Take Advantage of Weak Players on the Bubble

The money bubble is one of the most important times in any poker tournament. Learn more about this stage and how to play it.

Tournament poker has three clear stages: early, middle, and the end. Each requires different skills, but there are two special stages of a tournament where many players fall apart. How often do you see even the most seasoned of players ruin their tournament on the money bubble? Ditto, the final table bubble. There is something about these stages that cause so many players headaches.

The bubble and final table bubble is a crucial stage of any multi-table tournament. Bursting the money bubble means you go home empty-handed. Being the final table bubble means you miss out on a much larger prize; take a look at any tournament and the top three finishers win a massive percentage of the prize pool.

What Is Meant By The Bubble?

The term bubble refers to the period of time in a poker tournament when the prize money is approaching. For example, if you are playing an online poker tournament with 200 places paid, finishing 201st would be the bubble because it is the last position that does not award a payout.

Finishing exactly one place off the money is called the stone-cold bubble. Finishing near the payout places is sometimes referred to as bubbling, too.

The final table bubble is where you bust one seat away from reaching the final table. For example, finishing seventh when an MTT has a six-handed final table. Neither situation is nice, but it is better to burst the money bubble than the final table one. Why? Because you still win prize money if you pop the latter!

What To Look For As The Prizes Approach

Players fall into two main camps when prize money is on the horizon. They either tighten up and try to scrape into the money, or they play crazy and abuse those players trying to limp into the money. Guess which one is best? It depends, as do all poker-related scenarios.

Ari Engel, who recently won another WSOP bracelet this fall, once game me some advice about this crucial stage.

“Always try to bubble because your opponents simply will not let you.”

Engel has a point. Nobody wants to grind a poker tournament for several hours only to go home without a share of the spoils. It is better to bust after three or four hands because at least you have not wasted your time and effort.

Open your ranges and play more aggressively preflop and watch most of your opponents duck out the way. The money bubble is a great time to accumulate chips from players unwilling to play back without holding the nuts.

Figure out which players are desperate for a min-cash, and who is out to win. Players in the former group are perfect to bully because they are not interested in playing poker against you; they simply want to record an in-the-money-finish.

Be Aware of Stack Sizes More Than Ever

Avoiding big stacks is generally a good idea. Those players have big stacks because they are running hot, playing well, or a combination of both. Furthermore, a big stack can take you on, lose, and still be in a commanding position.

Opponents with similar-sized stacks to yours are perfect for bullying. They know you can bust them if they take you on, and they do not want to crash out before the money places.

Be aware of players with re-shoving stacks. Someone with a stack of around 15 big blinds can three-bet shove on you, forcing you to fold. However, players with this size stack tend to tighten up so any three-bet will be a sign of pure strength.

Finally, it is better to shove on a short stack than it is calling an all-in bet from one. This is the case for most players, to be honest. Shoving on them gives them the chance t fold, where calling means you have to have the best hand to win.

In summary, play aggressively on the money bubble and bully players willing to be bullied. The times you chip up and go super deep more than make up for losing chips and falling short.

Brad Johnson

You name the game, and you can bet your bottom dollar that Brad has either played it or placed a wager on it! Brad calls himself a natural gambler, and someone who gains as much enjoyment from writing about the crazy game of poker as he does playing it.


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