Poker tournaments: playing on the bubble
When you play in poker tournaments it is crucial how you play on the bubble. Before deciding which strategy to apply on the bubble you have to ask yourself: what is my goal on this tournament? There are two scenarios you have to consider: you just want to get in the money and win cash or you want to take a shot (and more risk) and win the tournament with a lot larger prize.
It is better if you make such a decision before even getting to the bubble on the tournament so you do not have to think about it quickly and make a decision in a couple of seconds. Why is bubble play so interesting that you have to apply a special strategy to it?
As you get further and further into the tournament and there is only one or a couple of players left to reach the money, way too many players get too tight. The reason for this is very simple: their goal is only to finish in the money. These players throw away 90-95% of their hands, sometimes even monsters to make sure they hold on and land on one of the paid positions. Mostly these players are small stack or medium stack players. The good players and also the large stack players can take advantage of this opportunity with an aggressive strategy and collect many chips that will be crucial in the later stages of the tournament. I will explain what the difference is with such a play and how you should adjust to it.
Going back to the original question: what is your goal on the particular tournament?
In case you want to reach the money:
You should play very tight and throw away most of your hands exactly how I wrote above. It is not nice but you can even use the maximum amount of time you have so you play a bit with the clock and delay the game so that maybe other players will be busted on other tables. As you have probably seen in the first paragraphs I prefer going for tournament victory than only for reaching the money; however there are special situations when you should go for the money only and your first goal is to cash. When you reach this goal you can try to figure out what to do next but the most important is to win a prize.
In the following special cases I suggest playing tight and going only to reach the paid places: 1. your bankroll is small and every dollar is a big help to build it back; 2. you are playing on a freeroll tournament where you got a free ticket. In this case you did not have to invest any money and it does not matter how much you win, it will be extra money for you. The third case is when you qualify for a tournament through a satellite tournament. It can happen that you pay only $3, $5 or $10 for a $100 buy-in tournament and if you reach the money and get busted you still win $200 which is a great ROI! In this last case the solid and tight play is completely reasonable as the $200 might be a huge boost to your bankroll and you do not want to risk not winning anything.
In case you want to win the tournament:
I prefer the second option and there is a good reason as you will soon see. In the second case you play very loose, take a lot more risks and try to take many pots with all kinds of hands. Your first targets are the small and medium stack players who seem to play tight and want to reach the money. Sometimes you run into monsters and get busted but you will be surprised how often you will see these players fold and you will get the chance to pick up very easy and important chips.
With this strategy it is important that you choose the right targets and you will not try this play in cases when more players have already entered the pot before you! The others will also play tighter so players raising or limping in front of you can be dangerous and they might use the trapping strategy. However you will see other large stacks steal also very often so if they make a small raise in front of you and you have a good read on them, go ahead, raise and very often they will fold to you. If you apply this second strategy then you will have an overall tournament winning record in the long-run and last but not least it is also fun to play for the first place and not only to be on the down side of the paid list.
I explain why it is more profitable to go for the first place. Let’s assume the following: there are 100 players on the $10 buy-in tournament and the prices are the following:
1. : $320
2. : $210
3. : $130
4. : $90
5. : $70
6. : $50
7. : $40
When you only want to finish in the money you play very tight and even if you reach your goal you will have such a small stack that you will have problems building your stack back. In the example let’s say we play the same situation 30 times with both strategies. The first time you play tight, 5 times you still do not make it to the money, 20 times you reach the money but you finish between 8.-10. and once you finish 7th, 6th, 5th, 4th and 3rd. In this case your total winning is $980 which makes $32,66 on average of 30 tourneys.
In the second case with your brave and a bit kamikaze strategy you will not make the cash 10 times when you are close to the money. However the remaining 20 cases change the world. 6 times you will be between 8.-10., and you finish all other places twice between 1.-7. This makes your total winning $2 000, so your average winning per tourney is $66.66. I guess it is not hard to see the huge difference and the second case shows which decision you should follow in the long run. You can ask why I used these numbers. It has no explanation. These are all random numbers. I tried to use them in a way that they could be real with the discussed strategy. If you think you can reach other results I suggest you change the percentile of the 30 tourneys and make your own calculation. You will get different numbers but the second option will still result with a better financial result.
Always consider which option is better for you in the given situation and if you want to play like it is in the first or in the second case is described.
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