Tournament Poker Debate: When to Combine the Field to One Final Table

Final table seating structure has been a hot topic recently following a controversy at the WPT Venetian event. World Poker Tour Executive Tour Director Matt Savage polled his followers on when nine-handed tournaments should combine to one table, and the responses from the poker community were quite interesting.

poker tournament final table

Most poker tournaments combine to a final table at nine players, some cram in a 10th player. (Image: Twitter)

Following his eighth-place bust out in the $5,000 WPT Venetian earlier this month, Jared Jaffee took to Twitter to complain about the eight-handed structure. Savage decided that, with eight players remaining, to split the tables, putting four players at each table, even though the tournament was played eight-handed leading up to that point.

Jaffee was irritated by this decision and believed one table was the right call for the remainder of the tournament. He lashed out at Savage, the WPT, and the Venetian for allowing this to happen. But the tournament rules permit the tournament director to make that call.

That sparked some debate within the poker community on social media. Most poker players sided with Jaffee and were critical of the split-table move. Savage told CardsChat News following the WPT Venetian tournament that he actually prefers Jaffee’s suggestion, but didn’t want to change the structure in the middle of the tournament to appease certain players. But he did poll his Twitter followers on what the correct move is in a nine-handed event.

According to nearly 900 voters, 72.3% believe a nine-handed tournament shouldn’t play down to a final table until nine players are left. So, when the field is down to 10, those who voted “9” say play should resume with five players at two separate tables. The remaining 27.7% of voters argue a 10-player final table is appropriate, with six and five players separated at 11-handed.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions around the world, most poker tables are limited to a maximum of eight players. That has temporarily changed the way in which Savage and others structure an event. In the past, nine-handed play was the norm in most events, and 10-handed for massive events such as the WSOP Colossus. One day, we’ll go back to the old way once the pandemic is behind us.

Most tournaments have an unofficial final table and an official final table. In most cases, the unofficial final table begins when the field contains one player more than the designated official final table. In the case of the World Poker Tour, the unofficial final table typically begins with seven players, as every Main Tour event final table, including the televised tournaments, is played with six players.

Hating on 10-handed poker

Numerous poker players did more than just vote on Savage’s poll. They also shared their thoughts on the issue with the poker Twitter world. Ryan Riess, the 2013 WSOP Main Event champion, argues that “10 handed poker shouldn’t exist” — a popular sentiment among those who despise playing poker at a crowded table.

“Idc what matt does w 2-9max fts or whatever as long as there is no 10 handed poker,” Joseph Cheong, one of the top tournament players in the world, said in response to the Riess comment.

“The only question I’ve asked myself when I see these polls is ‘what is more unnatural/out of the norm to play,’ and I always think it’s the short handed version (5/5, 4/3), not the one with the extra player at unofficial FT. I can see how people think that’s backwards though,” DJ MacKinnon wrote.

Valentin Vornicu, who ranks second all-time with 12 WSOP Circuit rings, writes: “5/5 is not unbalanced. 4/3 is really bad on 6 handed. I’d go with 5/5 then 9 ppl ft, and 4/4 -> 7 ppl ft on 6 handed tournaments.”

As for Savage himself? He told CardsChat News he prefers the final table in a nine-handed tournament to begin at nine, and 10-handed play split into two even tables. What have we learned today? The poker community despises 10-handed poker.

Written by
Jon Sofen
Semi-pro poker player with 17 years experience on the felt and more than five years working as professional poker media.

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