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Final Table Puzzles, Pt. 1: Thinking in the Face of the Big Shove

Playing on PokerStars

Come, walk with me through a final table.

It happened Sunday morning, an ordinary $30 turbo, six-max on PokerStars. The kind you register to fill that extra table slot. I came into the final table with a huge chip lead on account of running unconscionably hot.

Once we were in the money, I shoved {a-}{7-}, got called by {q-}{q-} and {a-}{10-}, and scooped. Unconscionably. Hot.

But the deck’s kindness can reverse itself at any time, and once we reached the final table I was made to work for it thereafter. Let’s review that toil, starting with a difficult decision soon after the final table began.

A Raise, Then a Push

Once we lost the sixth-place player, here were the stacks in question:

Hero (UTG): 55 BB
Cutoff (CO): 47 BB
Button (BTN): 20 BB
Small Blind (SB): 19.5 BB
Big Blind (BB): 22 BB

And here were the remaining payouts:

1st: $2,205
2nd: $1,607
3rd: $1,208
4th: $840
5th: $630

On the first hand of five-handed play I am dealt {a-}{10-}-offsuit, min-raise, and face a shove from the BTN. The others step aside. My opponent is a regular, which leads me to believe (among other things) that {10-}{3-} is not in this player’s shoving range.

So I assign the player the following range of possible hands:

  • {a-}{k-} down to {a-}{2-}-suited)
  • {a-}{k-} through {a-}{10-}-offsuit)
  • pairs from {q-}{q-} to {2-}{2-}
  • {k-}{q-}
  • {k-}{j-}-suited


I think our villain would three-bet smaller with some nut set of hands. This range may be wide enough to include {10-}{10-} and higher pairs plus {a-}{k-}, but I cannot be sure about that. Many regulars in this situation induce with a wider range than they should in theory.

Giving my opponent credit, or hedging if you like, I took out {a-}{a-} and {k-}{k-}, but kept those other strong hands.

Removing Flat-Calls

Now the BTN also might have flat-called with some of those hands, such as suited hands like {a-}{10-}, {a-}{j-}, {k-}{j-}, and {j-}{10-}. To solve this problem as we work out the player’s range, I’d point out two things.

First, if {j-}{10-}-suited flat-calls but isn’t in the shoving range we’re assigning, that does not perturb our calculation.

Next, look back at those stacks in the blinds. This is a very precarious position from which to flat-call. Indeed hands like {a-}{a-} or {k-}{k-} might be the best flat-calls and nothing else because of the prospect of a three-bet squeeze coming.

My central argument would be that this regular will recognize that some hands that I benefit from having in a shoving range when I hold {a-}{10-} — hands like {a-}{9-}-{a-}{2-}-suited and {k-}{q-}-offsuit, for example — will be folding or shoving because flatting is visibly precarious.

A Changing Landscape

So now that we have our opponent’s range, we can plug this situation into ICMizer’s future game simulator which in turn tells us this is essentially a break-even call, dollar-wise.

Of my four opponents, this player is the second best. If I fold I will have a similar stack, more or less, to the CO player on my left. If I call and lose, I’ll be down to 35 BB, and I’ll still have an advantage on the two blinds to my right. If I call and win, I’ll have the clear big stack at the table and the opportunity to wreak havoc. The player on my left will no longer enjoy parity with me.

I think this is close.

We are not going to be making a huge mistake either way, in all likelihood. I think my options are going to largely remain intact when I lose. I don’t have a positional advantage to maintain with a fold, but I can inaugurate a reign of terror if I call and win. I think that clinches it.

I called, my opponent had {k-}{q-}-offsuit, and I continued running well above expectation.

In the next part we’ll look at some postflop situations I found myself in as play became short-handed.

Gareth Chantler is a professional poker player who encourages you to check out the interviews, videos, promotions, and strategy articles at the Full Tilt Blog.

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