How to play the money bubble of a poker tournament

money bubble

Poker tournaments can be fantastic for making money due to how they are structured. Everyone buys in for the same amount and the eventual champion takes a far larger prize in relation to that buy-in, sometimes 100 times more.

The very nature of tournament poker means you will not win many of them. There are some players, particularly those who play large field multi-table tournaments in the online poker world, that may go their entire career without ever finishing in first place. It is just how it is. That’s poker, as they often say.

A solid poker tournament player will reach the money places relatively regularly. Dozens of factors come into play, including field size, buy-in, and blind structure, but you should be looking to finish in the money in between 15-20 percent of the tournaments you enter.

It should be quite obvious that not all of your cashes will be for large amounts. Often, you will scrape into the money and walk away with a little more than your buy-in to show for your time and effort. The bulk of the prize money is reserved for the final table, as you would expect, with the top three finishing positions usually taking home the lion’s share of the total prize pool.

An example of poker tournament payouts

Let us take a look at the Sunday Warm-Up that ran at PokerStars on August 11th. A field of 768 players bought in for $215 and created a $153,600 prize pool that was shared among the top 125 finishers.

A min-cash in this particular tournament was worth $415 with a final table appearance yielding $2,007. The eventual champion took home $26,096, which is a huge difference between both those previous amounts. Add up the top three prizes and you will come to a figure of $58,777, or more than a third of the total prize money. It should be blatantly obvious that you should be aiming to finish in the top three spots of any tournament you play. One way to do this is to approach the money bubble in the correct way.

What is the money bubble?

The money bubble is a term coined to describe when the tournament is approaching the number of remaining player who will receive prize money. If 125 players are paid, like in our example above, the exact bubble would be when 126 players remain because one more elimination pops the bubble and everyone else gets paid. In reality, the money bubble is longer because players change their playing style when the money places are within sight.

You have a chance of accumulating a lot of chips on the money bubble by abusing the fact your opponents are desperate to show a return on their investment. What you will often notice is players suddenly switching to a very tight style of play, become more passive, or a combination of both. These are the players you want to pick on and effectively bully.

Your task of abusing the bubble will be made much easier if you have a decent stack at your disposal. Being short stacked is far from ideal because even if you move all-in and your opponent calls you and loses the hand, you are not going to cause their stack much damage. This is something you need to focus on during bubble play.

Who to target on the money bubble

Ideally, you will target players who have a similar-sized stack to your own, or perhaps one that is larger, but not so big that they could call you without fear. Medium-sized stacks have far more to lose than the big or short stacks as they are currently in a position where they could probably sail into the money without the need for much action. This makes them the perfect target for attacking on the bubble because they are far less likely to give you any resistance without having a strong hand.

Raise them when you have position on them, play aggressively once the first community cards are dealt and you will often see them duck out of the hand and hand over their chips. Do be aware, however, that if a similarly sized stack to yours begins playing back, it is quite likely they have the goods.

If you plan on bullying short stacks, I would suggest not raising with a hand that you are not prepared to call an all-in bet with. Short stacks have the all-in move in their arsenal and losing six-to-ten big blinds a handful of times can see you yourself become in the unenviable position of being short stacked. Should the short stack show they are passive and are letting almost all of their hands go, that is they are simply praying to last long enough for a min-cash, attack them relentlessly.

Who to avoid when on the bubble

Try to avoid tangling with the big stacks, especially those who are the tournament’s chip leader. Not only do they have enough room to maneuver should they want to call you, but they have also likely been running well to accumulate such a big stack and nobody wants to lock horns with someone Lady Luck is shining on and who has enough chips to undo your hard work.

Chipping up on the bubble is a tactic the best poker tournament players employ. While it is true that you will sometimes lose a lot of chips by being aggressive, and you will sometimes actually bubble yourself, the time you make it into the money with a big stack and an image of a crazy person far outweigh the negatives as you will have given yourself the best chance to finish in those top three finishing positions.

Matthew Pitt

Matthew Pitt

If it’s something you can play online for real money, chances are Matthew knows a bit about it. He’s been writing about slots, craps and poker for the better part of the last decade. He’s written for PokerNews, PartyPoker and many other respected online gambling websites during the last nine years.


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