Nothing in poker beats making a final table.
You played well for hours, ran hot, and probably won at least a few all-ins. But when you’re at a final table, the importance of each decision is magnified as there are often significant pay jumps for each spot.
Unfortunately, since making final tables is rare and difficult, it can be hard to get practice in these high-pressure situations.
Today’s article will take you to a final table I played recently. I was 3/9 in chips, and with pay jumps at every spot, I needed to be on my A-game. To find out what happened, either watch my video or keep reading for a description and analysis. Let’s dive in.
Note: This article (based on this video) is by Irish tournament pro and Unibet Poker ambassador David Lappin who is worth a follow on Twitter. Alongside Irish poker legend Dara O’Kearney, David produces and hosts the GPI global poker award-winning podcast ‘The Chip Race” sponsored by Unibet Poker. All episodes are available on Apple Music, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.
Game: The Supernova €100 Online Tournament on Unibet Poker
Format: No Limit Hold’em
Stage: Final table, 9 left
- UTG – 96bb
- UTG+2 – 92bb
- Hijack (Me) – 47bb
- Cutoff – 19bb
- Other stacks range from 15bb-43bb
- 1st – €5,954
- 2nd – €4,253
- 3rd – €3,102
- 4th – €2,231
- 5th – €1,706
- 6th – €1,260
- 7th – €892
- 8th – €634
- 9th – €464
UTG, the chip leader, opens to 2.2bb. UTG+2 calls. I call from the Hijack with Q♣️ Q♠️. The Cutoff shoves for 19bb. UTG re-shoves for 96bb. UTG2 folds. I call.
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Preflop Analysis Part 1: Should I Call Or 3-Bet?
There were two difficult preflop decisions for me in this hand, so let’s look at each individually.
Faced with an UTG open and a call from UTG+2, I have a decision to make with my Pocket Queens in the Hijack.
According to the solver, I should be mixing my strategy, 3-betting most of the time and calling sometimes. Interestingly, both calling and 3-betting capture roughly the same amount of expected value (EV) — as is the case for all mixed frequency plays by the solver.
Let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of each:
Advantages of 3-Betting: The advantage to 3-betting is it better defines my hand and that of any potential opponent. This helps to simplify decisions on later streets. It also substantially reduces the likelihood of more flat-callers and a postflop spot where I have to play the hand 4-ways.
Disadvantages of 3-Betting: The disadvantage to 3-betting is bloating the pot versus the two players who can eliminate me. The ICM catastrophe of busting now cannot be underestimated, meaning I need a huge premium hand if I am to stack off on a later street.
Advantages of Calling: The advantage to flatting is I keep the pot as small as possible versus the two players that have me covered. And even though the hand will likely go multiway, I will have a holding of disguised strength.
Disadvantages of Calling: The disadvantage to flatting is it will often encourage more callers, particularly the blinds whose ranges will be widest. A hand like Pocket Queens definitely plays better heads-up versus a more clearly defined range.
Overall, even though it is the lower frequency option, I like my decision to call.
Preflop Analysis Part 2: Should I Call Or Fold To The Shove?
A lot of action happened after my call. The Cutoff jammed all-in for 19bb, and UTG re-jammed, having me covered.
If UTG and UTG+2 had folded to the Cutoff’s shove, I would have had an easy call because my hand was ahead of his jamming range, and I had him covered.
But facing the jam from UTG, who has me covered, my ladies are in a world of pain. If I call and lose, I bust in either 8th or 9th place – a devastating loss of equity given my current chip position.
It is also worth noting that UTG shoved fast. A timing tell like that often indicates an easy decision, ergo a hand with which shoving is not close. That piece of information alone weighs him more heavily towards Ace-King and makes Pocket Aces less likely (because Aces would at least consider the possibility of just flatting).
So with those assumptions in place, are Pocket Queens strong enough to call, given the risk?
The short answer is no. The solver analysis (with ICM) suggests that calling with Pocket Queens loses €350 in equity. To look at a hypothetical, my stack is currently worth ~€2500, and doubling up only increases its worth to €3500. Meanwhile, if I call and lose, I end up making only a few hundred euros.
That means that in a straight heads-up against the chip leader, I would need to be a 72% favorite to justify getting all-in. While this spot is complicated by the third player, that statistic provides a useful guidepost to show just how extreme the ICM implications are.
In summation, Pocket Kings and Pocket Aces are my only get-ins in this spot, the latter being a clear call. But interestingly, Kings make very little EV (approximately €10), so they are far from a fist-pump snap, as would probably be believed by most players.
The Cutoff shows A♥️ A♣️. UTG shows A♠️ K♦️. The board runs out T♣ 8♠ 4♥ K♣ 2♠.
The Aces hold for the main pot, and with a King on the board, I am eliminated in 9th place for €464 (which felt more like 0 in the moment).
Understanding ICM is vital if you are to succeed in the swingy world of MTTs. When it boils down to it, the vast majority of the money is handed out on the final table, and that is when ICM implications contort and twist the ranges a player should play the most.
Therefore it cannot be underestimated how important it is to study endgame situations with respect for ICM and the way it can force you to call off a lot tighter than under normal circumstances. This hand taught me a big lesson, and I hope it teaches you one too.
Would you have squeezed preflop? As played, would you have called it off with Queens?
Let me know in the comments.
If you want more tournament hand analysis from me, check out Should She Fold Aces Full in the $10,000 WSOP Main Event? (Analysis).