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Approaching the Bubble Strategy

Paris Hilton playing Texas Holdem poker In tournament poker, reaching the bubble is the crucial moment when all remaining players become profitable and can lay back in their chair a little bit.

To be "on the bubble" means that only one more player needs to be eliminated before everyone else can enter the bubble.

Getting eliminated on the bubble is the worse thing that can happen to a tournament player.

The path to the bubble is a slippery trail. If you get eliminated while on that path, you will have wasted hours of skillful play for nothing. Suddenly every action can have dire consequences. You will notice that most players tend to play much tighter when the bubble is near.

Bubble Strategy in Poker Tournaments

The bubble normally involves around 10-15% of the playing field. For example, the Sunday $1.5 million Guaranteed at PokerStars has usually about 8000 participants and pays the top 1170 players, for a large bubble of 14.6%. The daily $6k Rebuy Guaranteed at PlayersOnly pays the top 90 places among around 525 competitors, for a bubble of 17%.

You must adapt your play when approaching the bubble in order to incorporate the bubble dynamics. Your bubble strategy should depend primarily on your stack size and on your goals for the tournament.

Most tournament players are happy if they can make "the money", while some players play to win the tournament. The latter are usually professionals.

If you play to win the tournament, it makes no difference if you are kicked out before or just after the bubble, because you are only interested in the big money. Therefore the bubble is a perfect opportunity to exploit other players' chameleonic tightness.

Conversely there is nothing to be ashamed of if you want to make sure that you reach the bubble, and are willing to sacrifice a few chips and to get bullied along the way for that privilege.

Some players, beginners or intermediate players alike, prefer to win a small prize once in a while rather than making a quest for an elusive Holy Grail. If you are a beginner at online poker, we recommend that you play conservatively near the bubble.

The other important factor determining your bubble strategy is your stack size. If you have a very large stack, the bubble is the perfect opportunity for you to bully smaller chip stacks and to force them to make tough allin decisions.

Most players will not risk their bursting the bubble unless they have a monster. An aggressive large stack strategy will often enable you to collect plenty of chips during the pre-bubble period.

If you have a very small stack, your decision should be quite simple as well. In this case, your chances of arriving at the final table are very slim and you should be content with reaching the bubble with minimal hope to go far within ther bubble. Hence the recommended strategy is to play for survival, jamming allin a few times if it is necessary for you to replenish your small stack.

Given your stack size, your only moves are fold and allin. Only push allin if you have to, otherwise stay put. You must know where you stand compared to the other small stacks in the tournament in order to play this strategy correctly.

Online poker software provides this information as it ranks all players in the tournament. Sometimes making the bubble will depend on just one last move before the last player gets eliminated.

Finally the middle situation is when you have a medium-sized chip stack. What the top professional players do is that they increase their aggression in order to steal pots from all the newly converted nits. This is certainly the best strategy if you think about your long-term expected value, but it is reserved for advanced players.

Play quite conservatively and avoid committing all your chips before the bubble if you are a beginning tournament poker player. Once you have gained significant experience and understanding of poker tournaments, test yourself by increasing your aggression when approaching the bubble.

When everybody plays tight waiting for someone to burst is the time to be a wolf among the sheep. Use you knowledge of the bubble strategy to make money in online poker tournaments. Our selection of poker sites offers the rooms with the most active tournament schedule. Check it out.


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