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Final Table Strategy

Final table poker has its own set of methods and tactics, and a good player knows that things are going to change after each player is knocked out. After a couple of final table showings, you quickly learn that a few adjustments to your game will be the difference between eighth place and third or better.

When you find yourself sitting at a final table you need to realize that this moment is a very crucial one. It's a moment where you should pause and readjust your game. The game is going to change again and again until the tournament is over. Don't get wrapped up in the thrill of the moment. The next few decisions are the most important ones you will make all day. There are a couple of things that should be on your mind at this time.

The first thing to look for is the big stack. This player will look to push you around. If you get head to head against the big stack, you want to have some good cards; then you will likely have the best of it. And expect to get some loose calls.

If you are the big stack, you should try and force your opponents to commit early to their hands. Push them around with big bets.

Next is your stack. If you are below the average stack, you may need to decide to “play for third place”. Playing for third place means that you're are going to try and make it as far as possible in the tournament, without getting involved heavily. You let the blinds dictate how aggressive you have to be, and hope that enough of your opponents get knocked out before you. This method is profitable, but not exactly fun.

If you decide that you are going to try and win it, you will be betting into any signs of weakness, and playing your big cards very aggressively. Ideally, you want to make back the blinds each round. Late tournament poker has very high blinds, and just making the blinds back will keep you alive while less disciplined players take their chances and get busted out. This is why the button and the blinds usually play out the hand. Blinds are defended fiercely, and the button looks to push out the normally weak blind hands. This blind recovery method also keeps you in the game until your monster comes along, and you double up on a big stack, or you knock an opponent out.

As in any poker game it's important to study your opponents. You know that the table is not going to get broken up and you'll suddenly be sitting with new opponents. The only way someone can leave this table is to get knocked out, so watch everything each opponent does when it's their turn to act. I would also recommend that you try and establish a table image within the first 15 hands or so. If I plan on playing tight, I will try and make it seem like I'm a loose player, and vice versa. If you keep your opponents guessing about what you're up to, you should find success.

The most important tip I can give someone about final table poker is that you need to exercise your skills at putting down hands. This is not the time to call large bets that you think may be a bluff when you have a mediocre hand. Each opponent that gets knocked out puts money in your pocket. This is your focus – surviving as long as possible and only putting your chips at risk when you figure you have 75% of it or better.

Final table lessons are difficult to learn because we don't get to practice them enough. Small buy-in tourneys are a great place to practice these important tactics. Getting there is only half of the job, what you do when you get there is what really pays.