The Final Countdown – MTT Final Table Strategy

Making the final of any tournament is an achievement in itself, but the hard work is far from over. The Tip Top Fox provides top tips on how to tackle the final table head on

The final table is where every poker player wants to end up when they play a multi-table tournament (MTT). Once you make it there, chances are that your fellow final-tablists will, for the most part, be experienced tournament players. This will require you to take a certain attitude toward the table as well as a certain unique strategy.

A good way to gain experience in how a final table can play out is to fire up some single table tournaments (STTs/SNGs) as this will help you work on key aspects of tournament play such as the independent chip model (ICM) and work on your short-handed hand ranges, though that is not covered in the scope of this particular article.

You can read more about ICM HERE

You can read more about Range Balancing HERE

When making it to the final table, finishing within the top three should be your goal as this is where all the money is, so let’s talk about strategies you can adopt to crush the final table.

Study Your Opponents

This is less relevent in the early rounds, since so many players are moved around from table to table throughout the tournament. At the final table, however, all of the players around you have battled through the field to make it this far and are most likely decent tournament players. Occasionally, you will run into a fish who has caught a mad streak of cards and ended up luckboxing this far. 

For the first ten or so hands, you should play extremely tight. Get a feel for the table and how people are playing. Poker brings out different emotions in different people, and you must learn the current state of every player. Have you spotted a player who’s loosened up? Is there a big stack trying to bully and put pressure on everyone else? Is someone to your left folding almost every hand or feeling the pressure and trying to avoid confrontation to climb their way up the payout ladder?

More than likely, you will notice mostly tight players at the final table. You’ll also run across a few people utilizing the maniac tournament approach. Identify these players early on and adjust your play accordingly.

In essence, final-table play involves playing the player and not the cards. It may be profitable to raise really tight players with next to nothing in the blinds if you think you can get away with it. You should also be very careful of your pre-flop starting selection against maniacs.

Wait It Out

The final table will bring about some of the best poker you’ll witness. This is simply because most of these players feel grateful to be there. In addition, the prize structure in most multi-table tournaments (whether live or online) is heavily weighted towards the top 3-4 places, and therefore a lot of players are going to want to stand back and allow their opponents to take each other out, and hopefully help them inch up the money ladder. Most of these players are going to be on their best behaviour and play the best hands possible.

If you spot a maniac at the table, let him take a few people out. Sit back and feel your way around the table until a few people are gone. There will come a time when you make your move, but there is really no point risking elimination unless you have a good hand. Conversely, if the table is really tight, you may want to take a few risks and try to chip up by stealing the blinds and antes. A good tournament player’s motto for the final table should be “play the player, not the cards.”

On the other hand, if you spot a bunch of tight players who seem to be trying to fold their way up the money ladder, take advantage of their passiveness and start stealing their blinds. You might even want to try three-betting them in some spots – they aren’t going to be wanting to risk their entire tournament lives with marginal hands, and will more than likely give up pots to you. This can in turn help you to build up your chip stack.

Luck and the Final Table

If anyone tells you that it is possible to win multi-table tournaments without luck, they are either lying or delusional. It’s impossible. Most players at the final table are great tournament players, meaning that more than likely it will be a dogfight for each ascending place. I could sit here all day and preach to you about starting hands, but if you have made it this far then you should all know which hands to play. 

We’re here to tell you the right approach to final-table play, and that is simply to make use of every edge available to you. Spot the tight players and maniacs. Adjust your play to each individual player. Although you want to play tight, you’ll need to take some calculated risks. The best way to beat the final table is to look for any edge possible by analyzing each precious detail available to you. Watch how each individual bets and how much he bets each hand. Study each showdown at the table as if your life depended on it. The final table is all about intuition, not about cards, though obviously good cards can help a great deal. 

Play Fearlessly

The top three spots are where all the money is at in any tournament and you should be playing to finish here rather than attempting to passively fold your way into a slightly larger cash. You shouldn’t be afraid of busting out – you’ve made it this far so have already earned a reasonable payday so its better to go for broke and play for the win. That doesn’t mean you should be open shoving every other hand and playing with reckless abandon. However, you should be looking for good spots to accumulate chips and bully the shorter stacks. 

While sitting back and getting a feel for the table is smart play at the start of the final, once you have started to get a handle on your opponents you should start to up the aggression and begin looking for good spots to pressure people into making mistakes. If you get unlucky and bust than so be it, as long as you get your chips in good you’ve done your best to maximise your return on investment (ROI). 

Heads-Up

If you manage to make it heads-up then you should continue to up the aggression, especially if you have the chip lead. Many players struggle when it comes to short-handed and heads-up play and you should be raising the button mercilessly and pushing every advantage you can get.

What sort of approach to take really depends on your opponent’s playing style and your stack size. If you are out chipped or, even worse, feel you are hopelessly outclassed then you shouldn’t be afraid to take away your opponent’s edge by moving all-in a lot more, forcing them to gamble with you for the win. That doesn’t mean you should be shoving over the top of every raise they make – you still need to pick your spots – but the likelihood of them having a hand they can call you with heads-up greatly diminishes.

However, if you feel you have a significant edge you should be looking to play a lot of flops in position and take down small pots to either chip away at your opponents lead or further increase your own with minimal risk. 

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