Initial Adjustments

oK! you’ve arrived at the final table! “Final Table” is a nickname given to me years ago by the tournament director at Crown Casino in Melbourne, Australia, who said that I get there so frequently. I’m like “final-table furniture.” I still get a buzz every time I reach the final table. The only more exhilarating feeling is winning! The tournament has moved from two short-handed tables to the final table of nine or ten players. What adjustments are necessary?

you’ve just come from a 5- to 6-handed game, where no one wanted to get knocked out and aggressive play was profitable. The first adjustment that you need to make is this one—you’re now at a full
game and you need to be more aware of the fact that when you’re up against nine other hands, rather than five, the chances are excellent that someone will actually started with a good one. Play fewer hands from the first positions, repairing any vestiges of the maniacal image you may have created

at the previous table. your objective is to lull the competition into a false sense of security with your conservative play, so you can open up again when you get down to 5-handed.

Adjusting to a Shrinking Field

At the final table, positional considerations become even more important. Play fewer hands from the first five positions, but stay aggressive in late position, especially if the re-draw to the final table has put a few of the more passive players on your left. As players get eliminated, gradually increase your range of playable hands. This might seem counterintuitive at first, but the fewer players who remain, the lower the hand value required to raise the pot. From nine players until you’re heads-up, every pot you enter should be with a raise. Fold or raise, make those your choices. If it’s good enough to play… raise it up!

Playing with Five Players Left

Many of the other players will play too tight, just hoping to move up the pay scale or to “get hit with
the deck” (pick up a lot of good hands), so that they can stay alive. you’re not a favorite to find a “no- brainer,” a premium hand that plays itself, so don’t assume you will. on average, you’ll start with AA or KK once every 110 hands. Sure, you might get them in two consecutive hands, but I wouldn’t count on it. The odds against this happening are more than 12,000-to-1!

Having re-established your tight image, it’s now time to step it up. Pick on the medium-size stacks. They’re not desperate and won’t want to tangle with you without a premium hand. Look for situations where you can re-raise a conservative player who raises from the button or the cutoff. Hands such as 8c 7c or AQ are strong enough to put a tight player to the test. Make the same re-raise even if there’s
a raiser and a caller in front of you. This play, known as the power re-raise or squeeze play, is a strong move. The initial raiser must concern himself not only with your re-raise, which probably represents an extremely strong hand, but also with the caller, who may have been trapping with AA or KK. If you get by the first player and the second player doesn’t have AA or KK, as is most frequently the case, you’ll pick up a very nice pot. Moves such as this win tournaments!

Re-raise with suited connectors if, and that’s an important if, the raise has come from a tight player with a medium stack seated on your right. Notice how circumstances have changed dramatically.

There were times during the preceding stages when you wouldn’t even enter the pot in a similar situation.

Instead of hoping to connect on a flop, be aggressive before the flop. If you get called, follow up with
a continuation bet after the flop, and I don’t mean a wimpy c-bet. After most flops, bet 70% of the pot, with two exceptions: 1) If you’ve picked up a tell based on your opponent’s reaction to the flop. In
live play, perhaps you’ve noticed him glancing down at his chips when the flop came down, or you’ve observed that when he likes the flop he quickly looks away. 2) If the flop has really poor texture. Suppose you have Ac Kc with a flop such as Jh Th 9c, or 8d 7d 6d. Check and fold if your opponent bets. otherwise, stay aggressive!

Aggressive players win tournaments.

Be Aggressive

Aggressive players win tournaments. That’s a fact. When was the last time that an old-school player won a WPT event? Mike Sexton gave himself this label (“old school”), but having seen everyone’s hole cards on the WPT for several years, he’s now changed his game and won some events by being more aggressive. Even seeing the edited version of television hands has dramatically changed the game for many players and dangled big carrots in front of budding young poker champions. “you mean I can play a game…and make a lot of money when I get good at it? Send me in, Coach!”

When you do pick up a big hand, try to get all the money you can into the pot. At a 5-handed final table, say you’ve raised with 8c 7c, As Ts, and 9h 9c, in three of the last five hands, and you raise again on the next hand. At this point some of your opponents may be getting highly suspicious and will play back at you with weaker than normal hands. This is when having a premium hand pays big dividends. If I pick up AA after raising the previous three hands, the timing couldn’t be more perfect and my only problem is how to get as many chips into the pot as possible, especially before the flop. Now I’ll raise the exact same amount that I’ve been raising, even though I picked up the holy grail of poker hands. I want to re-emphasize the following point, because so many inexperienced players make the mistake of not following this precept:

Play your weak hands and your strong hands exactly the same way!

This not only will allow you to play more hands, it’ll provide you with a deceptive image. It’ll make it very hard for an opponent to analyze your betting pattern and make plays against you based on your choice of bets—especially when he sees markedly different hands at showdown after similar betting patterns. By the way, never voluntarily show your hand when you’ve won a pot unchallenged.

Make your opponents pay for information.


At most final tables there will come a time when someone may suggest a settlement. A settlement
is a redistribution of the remaining prize money amongst the contestants who are left. Factors that influence a deal are the respective chip counts, the expertise and image of the players, the importance of the money, and even the position of the blinds. The best material on making a deal can be found on pages 168-171 of Kill Phil.
you’re under no obligation to accept any proffered deals. If you have any doubts about the deal, just say no. Saying no is quite acceptable. you might say no for a variety of reasons—you like your position at the table, or you want the others to be under more pressure if a deal isn’t cut, or you want the thrill of playing it out to see if you can go all the way. you aren’t required to give the other contestants a reason for declining or for demanding more than your fair share based on the respective stack sizes.

often the players will agree to play for part of the prize. In my view, this is a good idea, because it preserves the excitement of the moment and when you win, you’ll feel you earned it. At the PokerStars. com Sunday Millions weekly tournament, leaving part of the prize for the first place finisher is compulsory. Although the “standard formula” is to divide the prize pool in accordance with chip counts, this is fair only if only 2 players remain. With three or more players, an equitable settlement would award the smaller stacks a bit more than the chip count dictates. With this in mind, I recommend the following guideline when making a deal:

If you have the biggest or one of the biggest stacks, negotiate for a deal based on chip count. If you have one of the smaller stacks, demand more than a proportional distribution.

one caveat: Always remember to deduct the amount that’s allocated to the lowest finisher before doing the split. If 3 players are involved, the amount of 3 times the third-place prize should be deducted from the remaining prize pool, because each participant is entitled to at least this amount. The balance should then be split under the negotiated terms. For example, if first prize is $100,000, second is $60,000, and third is $40,000, then $120,000 should be deducted from the $200,000 prize pool, since
all players must get at least $40,000. The deal negotiation should revolve around how the remaining $80,000 is split.

Hand values go way up shorthanded as you’re only competing with one opponent. K6isnowagood hand and KT is practically Aces!

Heads-Up Play

Heads-up you’re in a different world. Even 3-handed you could throw most of your worst hands
away. Heads-up you’ll only be throwing away about the bottom 10% of your hands, adjusting the actual percentage and your play to the personality of your opponent. Hand values must be upgraded substantially for heads-up play. The idea that K6 offsuit is a good starting hand and that KT offsuit is a great hand may be difficult for some to understand. Look at the charts in Appendix C to discover what the bottom 10% of hands look like. I hope they’re never dealt to you!

Please re-read pages 39-41, which provide specific guidance about playing heads-up. Playing this way, you’ll be a formidable adversary to your one opponent at the final table..

If your CSI falls to 8 or below, use the charts found on page 63 to make your online decisions. They provide simplified guidelines as to which hands to play at varying CSIs. At these CSIs, pushing all-in
or folding is the correct strategy. For a strategy that even the top pros, such as Phil Ivey or Daniel Negreanu, can’t exploit, see Kill Everyone. Play this way and you’ll be playing like a pro, optimizing your chances to win. For live play, you may need to memorize them, but at home it’s easy to put them on a screen in front of you. Many card rooms now have a no “cheat- sheet” rule. Although paper and pencil are still universally allowed, advice sheets are no longer tolerated in the majority of card rooms.

Position is a huge factor in heads-up play, where the small blind is the button and acts first on the pre- flop betting round, but last on each subsequent round of betting. This means that mathematically it’s correct to play the top 90% of hands when you’re the small blind. Whether to limp or raise depends on your overall evaluation of the situation. It’s best to mix it up in order to keep your opponent off balance. If you’re in the big blind, raise aggressively with strong hands, such as an ace with a decent kicker

and small to medium pairs. If the button has raised to 2-3 times the big blind, re-raise by 4-5 times this amount. you’re objective is to win the hand pre-flop so that you don’t have to play it out of position. If a raise means committing 1/3 of your stack or more, move all-in instead.

If you choose to raise almost every hand that you play, you won’t be making a big mistake. In heads-up play the most aggressive player often wins. Err on the side of being overly aggressive rather than too passive. your objective is to weaken your opponent by keeping him under constant pressure. He may keep folding hoping to pick up an elusive monster and bust you. Hopefully, you’ll have a big hand when he finally does play back at you, but most of the time you’ll chip away at his stack, weakening him and setting him up for the kill.

Heads-up play is often a mind game and usually the most aggressive, courageous, and observant player wins. Johnny Chan (twice the world champion) says that when it gets heads-up, he doesn’t want to make a mistake; it’s so hard to get there that he doesn’t want to waste the opportunity.


  1. You just moved from 6- or 5-handed to 10- or 9-handed. Adjust your game accordingly.
  2. Play your strongest hands exactly like your weak hands.
  3. If you play, a lot of hands, expect to be challenged.
  4. Aggressive players have a much better chance of winning than timid ones.
  5. when you raise multiple times within a short period, tighten up your raising requirements.
  6. In general agree to chip-chop settlements if you’re the big stack, and demand a premium if you’re not.
  7. when heads-up, play most of the hands.
  8. Position is super-important in heads-up play. when out of position, raise and re-raise aggressively with strong hands.
  9. Heads-up battles are often won by the most aggressive player. Err on the side of aggression.
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