Final Tables

Jan 15, 2021

The Final Table

So you’ve outlasted the huge majority of a field and have only a few opponents left to capture the large first place prize and any trophies that may come with it. This experience is what draws most of us to the wonderful and painful game of tournament poker. Each final table is a unique beast in terms of payouts, structure, field size, and opponents. In order for us to perform our best and (most importantly) maximize our win rates, it is crucial to understand the differences in final tables, what factors are most crucial and how to analyze them so we can make the best decisions possible.

In my opinion there are a handful of different kinds of final tables.

Small field: Micro – Midstakes

Small field: High Stakes

Medium field: Micro – Midstakes

Medium field: High Stakes

Large field: Micro – Midstakes

Large field: High Stakes

Each one of the above has different subtypes of: Regular speed, Deep Stack, Turbo, Hyper Turbo, PSKO, and Turbo PSKO. Most of the tournament types in that list have even more adjustments to make depending upon whether the tournament is live or online. Field size and field archetype each have an important impact on our play as well. The smaller fields tend to be more top heavy in terms of payouts, which makes players tend to be more fearless. Large fields tend to have flatter payout structures but have many more buy-ins awarded to first, which makes players act a bit more cautious.

The main reason I make the distinction between Micro - Midstakes and High Stakes is the higher stakes versions of each of these tournaments tend to be made up of entirely professional players or fearless recreational players. This causes very specific and unique dynamics that don't really occur in the lower stakes.

For this post, I am going to focus on Micro - Midstakes final tables, and discuss the differences between fields, structures, and payouts.


Small Field (Less than 300 entries)

Most Small Field tournaments tend to have fairly top heavy payout structures. Here is an image of an example final table for a small field on an online site.

This was an $88 buy-in that had 145 entries. 27 places paid. The final table payouts are:

$2,568 = 22.3%
$1,757 = 15.1%
$1,287 = 11.1%
$870 = 7.5%
$638 = 5.5%
$493 = 4.25%
$394 = 3.4%y
$319 = 2.75%
$261 = 2.25%

Typical features for a payout structure in a Small Field tourney include: 1st place being 20% or greater of the total prize pool, 1st place prize being around 2 times that of 3rd place finisher, and 10x or greater of 9th place finisher. That makes the above tournament payout structure a somewhat top heavy payout.

In extremely top heavy payouts, 1st place’s payout will be greater than double that of 3rd place and greater than 12x that of 9th place. This is most common in progressive knockout tournaments or tournaments with exceptionally small fields.

In Small Field Microstakes tournaments you will tend to have exceptionally soft final tables where players are frequently more willing to play for a top finish. This is because in smaller fields it is more common for people to have made similarly sized final tables previously, which makes them less concerned about busting early. Players in micro stakes final tables also tend to have the least understanding and regard for ICM, which can mean that we get to apply less pressure as a bigger stack, and as a shorter stack people may call our jams significantly too wide.

For Small Field Midstakes final tables, you will often see a much higher percentage of professionals, and even the fun players are more likely to be concerned about pay jumps. This means that players will have a lot more regard and understanding for ICM applied to their decision making.

Large Field Tournaments – Microstakes

As I have mentioned, most large field tournaments tend to have flatter payout structures. Here is an image of an example final table for a large field on an online site.

This was an $11 buy-in that had 1505 entries with 234 places paid. The final table payouts are:

2,114 = 14%
1332 = 8.85%
956 = 6.6%
730 = 4.85%
579 = 3.85%
459 = 3.05%
353 = 2.35%
263 = 1.75%
196 = 1.3%

While 1st in this case is still worth about double 3rd place and 10x 9th place, it is a much less significant portion of the prize pool, coming in at only 14%.

There are two significant differences in how this final table will play out compared to a smaller field. First of all, for any player in this field a top finish is a significant amount of buy-ins and money. Additionally, due to the size of the field it is more likely that a good number of players at the table have never made the final table of a field this size, and therefore have little experience for this type of situation. This will cause most of our opponents to play extremely cautiously and be very focused on making pay jumps. They may play even tighter than what ICM theory may suggest.


Large field – Mid Stakes

I split this up from Micro Stakes as the dynamics on this FT will be different due to players on it being much more experienced on average as well as more varied types of players.

Your average player in these tournaments is very likely to be a professional with significant experience at similar types of final tables. The more recreational player types on this FT are likely to be significantly more worried about making pay jumps, as will some of the professionals as well due to the significant amount of money involved. This enables us to play in a very theory focused manner, and use ICM as much to our advantage as possible.


On especially large final tables it’s crucial to find the balance between over applying pressure on our opponents, and ensuring our own pay jumps in order to get a significant payout. Finding that perfect balance can lead to much greater profitability.

I hope this blogpost helps give you a better understanding of the different types of final tables that exist, and what dynamics to expect. In future videos we will look at additional scenarios as well as general theory concepts to help give you a better understanding of how to directly apply this information in order to maximize your edge.

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