mathematically correct, I beg to differ to some extent.

Final table play can be incredibly polarized depending on luck with the cards. You tend to get into a game of rock-paper-scissors where any hand could be your last as an effective force in the tournament.

That is why pros often cut a deal when large amounts of money are involved, or run all-ins two times to increase the possibility of a split pot.

Imagine a tournament that pays 4 places. First prize is $1,000,000 and then there is another million split between 2nd, 3rd, and 4th.

But there are 5 players left in, one of whom will go home empty handed while the others all receive life-changing money. The stacks are all roughly equal in size. There are 150,000 chips in play and the average stack is 30,000 chips and the blinds are 1500/3000, so the average stack is 10 BB.

Obviously it will be to the advantage of all the players to say “let’s do a deal. Lets split the second million 5 ways, so everyone gets life changing money, and then divvy up the other million proportionally among the four winners according to their final place.”

Otherwise there is every chance that on the next hand a player with AA will call a shove from a player with 22, lose, and end up out of the money–and no one wants to be that player!

But you can’t do that on RP, so the most interesting question becomes “what is the best way to get into a position where I am heads up against another opponent, and I start with the largest stack and have him covered?”

Working backwards from that, one sees that the best way to get into that position is probably to be the person who eliminates the third place finisher, and the best way to get into position to eliminate the third place finisher is to eliminate the fourth place finisher, and so on, which is where the rock-paper-scissors analogy comes into play. Is it better to let other players knock each other out so that you can be promoted in the money, or to knock them out yourself, but run the risk of being eliminated yourself when they get lucky and you don’t?

(Just the other day I had an amazing finish where I lost a big pot and was left with only about enough chips for 2 antes on the bubble, and on the very next hand two players with stacks of several thousand chips both busted out and I finished in third place out of 4 paid places. Obviously this would never have happened in a real money game!).

In the hand where I had JJ in the SB above, by limping in, I kept open the option of seeing whether the BB would shove preflop, and the option of seeing the flop before deciding how to continue. At this point I could certainly afford to fold JJ if the two small stacks went all-in against each other and effectively merged their stacks or I could call if the flop looked favorable to my cause. As it was, I had the perfect flop and the element of deception in the preflop limp meant that they could not suspect that I had JJ.

These are the kind of hands that bust logjams and get you closer to that position where you are heads up and have the largest stack.

Sometimes I use that strategy in tournaments, but with a narrower range, because if you min raise on RP, with so many calling stations, the BB will almost certainly call, and now you are out of position, and he will bet or call almost any hand, and then you are in the dark, and end up losing a large pot with A5 vs A6 when both sides whiff often enough to make the tactic dubious.

I find this tactic works better against the better players who understand odds. For example if I am in the BB with 2 6 offsuit and SB minraises at high blind levels, I am very unlikely to call as I appreciate that 1) other player is almost certainly starting ahead, 2) any pair of 2s can only be bottom pair, 3) any straight draw I get that involves both cards will be a gutshot, 4) in the event of making a flush, there is always a danger of an overflush, 5) my main hope is a bluff, but SB may have a hand that he will not fold to any bluff, 6) I would rather save my powder and use that additional BB saved as ammunition for a future preflop raise where I have some fold equity, rather than depend on pure luck on this flop.

However, most RP players will think “Oh, goody, it is only a min raise, so I can afford to flat call that for the same price as a limp, and maybe I will flop two pairs or a boat, or if all else fails can bluff to win the pot if the flop comes with KK. (Also I will be getting pot odds of 3:1, at least I would if I understood pot odds–whatever they are.)”

What you’re referring to is bubble play, where there are big pay jumps based on who busts out next. This has its own tactical implications. Namely, you need to do everything you can to avoid going out.

But this has a very different effect depending on your stack. If you have the biggest stack, you can use this effect to your advantage. You can’t bust, but your opponents can. So you can raise aggressively, and your opponents have to fold.

This applies position by position. i.e. if the biggest stack at the table is to your right and he folds, and everyone to your left has a smaller stack than you, you now have the biggest stack, and should get aggressive with the other players.

Bubble play puts the most pressure on the middle stack players. They have the most incentive to play tight because they want everyone with a smaller stack to bust first. For example, if you’re second in chips, it’s absolute suicide to go up against the big stack.

It’s a bit different if you are the shortest stack. You are going to bust out soon anyway if nothing changes, so you need to throw caution to the wind and go for it. Yes, there’s a high chance you will bust, but that’s going to happen anyway if you just sit there hoping for AA.

In your example where everyone has the same stack, it’s a difficult situation because everyone is cautious, and no one has an advantage. I would generally try to keep it fairly tight, especially when facing aggression. But if it folds round to me in late position, I’d probably open up to try to win the blinds. That would then give me the advantage of being the chip leader which I can then try to leverage to build an even bigger lead.

I often hear people on Replay saying everyone is a calling station, but I don’t really find that. Maybe because I’m generally playing the higher stakes on here, but I honestly think most players over fold.

If you think about a tournament where you’re on the button and min raise, you’re risking 2BB to with 1.5 from the SB and BB + maybe 1BB in antes. So you’re winning 2.5BB for 2 risked. If your opponents folds 50% of the time, you’re profiting 0.25BB on average every time you raise. This makes a big difference when 15BB deep. I generally find people fold more than 50% of the time, so it makes sense as a strategy.

Probably there are some differences between the ring game and tournament players. I play the highest price tournaments available, and would say that the majority of players are calling stations, at least by my definition, which is that preflop they like to limp-call, on the flop they like to check-call, and when in the BB they will usually call any min raise, and will call with any suited ace. In the early rounds of tournaments when the blinds are low, they will limp with pretty much any two cards. Also they will frequently call pot-sized bets on the flop with a gutshot plus one overcard (7 possible outs so approx a one-in-seven chance on each street).