Final Table Part One: Why I got there

Strategy & Advice by Wes88 Posted

Let's get the brag out of the way, I finished 5th in Event 20 of the Foxwoods World Poker Finals series . One day tourney; 215 in the field; $300.00 buy in; 30,000 starting chips and 20 minute levels. Cashed for $3450 after about 12 hours of play. In my top three lifetime tourney cashes. Obviously I am very happy with both the result and how I played to get there but when you run deep you always wonder why you don't take it down.

I am going to put up two posts, one today and one in a few days. This one will focus on my own analysis of why I did well. The second will provide my thoughts on why I went our where I did. I am hoping that some this will either resonate with some of you so I can confirm my suspicions, or make no sense at all so I can understand aspects of both the success and the failure in the experience.

Why I did well in general . . .

1) Mental preparation, focus, and confidence. In a typical year I play maybe 6 sessions (tourney and/or cash) a year at Foxwoods or Mohegan, 2-4 more when I travel on business, and 2 four day poker intensive stints in Vegas. When I am in Vegas I cram in as much poker as possible and find it hard to maintain focus. For this tourney I really had targeted this event, thought a lot about what it would take to win, and went in more confident than I ever have. My wife jokingly asked me at 6am Sunday morning, as I was getting ready to make the hour and a half drive, "Do you feel lucky?" and dead straight I told her I did and thought I could win this one. There were no ready made excuses in my head about variance or having to dodge donks, or that tourney are not +ROI or that you have to win all your flips, or anything. Just thought I had a really good chance to do really well.

Why I did well getting into the money . . .

2) Paying attention to spots to increase your stack size, rather than paying attention to your cards. I managed to play a lot of pots in position against players who I felt like I could out play, who didn't have stacks to really hurt me. I am well aware of that there is luck involved in this very statement. Maybe I could have gotten unplayable cards or lousy flops in these positions, or gotten moved to a table where I couldn't get position on the donkeys, but part of my success was being aware of my strategy (position, opponent skill, opponent stack) and being able to let hands go when they didn't pan out. When I got to the final table I remember thinking gee I won all my flips and all my 80/20 hands held, but that's simply not true. It only felt that way. After the fact I remembered a specific hand in which I jammed a 10 - 8 - 8 flop with 6 -6 against a total donk to my left who had raised the pre and c-bet the flop. I knew he had a big ace (he had A-K), I knew I was ahead (I was), and I knew he would call off the rest of his stack (he did). What I didn't know was that he would counterfeit me with running jacks, but I totally shock it off because I knew my play we friggin perfect and I felt like I owned him and whole rest of the table. I never said word but I was smiling on the inside because I knew I was executing flawlessly on a really good plan.

3) Patience coming from awareness of pot to stack ratio and bet sizing. At any point in the tourney I could tell you exactly how my big blinds I had in my stack at the beginning of the hand and how I was trying to shape the pot relative to my stack size and hand strength. Whether I had 150 BB or 30 BB or 60 BB made a huge difference in how I played the exact same hands. Everyone finds themselves feeling short stacked during a tourney and looking for that hand to shove, but I think that being aware of the ebb and flow of stack size in terms of BBs for the entire tournament makes you more patient. I found myself thinking at some point, wow I've built myself back up to 50 BBs which is a pretty good position in this tourney and gives me a little more room to control the pot size pre-flop and outplay guys post flop. This is a very different mental thought than, my gosh I just won a big pot, I better put these chips in play and use them as weapon, or I better not donk these off by acting like a maniac now.

4) Picking spots on both sides of the bubble. I don't know why or how I was able to do this, but both sides of the bubble is a place where I feel comfortable. My typical pattern, no matter how well or lucky I play early in the tourney is that I am short (or feel short) on the bubble. I am one of those guys folding, or defensively shoving all with high probability made hands and not getting called, to get into the money. Being tight and having a tight table helps with this. In general, I just wait for some other short stack to have a hand they feel they have to play and that they end up losing on. I guess I am confident in two things: 1) that my shove range is narrower than any other short stack's and so I am less likely to be the one that variance kicks in the ass on the bubble, and 2) that even short stacked after the bubble that I am capable chipping back up.

I feel like part one goes against probabilistic poker theory in which I believe (i.e., that there are hands that I should shove +EV that I don't because unlike cash games you can't reload). Maybe the tourney chip value (ICM??? which I know nothing about) explains this mathematically but the reality is that I am scared. Rationally scared perhaps, but scared nonetheless. As for my confidence or capacity for short stacked play post bubble,I know its there and it helps me be more confident staying short through the bubble, but honestly this is not something I have systematically analyzed or studied.

Next time, the run up to the final table (more success) and the bust out (failure).


  1. This is an excellent post. Thanks for detailing your thoughts behind your success, and especially, congratulations on a big score! Everything you said sounds spot on from my experience too. Well said!

  2. Well said! I've found that one of my big leaks was similar to point # 2. Previously, I was giving up on pots too soon based on my hole cards. I try to never do that now, and consider pot/stack sizes, position, how late it is in the blind level, etc. when making my fold decision. We'd all like to be the TAG player at the table, but the fact is, you don't really have that luxury in a tournament.

  3. Congratulations on a winnig post and result. Looking forward to your next post. Will be at Foxwoods myself next weekend.

  4. well thought out, well written, very interesting----winning, or cashing takes a lot more mental prep than the ordinary player will ever know

  5. Phenomenally insightful post. This has made me reexamine my tournament prep.