Attacking the Final-Table Pay Scale

The Feature Table

So you've fought your way through donks and pros alike to find yourself at the final table. By now you should have figured out who's been there before and who's in over their head.

Those players in over their heads are scared money. As the hip-hoppers say, "Scared money don't make money." When players play scared they play tight; when players play tight, they become exploitable.

The Pay Table

When you get to the final table it is a good idea to take a look at the pay table. Chances are the payout structure is steep and there's a minibubble built into each pay jump.

As a good player it is your job to punish any bubble you come across, and at a final table there are often nine of them!

Let's take a look at the 2008 WSOP Main Event final-table payout structure as an example.

  • 1st: $9,119,517
  • 2nd: $5,790,024
  • 3rd: $4,503,352
  • 4th: $3,763,515
  • 5th: $3,088,012
  • 6th: $2,412,510
  • 7th: $1,769,174
  • 8th: $1,286,672
  • 9th: $900,670

As you can see, first place makes 10 times more than ninth, but that isn't the only large jump. In a tournament of this size every pay jump is going to be huge because of the sheer dollar amount involved. Thus, every single jump is going to be a bubble.


First place is the real money spot.

When hundreds of thousands of dollars extra are tacked onto the next payout every time a player gets knocked out, it's only natural for some players to tighten up their play to try and squeak into the next level.

As a good player you know that when other players tighten up, you loosen up.

It's up to you to identify those players who are tightening up their game. Because when they do, they're going to stop putting up a fight.

You know that scared players are going to be unwilling to risk all their chips in any marginal spot. Thus they are often going to fold over and over again in the face of your aggression. They are just rocking it up, hoping to make it to the next level.

These tight players are never going to risk any chips unless they believe they are a huge favorite. You can exploit this by raising their limps, calling their raises in position and bluffing them out on later streets - generally just being a bully.

Your Fellow Exploiters Are Exploitable Too

Now of course you likely aren't going to be the only player abusing these bubbles. Chances are you aren't the only good player at the table. You need to be able to identify both the players who tighten up and those who loosen up.


Those players who loosen up will be stealing blinds and punishing the tight players just as you are. Since you know they are going to be playing looser than normal, you can in turn exploit that as well.

You can start three-betting their steal-raises, since you know they are going to be raising light a lot of the time - thus they will be forced to fold their steals to you.

Well It's a Half Past Four and I'm Shifting Gears

When you play an aggressive style your opponents are going to pick up on it eventually. You can't just raise every time it's folded to you and reraise every time someone raises. It may work for a while but eventually your opponents will adapt and stack you.

There needs to be a balance to your play - you need to be able to shift gears. Just when they think you're a maniac, tighten up and start only raising your good hands again. Once they have adjusted to your tight play you can open your game back up.

Always be cognizant of your image. You need to know how your opponents view your game because ultimately it will affect how they play their game.


Scott Montgomery
You can't count on anyone but yourself to figure it out, so be sure to observe the table.


Ultimately the pay jumps are just minibubbles. Treat them like you would any other bubble, and pay very close attention to your opponents' play.

Some players are going be unaffected by any pay jumps and are going to play the exact same game no matter what. Others may tighten up to a ridiculous degree.

You can't count on anyone but yourself to tell you who is going to do what, so observe the table.

Exploit those players looking to just move up and exploit the others looking to exploit them ... and last but not least, make sure you're not exploitable yourself. Poker is an easy game!

Follow all the action and see who takes Dan's advice at the biggest final table in history - the 2008 WSOP Main Event final table - in our Live Tournaments section starting Sunday.

More strategy articles from Dan Skolovy:

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