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Applying Final Table Pressure With the Big Stack

Krzysztof Chmielowski
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  • At a final table, stack sizes greatly affect the significance of the shoving-versus-calling decision.

  • Two 888poker LIVE Bucharest Main Event final table hands highlight the importance of stack sizes.

At the 888poker LIVE Bucharest Main Event earlier this month, Andrei Rocolta of Romania topped a 469-entry field to earn the title and €71,042 first prize, including besting Krzysztof Chmielowski of Poland heads-up to win.

Just before the heads-up battle, Chmielowski spoke with PokerNews about a hand he'd played earlier at the final table, one in which he four-bet jammed preflop with {A-Spades}{Q-Spades} over Marian Strachinescu's reraise.

As shown on the final table live stream, his Romanian opponent tanked for a long time before folding his hand, and as viewers were able to see Strachinescu had folded a hand of equal value to Chmielowski's — {A-Hearts}{Q-Hearts}.

To recount the action, there were actually six players left and the blinds were 30,000/60,000 (ante 10,000) when Chmielowski opened for 125,000 from the hijack seat. It folded to Strachinescu who three-bet to 380,000 from the button. The blinds stepped aside, then after taking long enough to spend one of his 30-second time bank chips, Chmielowski jammed all in.

In the video Chmielowski talks about having had some history with Strachinescu that factored into his viewing the button three-bet as a possible steal attempt. He refers to ace-queen suited as being for him — in this situation — a hand "too strong to fold." He also describes the hand (again, for him, in this particular spot) as too strong with which just to call.

Chmielowski also notes Strachinescu's chip stack, which was undoubtedly the most important factor behind his decision to push preflop as he did.

After making his three-bet, Strachinescu had but 1.1 million behind, with Chmielowski having Strachinescu outchipped. In fact, at the time Chmielowski had the entire table well covered. With more than 7 million, Chmielowski had just over half the chips in play with the other five players all hovering between 750,000 and 1.9 million.

That imbalance of chips introduced added pressure due to Strachinescu's reluctance to bust out in sixth with so many other similarly-sized stacks sitting around him. For more on this situation and the relevance of "ICM" (the "Independent Chip Model"), see the following articles:

There's at least one other factor relevant to the Chmielowski-Strachinescu hand worth mentioning here, one that made Strachinescu's fold all the more interesting to watch on the live stream.

Applying Final Table Pressure With the Big Stack 101
Marian Strachinescu

Strachinescu actually used up a couple of time bank chips before deciding to let go of his {A-Hearts}{Q-Hearts}, agonizing over the decision quite a bit before he did. But just a few minutes before he was the short stack open-raising all in for 765,000 with {K-Clubs}{K-Spades} from under the gun, and when it folded around to chip leader Chmielowski in the small blind he didn't need much time at all before making the call.

What did Chmielowski have? {A-Clubs}{Q-Clubs}.

Chmielowski's big stack made calling a short stack's shove with ace-queen a much easier decision for him than the one Strachinescu would face moments later while holding the exact same hand. And after the board came eight-high and Chmielowski lost the pot, he wasn't affected all that much, the chips he lost being much less consequential to him than the ones Strachinescu gained. (Strachinescu would go on to finish third just behind Chmielowski.)

Having the initiative can be be important, which is why with hands like ace-queen suited at final tables it's often better to be the one making the last bet and pushing all in rather than the one calling off a stack.

But at a final table, having the chip advantage and thus the leverage to add further pressure on others is even more important. One way that difference manifests itself has to do with how players approach that decision between shoving and calling a shove.

For a short stack it's much more preferable to be the one making the all-in bet (and thus adding valuable fold equity). But to the big stack the difference between shoving and calling a shove can be much less significant, as these two hands help illustrate.

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