Play like a pro: Final table strategy with Liv Boeree

The EPT San Remo winner explains how to convert all that good work into a huge win with her final table strategy

As with any stage of a tournament you want the weaker players on your left and the good players on your right. In an ideal world the good players will be on the other side of the table, because you generally play more pots with the players sitting near you.

A key phase occurs before the final table. When there’s two tables left, a lot of players tighten up to try and make the final table so it’s a great chance for you to chip up. You can apply a lot of pressure on players. In the Sunday Warm-Up, I built from about 40 players out and in the run up to the final table I was using my stack to push people around.

Know your foe

You need to be aware of your opponents’ styles. This is easier to do live as you’re just playing the one table. At EPT San Remo I had a couple of friends watching the live stream that told me there were three players who were maniacs and that because of the Independent Chip Model (ICM) it was important to let these guys bluff due to the pay jumps.

You’ve got to take ICM into consideration, as there’s no need to tangle early if there are players who will likely blow up. It’s important to do opponent profiling before the start of a final table. For live tournaments use the Hendon Mob Database, try and find out their online names. Ask friends for advice if they’ve played them before. Online, you can use Official Poker Rankings (OPR) and SharkScope. Do as much digging as you can. Are they pro or semi-pro? Did they satellite in? Then you can use that information to your advantage.

You can usually put more pressure on an amateur who makes the final of a big tournament. For a tournament like the Sunday Warm-Up I’ll always look up the players on OPR, as it gives you everything from their average buy-in to ROI% to how many tournaments they’ve played.

Average buy-in is particularly useful. If they’re deep in a $500 tournament, their average buy-in is $11 and they’ve satellited in, you know they can be pushed around.

As the short stack

Going into a final table as a short-stack is never ideal, but it depends just how short-stacked you are. If you’ve got 10 big blinds you can’t hang around, while with 20 big blinds you’ve got a bit more breathing space. I’ve been at a final table where the effective short-stack had 28 big blinds, which is not really that short. It can be daunting, but you can afford to be patient.

The payout is top heavy so the difference between ninth and sixth isn’t often that much and then it goes up exponentially, so in that situation you need to gamble a bit more to build a stack. Blinding down a bit so you can ladder and finish seventh isn’t going to make that much difference, but giving yourself a shot at finishing higher is.

So I’ll look for a good spot to gamble. If I’m going to pick on someone I’ll pick on a medium-stack, who doesn’t want to become a short-stack. They’ve got more to lose and they’re not in the zone where they have to open lighter. They’ll probably fold slightly stronger to marginal hands, whereas a big-stack will be more inclined to just snap you off.

As a medium or big stack

There’s no rush here. In San Remo I went in fifth of eight and played on the tighter side of my normal game. I picked up hands, which helped, and won flips when I needed to, but I wasn’t going out all guns blazing. There were weaker players at the final table and a very good chip leader.

The plan was to sit patiently and let Jakob Carlsson hoover everyone up. A big chip leader can skew the average chip stack so don’t worry about that, what is more important is your stack in relation to the blinds.

If I’m fortunate to get to the final table as one of the chip leaders I personally won’t be looking to force the action unnecessarily. I would definitely advise playing a little looser than if you were a medium or short stack, but it’s all about analysing game flow and if your opponents are scared of you then you should definitely use that to your advantage.

Some will play back at you so you’ve got to target the right people. Like most things in poker there are so many variables, but if there are a couple of shortish stacks then you’re in a great position to put pressure on the medium stacks that don’t want to bust.

Short-handed play

It’s hard not to freeze when you get short-handed and you’re playing for big money and the pay jumps are large. I was terrified at EPT San Remo. You’ll hear some players say they only look at what first place pays, I think that’s foolish.

Knowing the pay jumps is hugely important at the final table due to ICM. Your primary goal as a poker player is to make money. Yes titles are a nice bonus, but you’ve got to find the optimal strategy to maximise your ROI. If you’ve got the chip lead heads-up you have to put the pressure on your opponent.

I would highly recommend that any tournament player really practice their heads-up game in their downtime and sharpen their shoving range, as in terms of money that’s the most important part of the tournament. There are players out there who are amazing at closing out tournaments, such as Jason Mercier. It sounds wishy-washy but a lot of it comes down to self-belief and it’s one of those things that breeds success.

I’ve had a good year online and now if I make a final table I expect to win it. I just don’t see any other outcome. It might sound arrogant but it’s confidence. Closing isn’t a scientific thing or something you can define, but there are certain players who have that certain something that makes them good closers.

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