tom hall with aces and the text icm in the background

How Would You Play Pocket Aces at This Final Table? (Analysis)

Tom ‘Jabracada’ Hall is one of the most fearsome online and live poker players that the UK has ever produced.

He is also one of the most ICM-aware opponents you are ever likely to face. That expert knowledge often comes to the fore on final tables, when ICM considerations play a big part in ultimate decision making.

In 2019, Hall made the WPT UK Final Table in Dusk Till Dawn with six-figures up top, where he had the opportunity to flex his ICM muscles.

Check out a video of the most interesting hand from the final table, or keep reading for an explanation:

Editor’s Note: This article is by Irish tournament pro and Unibet Poker ambassador David Lappin who is a great 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: WPT UK Nottingham
Format: No Limit Hold’em
Blinds: 30K/60K
Ante: 60K bb ante
Stage: 7 players left on Final Table

Stack Sizes:

  • Under the Gun: 50 big blinds
  • Lojack (Tom Hall): 17.1 big blinds
  • Hijack: 7 big blinds
  • Cutoff: 33.3 big blinds
  • Button: 15 big blinds
  • Small Blind: 30 big blinds
  • Big Blind: (Manuel Zapf): 26.7 big blinds


1st: $105,000
2nd $70,000
3rd: $51,329
4th: $38,500
5th: $29,000
6th: $22,000
7th: $17,000


The chip leader folds UTG and Hall limps in the Lojack with A♥️ A♦️. The action folds around to Manuel Zapf in the Big Blind who checks.

Preflop Analysis

Tom was sitting 5th of 7 in chips. He made the decision in this spot to split his range between limps and shoves. But how did he split his ranges?

Hall explains that his strategy was to:

  • Limp with Aces, Kings, Queens, most suited Aces and all the suited broadways.
  • Shove with AKo, AQo, 88-JJ.
  • Fold everything else.

This seems pretty good. As Dara points out, by applying a limping strategy, Tom is able to profitably play a wider range than he could if he was min-raising. It also allows him to exert pot-control in a high ICM situation.

Note: Want to know how to play every hand in every common preflop situation? Get instant access to extensive preflop charts and lessons (for cash games, heads-up and tournaments) when you join the Upswing Lab training course. Lock your seat now!

The Advanced Solver Ranges for cash games — one of five sets of preflop charts in the Upswing Lab.


The Pot: 3.5 big blinds
The Flop: 7♣️ 5♠️ 3♠️
The Action: Zapf checks and Hall checks back.

Flop Analysis

On this board, the two ranges interact in an interesting way. Hall will have an overall range advantage, but Zapf possesses the nut advantage. Hall’s limping range, as outlined, contains:

Whereas Zapf can have:

Hall’s check was therefore prudent. If he had bet and gotten check-shoved on, he would have been in a gross spot. He would have likely been behind or flipping against a combo-draw, facing the possibility of elimination in 7th place.

With two red aces in particular, Hall’s hand is a great bluff-catcher for later streets as he unblocks club and spade hands. As an overall strategy, it is vital that Hall checks back his flush draws. Otherwise, his checking range is not sufficiently protected.


The Pot: 3.5 big blinds
The Turn: (7♣️ 5♠️ 3♠️) 8♠️
The Action: Zapf bets 2.25 big blinds and Hall calls.

Turn Analysis

This was a really nice card for Zapf to stab with a wide range because Hall has a lot of give-ups. That said, he might have hands with good equity that he doesn’t want to bet-fold. Accordingly, I would guess that Zapf will bet:

  • Super strong hands
  • Strong but vulnerable two-pair combos
  • Weak draws
  • Some of his air

I’d guess that he will check his one pair combos (with or without a draw) and his stronger draws because those hands really suffer versus a shove.

As tempting as it is to barrel wildly now as the out of position player, Hall is a canny foe who will be balanced (with flushes in his range) and will understand that his limp preflop and this board texture necessitates passivity as an overall strategy.

Hall’s call is a no-brainer. Other than flushes and 88, he is at the top of his range.


The Pot: 8 big blinds
The River: (7♣️ 5♠️ 3♠️ 8♠️) 3♦️
Stack-to-Pot Ratio: 1.9:1
The Action: Zapf bets 6 big blinds into and Tom calls.

River Analysis

This spot feels very close. It’s a good card for Hall in the sense that a lot of draws missed and some two pairs got counterfeited. However, the bet-size chosen by Zapf does not represent any hands we can beat. Those hands would probably bet smaller. Therefore, this is a spot where value hands must be weighed up against bluffs.

Calling 6 big blinds to win a pot of 20 big blinds means, chip for chip, you need to be good 30% of the time to be indifferent. With ICM, that number is a few percentage points larger.

In game, Hall quickly sigh-called. When Dara put the hand into a solver, the GTO response was to call with all of the bluff-catchers some % of the time, vindicating Hall’s decision to flick in the chips.

As usual, though, consideration must be given to the Villain’s tendencies to under-bluff or over-bluff. Hall believed that Zapf would under-bluff a spot like this, so with that in mind, he would reverse his decision and fold if given the opportunity.


Manuel Zapf shows K♠️ J♠️ for a flush and wins a pot of 1,200,000.

Wrapping Up

This was an ICM nightmare of a hand, but it must be said that it was navigated superbly by Hall. Most players are afraid to put themselves in difficult spots and avoid them by taking clearer, less complicated, but ultimately less profitable lines.

According to the solver, Hall’s decision to check the flop made him ~$3000, his decision to call on the turn made him ~$2000 and his river decision to call made him $50.

Factoring in his assumption that Zapf would under-bluff the river, Hall wished that he would have found a fold instead, but in fairness to him, it was a knife-edge decision and neither action could really be faulted.

What’s more important is that Hall demonstrated tremendous composure when he deployed a limping strategy, and knew to check back a wet board and called down turn and river. Lines such as this eek out long-term profit, money that is left on the table by many players who prefer to keep life simple by exploring only the well-worn branches of the game tree.

Would you have played Tom Hall’s aces differently?

Let us know in the comments.

If you want more tournament hand analysis, check out my previous article Should He Fold Trips vs An Aggressive Pro? ($25K High Roller Analysis).

Thanks for reading!

Note: Ready to join 6,000+ players currently upgrading their No Limit Hold’em skills? Crush your competition with the expert strategies you will learn inside the Upswing Lab training course. Learn more now!


Related Posts

Home > How Would You Play Pocket Aces at This Final Table? (Analysis)
Home > How Would You Play Pocket Aces at This Final Table? (Analysis)
About the Author
David Lappin

David Lappin

SNG specialist turned Tournament Pro. Unibet Poker Ambassador. Host and Producer of the Global Poker Award winning podcast ‘The Chip Race’. @dklappin on Twitter.

Put Your Skills to the Test with Quick Poker Quizzes!