Securing a Top Finish How to Play Short Handed on the Final Table

From my experience going, from 9-handed to shorthanded play can throw players off. They don’t make the adjustments necessary to maintain let alone continue to build their stack. In not doing so, they drop the ball and pick up a paltry sum for their efforts, considerably less than the first or second place prize.

I know what this is like first hand. So I wanted to provide a few tips that will help you dominate shorthanded play so that you can make a run for and take the top prize as often as possible. These tips will work for most final tables, regardless of what game you play, too.

Tip #1 - Widen Your Hand Range

One mistake I see players make is that they don’t adjust their hand ranges. They’re still stuck in 8 or 9-player mode. The problem with this is that the blinds are moving through you more often, shaving your stack little by little each time. This can quickly shift the dynamic from being comfortable or even the chip leader, to someone fighting for their tournament life.

It’s hard to say how wide you should be, since that depends on your skill set, stack sizes, position and your opponents. However, in a 3 or 4 handed game, you should consider opening your suited aces, most unsuited aces, broadways and pairs. With hands that are easily dominated you’ll want to play with pot control in mind to prevent losing too much with a potentially / vulnerable weaker hand.

But by opening more hands you’ll find that, for one thing, you throw your opponents off. Many of them don’t make the adjustment themselves, which gives you the opportunity to pick up some easy pots. Even when they do start catching on I’ve found that a c-bet often takes the pot.

Tip #2 - Spot the Loose Players

My next tip is to spot the loose players. Most final tables I’ve been apart of (at the lower to small stakes) have 1-2 players that want to continue playing lots of hands, regardless of where they or anyone else stand in the tournament.

You want to spot these players because you want to let them battle it out with the other players. They’re putting themselves at risk every pot they play, so let them. Even if it shifts the chip count into your opponent’s favor, you can get it back when you go to heads up or 3-way play.

Whatever you do, don’t lose your cool and start loosely defending your hands. You’re much better off choosing your spots against these players in a shorthanded situation.

Tip #3 - Leverage the Short Stacks

One thing you can do to increase your stack size is to leverage the shorter stacks. In doing so you will have the opportunity to build your stack, all the while distancing your chip lead from the others.

The way to leverage short stacks is to either become more aggressive against the medium to deep stacks when they (the short stacks) fold, or to raise into these bigger stacks when the short stack sits between you and the bigger stacks. Often times the short stack will get out of the way, crossing their fingers that one of you two stacks will bust. The stacks you’re abusing will see the short stack fold, and will often find a fold themselves.

This strategy is great for abusing the bubble, too. It shaves everyone’s stack down to the point to where you’re all but guaranteed a 1st place score, while everyone else is fighting for 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc.

When you use this strategy just keep your image in mind. If you abuse the players too much you will get action. That’s not what we want. The idea here is to use your fold equity to pick up easy, uncontested pots.

Tip #4 - Have a Stack? Throw it Around

My last tip is to abuse the other players if possible. You won’t be able to pull of a bubble-like situation where you can get away shoving or 3-betting with any two cards. But I do recommend testing the waters to see how wide you can be while still inducing folds.

In using this strategy you’ll want to pay attention to stack sizes. If you throw your stack around while 1 or 2 of the players are short, you might find that they re-shove on you, pricing you into calling (and doubling them up). This can significantly shift the dynamic at the table. I would also recommend avoiding too loose of players (especially with stacks close to yours) that want to splash around and see flops, while not paying any attention to stack sizes and tournament equities.