Poker Essays

All-in at the final table!
By February 2006

Final table strategy for beginners

It is a generally accepted principle that the more aggressive someone is in a heads-up game the better they will do. There are also a variety of tables which break down hands into groups and then assign different groups as playable based on position and stack size.

These theories and tables are all pretty closely related and all fairly affective for most poker games. However, at the final table we think that something changes. The people there can get a payoff at any time by simply pushing their poker chips all-in; this is different from most poker. It's even possible for them to make money by checking and folding each and every hand until they have been blinded to death.

At first glance death by blinds doesn't sound very smart. Without referencing any statistics we can tell you that when we started playing online poker we would play in a lot of cheap multi-table tournaments and free rolls. About half of the time we would just get our stacks up into the top 10 and then click sit-out. In the end we usually ended up in the money, and between the time it saved and the small pay out, it was worth it.

Our suggestion for someone that got to the final poker table through a series of impossible draws and is now head to head with professionals is to do just that. Your chances of getting first place are zero, but we would say that those were your chances before this passive strategy too. You might say that the people will figure out what you are doing and wait for the blinds to eat you but they won't. Just like they would never sit on the button and let a hand pass entirely unbet. Eventually they will start to take each other out.

This is opposite to the other beginner strategy which is to go all in every hand at the final table. This usually works for a while but eventually someone will call them and win.

We believe that the best method of playing lies in the middle. You should use a very simple formula: play 1/x % of the deck; X = number of people seated. For example one in two hands in heads-up. This should mean that in the long run you are always playing with the strongest hand. If you are feeling overwhelmed by the rest of the table's skill then you should move all in with one in x hands. If you feel that you are able to compete with them then play your best game with that frequency. The downside to going all in is that you will tend to get called by people with better hands. As soon as they figure out the frequency with which you are going all in they will say to themselves ok, I will wait for a hand that falls in the 30th percentile and then call him all in. Within a couple of calls they will win. Likewise you can use this strategy against others who seem to be exercising an all-in game.

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