Playing the Final Table
2006 Randy Saylor  

The Last Sixty Hands of an Online Multi-Table Tournament

I recently took down a large tournament win in a $50 buy in multi table tournament (MTT). I wanted to share one player’s perspective on the endgame in that event, the mistakes I made and the mistakes made by others that helped me finish as high as I did. This win was not my biggest cash ever, as I have won more when reaching the final table of higher buy-in tournaments. This tournament was special because it was a win, and first place is always better than any other.

The Story

This Paradise Poker tournament started with 187 entrants, and pays the top 20 places. We are well into the money when this story starts. Eleven players remain, and with the blinds and antes climbing, tensions are high at two short-handed tables (6 and 5 players respectively). I am sure most want to be reduced to the final table to remove some of the pressure of the blinds. One player even chatted “will someone please (expletive) get knocked out?” With the total of all chips at 280,500, the average player had only 25,500 chips.

I have the second largest stack at my table with 26,674. This is barely above average, giving me enough to play about 5 times around the table (each orbit costs 5400 - 6 antes x 150 + small blind 1500 + big blind 3000). Since I can stay in for five orbits, we say I have an M of 5. The highest M at my table is 7. For those not aware, M is a tournament chip count concept explained by Dan Harrington in the wonderful Harrington on Holdem series of tournament strategy books.

Nobody at either table has a really big stack, so we’d rather have the pressure of short tables taken away than have the ability to steal from passive players who would rather make the final table at all costs.

Playing Down to the Final Table

Hand 5: I am dealt J2 in the big blind. The first player to act raises all in with a very small stack, and it’s folded to me. Some would consider it a mistake to call with such a poor holding, but I am getting 5-1 pot odds to call. I am probably a 3-2 underdog, so the pot odds are in my favor and position is not a concern. His K5 holds up unimproved, and I take a small hit.

Hand 9: I am dealt JJ in third position. I open with a raise to 10,000 (3.3 x the big blind), and everyone folds. Through the first ten hands I still have enough for 4.5 orbits.

Hand 11: I’m in the big blind. It is folded to the small blind, who raises to 9500 (3.1xBB). I have AQs, and raise him all in for 11,000 more. He calls, shows K9, and my hand holds up unimproved. Did the small blind player make a mistake? Absolutely not. Even though K9 is not a premium hand, it is a top 30% hand and worth a raise to steal my blind. His raise made the pot 13,400, and it’s 6500 for me to call. I’m getting about 2-1, not good enough to call with total trash. He is unlucky that I have a top 10% hand. I have an easy re-raise. When I do, he’s then getting about 2.4-1 to call, which is plenty good enough. AQ versus K9 is about a 3-2 favorite.

Start of the Final Table

I am pretty popular at this point, since I knocked out the 11th player to ease the pressure on everyone. While the other table was finishing their hand, another player was knocked out. We are at the final table with nine players. The blinds are up to 2000/4000/200 ante. I am 3rd in chips, with an M of 6. The two chip leaders have an M of about 7.5, so I am somewhat comfortable with my spot for now.

Hand 13: the UTG (under the gun, first to act preflop) player, who has 22670 to my 46077, raises to 9500 preflop. I have AK in 3rd position, so I reraise to 20000 to isolate on him. It’s folded back to UTG, who raises all in for 2470 more, and I call. He shows AQ. I flop a K. He rivers a Q, but it wasn’t enough. I think both players made the right moves here, and my hand held up. With an M of only 3, he should push his AQ all-in rather than simply raise preflop. This gives him the best chance to win the pot without a fight. Of course, I’m calling him in these big bet situations with AK anyday. We are now down to 8, and I am the chip leader with an M of 10.

Hands 14-17: I lose a few chips to a loose call of a small all in. Again, I was getting enormous pot odds even with a bad hand like 96. I lose a few more when I complete in the small blind and miss the flop. One player gets knocked out, and we are down to 7 players. I am in third place, close to the leaders, with an M of 8.5. In retrospect, I should have played the small blind hand more aggressively, but sometimes in the heat of battle, those things get missed.

Shorthanded Play Begins

Hand 19: I pick up 66 in 3rd position, raise to 15,000, and all fold. I’m second in chips with an M of 9.5.

Hands 20-24: these hands are uneventful, but again a couple of loose calls cost me chips. Loose calls of small all-ins are often good strategy for the bigger stacks at the final table, but I’m missing them here. One player is knocked out. The blinds now increase to 3K/6K/300 ante. I have an M of 5.

A Mistake, and the Scramble Begins

Hand 25: In third position, I pick up KT, and raise to 4 big blinds. I am reraised by the big blind, but it only costs me 2467 to call. His AK has me dominated and I am down to an M below 3. In the space of five hands, I drop from 2nd of 7 players to 4th of 6. I made a big mistake on this hand. I got frustrated in hands 20-24 when I helped double up the small stacks, and my minor tilt made me overplay KT. A minimum raise was in order if I chose to play at all. I had a read on the big blind player as super-tight. If I am reraised, I can lay down my hand with confidence. I could have saved 14,467 chips, or about 1.3 orbits.

Hands 26-30: I do not play any of these, but two players are knocked out and we are down to four players. A quick glance at the payouts shows prizes of (approximately) $2350, $1400, $980, and $750. A $700 return on a $50 buy in is excellent for me even if I go out now, because I’m in trouble with an M of less than 2. The stacks are 102K, 102K, 57K, and my lowly 20K.

Hand 31: I raise all in UTG with AK, and all fold. Up to M=2.9.

Hand 32: I catch a big break. The two big stacks clashed preflop, so I got out of the way in the big blind. They bet it up to 28,000 preflop. If I’m in their situation, I want to avoid a clash with another big stack. Not only did they not avoid a clash, but they both went all-in. AK beat Q7 (the aggressor), and we were down to three. The big stack raised on the button, and the second stack, in the big blind, may have seen it as a steal attempt, so he reraised with Q7, and the button called with AK. Small blind continued his aggression after a flop of K89, but was raised by the button with top pair and top kicker. He should have known right there he was beaten and laid it down. After a turn of 5, which does give him an inside straight draw, he pushes, and it’s an easy call for the chip leader, and AK holds up. Q7 lost his cool and was trying to make something happen when waiting meant he probably could have made second place. While Q7’s mistake didn’t help my stack, it helped something more important - my bankroll. I now have a minimum $900 net win.

Story continues.. Final Table Play Part 2

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