Strategies for Late Stage Tournament Play in Poker
Why do you like to play poker?
Is it because it is fun? Or is it because it is highly fascinating with an unpredictability attached to it till the last stage of the poker tournament? Or is it because it involves a mix of luck and skills? It is generally difficult to give a single answer.
If you have played few multi-table tournaments (MTTs) in poker, you would realize that the game changes at various stages and does your style of play. The strategy you adopt during the initial stage will be slightly different to that during the middle stage, and a lot different to the one you need for the late stage tournament as well as for the final table.
Do remember that a poker tournament can be really long. You need to be ready with your plans for different stages well in advance, so that you don’t give away any kind of advantage that you may have gained during the tournament. As the middle stage is over and you move towards the bubble stage which is a part of the later stage of the poker game. It is that stage where luck and skill both play a critical role, and your focus should be on utilizing your skills to the fullest.
The skills that we talk about over here involve more of identifying specific situations rather than any calculated play. For example, you need to be extremely decisive about going for all-in or folding up. These two become popular options during the play in poker as chips stack of players starts reducing in comparison to the blinds involved. You cannot fear the consequences during this stage, because there may certain elements that are beyond your control and which involve luck. All you have to do is the following:
Have a good late stage tournament strategy in place
Play with a fearless attitude
Let us now deep dive into the kind of strategies / tips that you need to work upon for increasing your chances of winning during the fag end (later stage) of poker tournaments.
Top Tips to Remember for Your Late Stage Tournament Strategy
Avoid Getting Excited
A key component is to avoid the temptation of starting to think about being the tournament winner. Why? When you are so close to the final table, your human emotions are likely to take over and get your excitement going – by simply thinking about how close you are to winning the tournament.
It is here that you may make an error in judgement and one such incident can knock you out of the tournament. Of course, you will get many chances in future, but you would want to be better prepared for these late stages of the poker tournaments to give yourself more chances of winning.
Increasing Stack Size from Blinds
During the early stages of a poker tournament, the blinds primarily help to get more players involved by increasing the pot size. As you arrive at the late stage of the MTTs in poker, you will see that your chips stack size reduces, and the blinds gain more importance because stealing them could literally increase your stack size significantly. And every chip counts during this stage, so you may not want to miss out on couple of opportunities where you can steal some blinds.
Of course, there is an element of risk involved, but it is relatively smaller as compared to going all-in and hoping for all your opponents to fold up. A good approach at stealing blinds would be to attempt the same from late position against tight opponents on the table. This will give you greater chance of success as compared to trying to steal blinds from middle position and against not so tight opponents.
Most Important Plays – As per the Stack Size
Do remember that your stack size plays a very critical role at this late stage tournament in poker. Couple of wrong plays and you could lose all your chips in a jiffy. And you don’t want to be out of the race for the final table showdown after being so close, do you?
With a small stack, you can possibly survive for one or two more rounds without making any play (all-in or fold). Thus, you have to be on your feet to identify the right hand and go for the kill (all-in). A favourable position will be the late position where the table folds to you (for stealing the blinds) – to opt for all-in. Similarly, you can go for all-in when you are the player posting the small blind and other remaining players fold, as the big blind is likely to fold up in such a scenario. So, stealing from late position and stealing from small blind, along with the occasional squeeze are handy options to build up your chips stack to an average sized stack (from a small one).
Late Stage Strategy when you have Medium Stack
It is difficult to make your play when you have average sized stacks in the late stage of tournament – as there are multiple play options that you can choose from (as compared to earlier scenario with small stack). For favourable situations, you can opt for all-in preflop and build your stack.
Identify the players with small stacks and you can even aim for coin flips with them. The short stack players are likely to go for all-in even with marginal hands, so you can take advantage of their situation and make calls with a large variety of hands to win over them. When they are all-in, you can choose to call them down using any two big cards or pocket pair.
In the late stage tournament gameplay with medium stack, you can choose to go for steal (from late position), re-steal (occasionally), and squeeze. Of course, when you come across that extremely strong hand, you can even try the all-in. However, do avoid going for all-in from small blind position when you have medium-sized chips stack.
Late Stage Strategy when you have Large Stack
It is not always that you end up with a large stack during the late stage of poker tournament. So, when you actually manage to do so, you need to make the most of it. You can probably be open to all the options that are available when you play with average stack. In fact, you can try out these play options more aggressively.
You only have to be wary of players who also have large stacks like you. For competing against them, you need to play with extremely strong hands.
Adopt to the Situation
The later stages of an MTT in poker are where the gameplay time goes very slow since you will find a lot of players playing with extra caution or taking time for their hand decision. It is not just you who wants to avoid losing the chance of being on the final table for showdown – every table who has come this far to the late stage desire the same thing. So, there would be hardly any opponent who will throw caution to the wind before the bubble bursts, unless forced to (due to a very small stack size).
Do not miss out opportunities to play premium hands that can possibly increase your chips stack considerably. Once you are inside the bubble, choose those good spots for which you can play and even show a little aggression to increase your stack size. At this stage of the tournament before the final table, avoid going for flushes or straights. Also, do not even think of experimenting with bad bluffs. You may get away with bad bluffs in the early stage or middle stage of the poker tournament, but you are likely to fail at the late stage.
Be Calculative with Coin Flipping Possibility
Risk is thrown out of the window once you reach the late stage. But, there is still scope for flipping a coin to give you a chance at winning. Do you fancy risking everything on a coin flip? You need not do that. Instead, you can look for forming significant edges such as 75/25, 65/35, and so on, and be satisfied with a few flips. This can be the difference between targeting coin flips and winding up in a particular coin flip!
Considering ICM Impact
The Independent Chip Model (ICM) strategy is slightly different at various stages of the poker tournament. During the bubble, the pressure of ICM is maximum. It releases as soon as the bubble is over as the next few pay jumps are frequent and smaller. This ICM pressure starts to build again as the final table stage approaches (with rise in pay jumps). This means you have a short time window immediately after the bubble to go aggressive and try and build up your chips stack in a short period of time.
Your strategy will determine whether you are giving yourself enough chances to make it to the final table and win the poker tournament. It is not just about survival, but also about building a decent chips stack so that you can have the liberty to play a bit freely. A fearless attitude with calculated approach and patience on demand is the combination that can help you sail through the late stage of the tournament and reach the final table for showdown.
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