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The Bubble of a Poker Tournament

How to Use Fear of Busting Before the Money to Improve Your Results

There is literally nothing worse than finishing on the bubble in a poker tournament, where all the hard work you’ve put in has gone to waste, especially when you’re so close to making some cash. Therefore, your strategy around the bubble is arguably the most important part of a poker tournament, and can be the difference between being a winning or losing tournament player.

Strangely, your strategy around the bubble can be completely different based upon whether you are playing a sit and go single table tournament or a multi-table tournament. In this guide, we look at the two different tournament types and explain your ideal strategy for both.

Single Table Tournament Bubble Strategy

Your average sit and go will pay the top 3 players, so the bubble takes place when there are 4 players left. The strategy to employ will change based upon the stack size.

Large Stack

If you have a large stack in comparison to the other players at the table you can afford to be aggressive. The player you can be most aggressive against is the one with the second largest stack, as they will not want to go to showdown and risk finishing 4th if they have a healthy stack. You can shove over these players regularly and they’ll literally only make a stand with a monster holding. Even if they do call, you won’t be out of the tournament and if you do manage to win the hand, you’re in amazing shape. Against the shorter stacks, you can be aggressive too, especially if they have a stack size of between 5 and 10 big blinds. If their stack moves below 5 big blinds, you might want to be a bit more choosy, as they are more likely to call, as they’ll be past the point of no return.

Mid stack

As a mid stack player at this point, you can be aggressive against the smaller stacks, but like the large stack players, you have to be careful when these short stackers go too low. Only get in a tangle with the large stack with a premium hand like AA, KK and QQ. There is a huge premium in making the cash in a sit and go, so there are times when you find a fold in these situations with hands like AK or JJ.

Small Stack

Small stack play can be the trickiest of all on the bubble of a sit and go. If you are small but not the smallest, you can aim to play it safe and hope the smaller stack goes before you. However, if you are the smallest stack of all, you’ll have to go on the attack. As the small stack, you’ll invariably have 10 big blinds or less, so any time you play a hand, you’ll have to go all in. Of course, having enough chips to do the other stacks some damage does make a difference to how aggressive you can be.

Multi Table Tournament Bubble Strategy

The pay-out structure of a multi table tournament is very different to a sit and go. In a sit and go, the difference in pay out between finishing 3rd and 4th is exactly the same as the difference between finishing 1st and 2nd. However, in a multi-table tournament, the differences in the pay outs rise the higher you finish. If you finish just inside the cash, you’ll win a much smaller amount than the eventual winner will, so the aim should always be to try and win the tournament.

So, whereas in a sit and go, your main aim is to make the cash and then try and win the tournament, in an MTT your aim should always be win the tournament. Many players make the mistake of using a similar strategy in an MTT by tightening up around the bubble. This can be a mistake and there are two reasons for this.

The first reason is that by tightening up around the bubble and simply aiming to make the cash might see you with a small stack after the bubble passes. While this might be satisfying in some respect, you’ve given yourself much less chance of winning one of the big prizes. By taking the opposite approach and opening up and playing more aggressively, sometimes you won’t make the cash, but on the times that you do, you’ll be in much better shape to challenge for the win.

The other reason it’s a mistake is that you will be so easy to play against. The players who are simply hanging on to make the cash can be spotted easily and players will be shoving over you with regularity, knowing you’ll fold.

Consider that you are in the final stages of 5 multi table tournaments. If you take the ‘I must cash’ approach you might well indeed cash in all 5, but each payout is likely to be a small one. Take the more aggressive approach and you may not cash in 2 or 3 of the tournaments, but the likely higher placing in the other tournaments will almost certainly make you more money due to the higher finishes.