Stakes and Ladders

Stakes and Ladders

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Always 'play to win' or is it ok to ladder? We asked the pros.

Should we always “play to win” or is it sometimes right to sit back and ladder? We asked the pros…

Peter Eastgate

Before I played the World Series of Poker Main Event final table, I had a very good conversation with another Danish high-stakes player, Albert Iverson, about trying to squeeze up the money ladder. That’s in every competent tournament player’s mind, but the final table of the Main Event is so different to any other final table because the money you can earn there is life-changing.

Winning the EPT is obviously life-changing because you can get sponsored, but it's only $1million; here it was $9milllion and $5million for second, so squeezing your way up the money ladder really matters.


I was trying to focus on squeezing my way into the top five, securing a $3m win, but that basically meant that my strategy was to not three-bet queens or kings, just trying to limit the variance.

I was either three-bet bluffing, or three-betting aces. It never became that difficult where I had to choose.

When I was raising hands, they were folding to my c-bets quite often, and I was connecting quite well, so I wasn't in spots where I was connecting with second pair all the time and where I had many mediocre hands. I either had very strong hands, or no hand.

Billy “B8chatz” Chattaway

Having survived hours to make a final table, a professional player will always look to maximise profits. The survival mentality needn’t change on the final table. Rarely is a tournament won when there’s three left; you must get heads up. Laddering to get to the heads up battle is one option.


When facing an erratic player who is continuously raising, an optimum strategy may be to avoid confrontation, hoping he eliminates the competition, with each bust out increasing our prize money.

Old-school short-stack strategy suggests that playing the tightest at the table is the best option, avoiding risk and hoping for money bumps while conserving what remaining stack you do have.

Sometimes you can crush a final and take out opponents one by one, other times you may have to be smarter and duck and dive to ensure you finish as high as possible. Poker is not all about the glory of first place; some people need results to feed their families.

If you come to the final as a short stack, you can warrant laddering to a third-place finish and be content.

If you come in as a middle stack, you can justify waiting for the short stacks to drop before taking any unnecessary risks. Avoiding early confrontations and securing a few money bumps before increasing aggression when short-handed is a sound final table strategy, in my opinion.

Jeff Kimber

I think it’s easy to say “I play for the win” and “I don’t even look at anything other than first prize”, but in reality it’s not like that. There are all sorts of circumstances that mean laddering is the correct strategy, at least until those circumstances change – be it the stack sizes, where some guys are left with one or two big blinds, or one or two stacks are massive compared to the average; the prize structure, which could change with any deals; or the tournament structure, where imminent blinds raising could see some stacks come under more pressure without you doing anything.


Also, while it’s fine to say that first prize is the only one worth having, I think there’s something to be said for locking up a decent payday before taking extra risks. This has the added benefit that playing tight at the start of a final table gives you a solid enough image to get busy as play becomes short-handed, as long as you can recognise this and have the ability to change gears.

Andreas Hoivold

To ladder or not to ladder depends on a few things, and stack size, table aggression and prize money are the most important factors. If you have a small stack – 15 bbs or less – when the rest of the table have bigger stacks, laddering is not really a good idea. The other players will “collude” to see that you bust first.

If you have a middling stack and there are a lot of small stacks and a few big ones, it’s much better to ladder, and if you have a big stack with very aggressive players who are likely to move all-in every time you raise, you should be careful and wait for some of the others to knock each other out before getting involved.


The payout structure is also important if you have a small bankroll. If you are at the final table in a big tourney and the money is important to you, laddering can be very tempting. Just be careful that you don’t get eaten up without ever having a chance of getting up in the pay spots.

Julian Thew

I don’t have enough fingers and thumbs to count the number of times I’ve tried to close out a final table from the moment we all sat down. Fortunately, after many great chances and big stacks were frittered away, I finally recognised that there was a crucial element missing from my game plan.

I like to call it common sense; the ability to see the big picture, to be able to tiptoe your way around a final table, coupled with the patience not to take on every plus-EV spot; to ladder up a few places until you’re four- or five-handed and the game is really on.

Trust me, we’ve all heard the old “you can't win it on day one” line, but another piece of advice from yours truly would be that you can’t win it when you’re one of nine players either. Employ some savvy and ladder it home.


To read exclusive strategy and features from Peter, Billy, Jeff, Andreas, Julian and many more top professionals, head to .

Winning is your choice.

Tags: Peter Eastgate, Julian Thew, Andreas Hoivold, Jeff Kimber, Billy Chattaway