Today I’m going to talk about the bubble. Playing the bubble in a MTT is the most important part of the tournament, even greater than final table play. This is because your bubble play is what will launch you into your final table position. Relying on post bubble, pre final table, all in wars is what will sink your tournament winning dreams, and I’m here to tell you why. For reference, the bubble is the period right before the remaining field enters the money. If you’re in a 500 person tournament, it will usually pay around 50 people or 10%, for those keeping track at home.
The bubble period is the time to make your moves. If you wait until you feel safe after you’ve made the money you’ll be close to committing tournament suicide. I’m not saying that having all-in wars post bubble will never work out for you, but it severely decreases your odds of winning when you’re putting your stack at risk more than once during that period. Let’s remember, we want to be winning the most uncontested pots, not the biggest that force a showdown and call on lady luck to hang on. The bubble period is the period where the bottom 75% of the remaining field tightens more than any other period. So, essentially we’re taking our strategy from when antes entered and juicing it a bit. We want to be just a little more aggressive knowing that the table is a little tighter than usual. This is a good time to reassess the table you’re playing. Identify short stacks who are trying to limp into the money and put extra pressure on them. Ideally you will have short stacks to your left so you can raise them off their blinds repeatedly.
When attacking short stacks during this period, remember they don’t always lie down, sometimes they fight back with all-in re-raises. Knowing this, you want to make sure if you’re stealing with rags against these players that your raise doesn’t commit you to call the all-in in case they re-pop. If this is the case you will have to risk a nice little chunk of your stack with junk, and you’ll also expose your low requirements for raising, which will undoubtedly allow for more people to play back at you moving forward. You do not want this to happen.
In the situation where you are one of the shorter stacks. Do the opposite of those who pray they will limp into the money by folding. This is the time to be shoving your stack around repeatedly, picking up the beautiful pre-flop pot over and over. Then, when you finally get called, you’ll most likely be no worse than 40/60, which you will gladly take to put you back above the chip average. If you’re short, you should be shoving almost every time you sit cutoff to button when it folds to you. This is an important aspect to remember in this situation and every situation where you’re raising pre-flop. When you are the first to enter the pot, and do so with a raise, there’s a greater chance of winning an uncontested pot, based on having less opponents (losing the people who’ve folded before you). This concept is referred to as “first-in vigor”.
The goal upon the completion of the bubble period is to have picked up the pre-flop pot a healthy amount of times, and maybe bonked out a short stack or two. If you were short going in, you want to be back above chip average once the bubble bursts. Once the bubble bursts, the field cracks the money, you’ll see the short stacks who limped over this imaginary line shoving their stacks in like you should have been doing before them. At this point, you want to change your game into the tight zone, while you watch people frog around with their stacks. This is a common theme in the game; you want to be doing the opposite of what the table is doing for most of the tournament. If the table is tight, be aggressive. If the table is aggressive, be conservative. If you pick up a big hand like AA or KK I almost always suggest limping during this period, looking for a short stack to make a move, or someone to be stealing the pre-flop pot, in which case you will gladly re-pop for most of your stack if not all of it. The caution to be heeded here is that if you choose this strategy and the pot limps, that you remember you’re a limper, not the aggressor, and play accordingly, knowing that someone could’ve flopped two pair on a raggedy board. Please do not stack off after playing so patiently and correctly up to this point. I don’t mean you should check/call down, but if you get raised at any point during the hand, proceed with caution. Obviously each board warrants its own situations and sometimes it will be clear someone is shoving with top pair and you’ve nailed them, but sometimes you’ll be calling off your chips after limping in with AA wondering how you ended up on the rail and not in the chip lead. It is very dependent on your table’s personality, and this will always be greater than what hand you hold.
Hopefully at this point you’re sitting with a top 5% chip stack and are able to enjoy the short stack fireworks, while waiting to pick one of them off when you pick up a big hand. I’ll end this section with one of the worst mistakes I see players make. At this point, there is no reason to risk your healthy stack with AK. While it may sky rocket you into the chip lead, it can end your tournament quite quickly. Think about it this way. If you hold AK and they hold A-X, you’re 70-30. This is your BEST CASE scenario. If they hold any pair it’s 50-50. Do you really want to be risking your stack with those odds after all the time you’ve put into the tournament? Especially considering you know how to pick up uncontested pre-flop pots worth 5-10% of your stack. Shipping your stack with AK here is a mathematical blunder, and is not understood by most players, don’t be one of them. Air mail it with AK only if the all-in you call or move into is around 50% or less of your stack. This is a rule of thumb I’d recommend following.
Next time I’ll be discussing playing shorthanded and moving on to the final table bubble. Taking a step back and examining each part of this series thus far there is a common theme that should be picked up. This style will teach you to play poker, not the cards. You will make mistakes when you start playing situations as opposed to your cards, which I’m sure you’ve been doing since you started playing. This is ok, there is a learning curve to reading situations, but this will improve your decision making and instincts indefinitely.
Please leave any questions in the comments section, and thank you again for your support!