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How to Survive the “Bubble” in Poker Tournaments

Poker tournaments are one of the most exciting and profitable ways to play the game. However, the way you play will differ a bit from standard cash games. Therefore, it’s important to understand tournaments and be prepared for them before you join. 

There are many different types of poker tournaments, each offering its own unique features and advantages. No matter what type of tournament it is, the premise is the same. The player with the most chips at the end wins. Some tournaments will be winner-takes-all, while others may have a payout structure that means anyone getting to the final table has the potential to win cash.

In all poker tournaments, there’s something called a bubble. The bubble is effectively the cut-off point between those that win money and those that go home empty-handed. Being knocked out on the bubble means you’re the last player to leave who won’t be getting any money. Unsurprisingly, this is a frustrating position to be in, particularly if it’s been a long tournament. You’ll want to make sure you’re prepared to burst the bubble and survive to take home winnings. 

Preparing for the Bubble

Your best strategy for surviving the bubble is to be properly prepared. As with anything, failing to plan is planning to fail, so make sure you have a good plan set up. Your plan should be the same for live tournaments as well as online poker

In any tournament, evaluate your position as the bubble gets closer. Is there anything you can do to position yourself more effectively for the bubble to arrive? Have you chosen which members of your table you’ll use as targets when the bubble pops? The more questions you can answer about yourself and your opponents, the higher your chances are of either surviving the bubble and profiting from it.

Assessing Your Opponents

The more information you have on your opponents, the better prepared you’ll be the take advantage of them and take their chips. As you play, watch each opponent carefully to study their patterns and learn as much as you can. If you’re playing in a live tournament, you can also watch out for tells such as body language and facial expressions. Tells also exist for online play and involve bet sizes and the time it takes to make decisions. 

How Does Structure Affect Your Strategy

Tournament structure is the term given to describe how blinds are used. Over time, the blind size will increase to weed out players with smaller stacks. You should look at the structure in relation to the number of chips you have and consider how much time you have. The number of chips you have will determine how much time you have left in the tournament, so keep a close eye on the time and your stack.

Playing After the Bubble Has Burst

When the bubble bursts in tournament poker, everything changes. Most of the short stacks who were previously playing tight will now open up to attempt to win money and build their stacks. If you have a large stack, you should change your strategy and wait for strong hands rather than picking fights with other players. At this point, you shouldn’t take unnecessary risks. Stick to playing strong hands, and don’t get carried away.

You have two choices if your stack is short. You can either wait about for a bit and probably ladder up a few pay jumps by playing patiently. Alternatively, you can be one of the aggressive playing short stacks hoping to make a move. Just be careful, as activity from your opponents will also increase when the bubble pops, and you may need to adjust your strategy accordingly.

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