With all of the different coaching platforms and training videos out there, it might feel like poker books have perhaps lost some of their appeal with poker fans. This has resulted in fewer titles over recent years. However, some poker players/authors aren’t easily discouraged, and Gareth James belongs in that select group.
His book, The Final Table, was on Gareth’s to-do list for a while, and then things lined up perfectly just at the right moment. The result is that aspiring tournament players across the globe have been gifted another poker strategy masterpiece.
As you can guess from the title, The Final Table is all about tournaments or, more specifically, about that last stage of any tournament, where there are only a few people standing between you and the coveted top spot.
James certainly doesn’t lack credentials as a player, so I was eager to read the book. While the topic was clear, I was curious to see how he approaches this extremely important segment of tournament play.
A Proper Tournament Textbook
If you’re looking for some light poker reading, this book isn’t it. Gareth James’ The Final Table feels more like a poker textbook designed to teach you everything you need to know about the final stage of any tournament. Some people may love this approach, and some may not, but it boils down to what you’re looking for. If your goal is to significantly improve your final table strategy, this book can definitely get you there.
What I really liked is that James makes no assumptions about his readers and thus makes sure the book is useful to everyone. The first part breaks down all the important theoretical concepts, such as ICM, risk premium, and bubble factor, offering detailed explanations and hand examples of each.
Even if you have no knowledge of poker theory and only play poker recreationally, you won’t feel lost reading this book. The first few sections set up the foundation for the lessons to follow, and you’ll be able to keep up.
At the same time there are a lot of examples and detailed calculations for different spots for more advanced players. These are useful on their own, but are also a great resource to help you come up with more examples to think about.
After laying down the groundwork, James continues to build upon it, combining ICM with postflop strategy, focusing on different board textures and situations involving different positions and stack sizes.
This is where things start to get more serious, as you’ll come across many tables, calculations, and breakdowns, and the only way you’ll profit is if you take the time to really read and understand them. Using a poker tool that lets you set up hands and play through them is probably a good idea here. It will allow you to visualize the concepts being discussed in the text, making it easier to remember the examples and making the learning process more engaging.
I was quite pleased to see that an entire segment of The Final Table was devoted to those final tables where you’re still not in the money. While this is not a situation that most players think of when discussing final tables, it happens quite often in small-field tournaments. So, if you happen to play a lot of these, this section will be very helpful.
Teaching Through Examples
There are many different approaches to teaching poker, and all of them have their good and bad sides. For his book, Gareth James decided to teach through examples of actual hands, breaking them down and offering solver-approved solutions for various situations.
You’ll get every segment of play covered in detail in its own section, from the start of the final table, with eight to ten players, all the way to the final skirmish. Every single example can help you learn something. However, this only works if you really apply yourself. Just skimming through the hand history and analysis will do you no good. There are a lot of numbers in there, so you will want to pause and really think about it all.
I don’t suggest trying to read The Final Table in one sitting. In fact, I don’t suggest trying to “read” it at all. Instead, I’d say it’s much better to treat this tome as a proper textbook. The first few chapters, can be read in one or two sittings. This will help get your fundamentals in order, especially if you don’t have a good theoretical poker background. Once the book moves on to actual examples, the best way to proceed is to take the time to go through a few hands and really think about what you’re reading.
You’ll find hundreds of hand charts and tables inside this book, and it’s impossible to memorize these in one or two sittings. Or, at least, it’s impossible for most people. If you happen to be someone who can do it, you probably have a very bright future in poker.
But even more than that, a methodical approach will help you develop a deeper understanding of the advice and suggestions make sense, even if they seem counter-intuitive at first. Developing a deep understanding of the concepts will serve you much better in the long run than mechanically memorizing some charts.
Should You Read The Final Table?
If you enjoy reading and learning poker through books, I’d argue that The Final Table is worth your time for the introductory section alone. Gareth James does an excellent job of explaining some crucial concepts that will definitely change the way you approach tournament final tables.
As for the rest of it, you can really pace your study however you want. The hand examples provided inside the book are “evergreen,” so they’ll be just as relevant a couple of months from now or even a year down the line.
You can always combine hands from different segments, too, if you want to gradually improve all aspects of your play (three-hand, five-handed, etc.) instead of focusing on just one area before moving to the next one.
If you’re looking for purely fun poker content, you won’t find much of that inside The Final Table. Gareth’s style is very detailed and methodical. But as a resource for learning to play final tournament tables, this book delivers in every way.