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The Bubble
The bubble phase of any poker tournament is always extremely important. This applies to both multi-table tournaments (MTTs) and Sit & Go tournaments (STTs).

However there are a number of ways in which your play should differ, depending on which type of tournament you are playing. In short, the main aim at bubble time in a Sit & Go tournament is to survive into the money-winning places. But in a multi-table tournament, the best players use this period to try to accumulate chips. They are willing to put their tournament life on the line in order to achieve the goal.



To understand why, we need to have a look at a typical prize structure for the two types of tournament:

STT and MTT prize structure comparison

STT: $100+9 buy-in, 9 players
MTT: Sunday Million ($200+15 buy in)

 
Place SNG Prize MTT Prize
1 $450 $250,000
2 $270 $182,000
3 $180 $127,000
4 $0 $85,000
9   $13,000
100   $1,500
500   $500
1260   $300
1261   $0

In the Sit & Go tournament, the winner gets two-and-a-half times as much money as the smallest prize. Of course it is always the aim to win, but making it to the money is hugely important. Compare that with the Sunday Million, where the smallest prize is $300. That is a nice chunk of money but first prize is almost 1,000 times as much.

Therefore the best professional players primarily aim to reach the top three spots in big MTTs and aim to reach the money in STTs. You should try the same.

Targeting weakness on the bubble

Many players will try very hard to just survive the bubble period of an MTT, and they will sacrifice a lot of chips in the process. You should observe your opponents to spot these players, and once identified you should exploit their weakness.

"Weak" in a poker context means tight and timid; it is not the same as playing poorly. You can play poorly by being too weak or over aggressive, and being a bit on the "weak" side can be the right approach sometimes. However the bubble period of an MTT is precisely the wrong time to play weakly. Here are a couple of hands, which would be approached differently by a strong and a weak player at bubble time.



For a detailed analysis of the mathematics behind the hand above, click through to an additional EV discussion article.

The first of the above examples shows that many players will fold almost any hands. Unfortunately it is hard to observe this directly. You usually cannot see if an opponent made a fold that was too tight or if he actually had a poor hand. But there are clues to find the weak and timid players.
  • When playing live, it is sometimes very easy. People will tell you. They will ask how many players are left all the time or they discuss how stupid it would be to call and then lose without having a monster hand. Others will talk about how it is their dream to cash in a live tournament for the first time. This kind of talk is usually honest. You can assume that they are weak.
  • If your opponents don't make it that easy for you, you have to look how they are actually playing. If someone folds 20 times in a row when facing a raise, he is most likely very tight.
  • Sometimes you can't find out that someone is weak but at least you can observe the opposite. If someone calls an all-in and has a mediocre hand, he is not weak and you should be more careful against him.
If you spot one or several weak players at the table, it is pretty clear what to do: attack!

Immediate post-bubble play

Players tend to loosen up dramatically as soon as the bubble has burst, especially the ones that played weak before they reached the money. They are happy they made it and often lost a lot of chips in the process. Now they are very short and are no longer afraid to be knocked out. There will usually be a lot of action, and all in raises, so you will have to be much more careful with stealing blinds. You will have some tough decisions if you want to call an all in move from a short stack, but you should also know that their holding might be sub-standard.

Here are a few examples:


 

Recap: Keys to bubble play

  • Bubble play is extremely important but survival should not be the highest priority in MTTs
  • Try to spot weak players who fold too much in order to survive
  • Steal blinds very aggressively
  • After the bubble bursts some players get crazy and go all in a lot. You should pick them off if you have a decent hand, especially if you are in the blinds
  • Be careful to call opponents when holding small pairs. It is either a 50:50 proposition or you are way behind.