Ten Tips That Will Improve Your Bubble Play


Tournaments in poker are probably the most profitable format for a player who has ample knowledge and can adjust his game according to the field and situation. In a 150-180 player field, the good players are only competing against 80-90 players, and less quite often. This is because of the massive overlays. In other words, there are at most 100 other players trying to win the poker tournament. The rest are just trying to cash, and might as well be playing a different game altogether. These players are not competing with you for the top prizes.

During the early stages, like you, they’re also trying to make a stack. Even though their strategy might not be -EV, their game play can most definitely be. During the latter stages, or in the money, these guys are just happy to be there and gamble it up or don’t have a stack to do anything else. Either way, their strategy is not necessarily -EV.

On the bubble however, they’re folding too often and giving you a lot of chances to scoop up the dead money on the table. This is a great opportunity for you to accumulate some crucial extra chips before ICM kicks in. Here are some tips to help you do just that:


In all my strategy blogs, one thing I’ve always tried to highlight to new players is that never open limp. Always raise. Even if you know this, you aren’t doing this enough. The pot odds of you winning before showdown are too good.


Just because hands like A-9 or A-T are ahead of your range and facing a late position raise, this doesn’t mean that you should call. There are a lot of players who know you’re stealing but do not have a good enough hand to counter. Others know this as well but are just waiting for the right moment to call you off and ‘punish’.

If this starts happening too often, you can loosen your range and actually find yourself in some very +EV spots! However, when people come over the top the first time round, they usually tend to have something good. You’ll have opportunities to steal your chips back lost in one orbit whereas a couple of thin calls will cripple your stealing ability. There is a lot of dead money up for grabs near the bubble, but you should not be eager to get there.

Pick Your Targets

The open raising depends usually on three factors: 1. Who is in the blinds; 2. Your position and 3. Your cards. Before or near the bubble, a good player always manages to figure out who are the not-so-good players and are giving away their blinds too cheaply.

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Adapt Against The Better

You’ll be fine against players who are not-so-good and doing the amateur stuff mentioned above, but against other good players on your table, you must be ready to play some hands in order to battle for the dead money. These players will be a lot more willing to re-steal, steal raise, etc., and you need to adapt accordingly.

Chat Box Might Be Helpful

The dialogue in the chat box gives you a lot of clues about who is playing to cash and about evolving table dynamics. I’ve seen players say things like “I would have called if it weren’t the bubble”, “I’m folding JJ here”, and “Yes! Yes! Yes!” every time they win a pot. It’s like they want me to take their chips.

Players will also comment on how often you’ve been raising, or threaten to call “next time.” Pay attention to these clues, as they can help you to make tough decisions when facing a re-steal.

Mix It Up

Some players have too much pride and might not like it if you keep going after their blinds. This might make them stand up to you. If you’re constantly going after the same guy, you may actually make him play back. The players who are just trying to get a good payout won’t mind if you’re not singling them out. Therefore, it’s always better to go after the next person instead.

Protecting Your Own Blinds

Calling or re-raising your own blinds a few times will make the good players back-off. They’ll realise that there will be better spots in the future. But the play-to-cashers will make weak attempts to steal, like min. raising or open limping from late position. They will often back off of even reasonably strong hands when seemingly pot committed when faced with the prospect of bubbling out.

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Protecting Your Opponents Blinds

A good, aggressive bubble player on your right can really cramp your style, as he will always be steal-raising ahead of you. But don’t look at this as a thorn in the side, look at it as an opportunity: he is putting a lot of money into the pot that he can’t defend. His only options are to keep raising and donating to you, or to stop raising and let you get back to picking on the weak players’ blinds; it’s a win-win for you. If the play-to-cashers won’t defend their blinds, you should do it for them. Makes sense? I hope so!


Make The Last Bet

If a player is seeing the flop with you does not mean that they necessarily have a strong holding. With so many players trying to steal  and re-steal, there are going to be a lot of flops seen without especially strong hands. More often than not, this’ll be a case of getting to a cheap showdown or making you get away from your marginal holding. Play draws aggressively and you’ll realise players are no more willing to play post flop than they were before! Structure your betting in such a way that you’re the one pushing all-in. This is because it’s much harder to call a shove with a marginal hand than it is to push with a marginal hand.

The Bigger Your Stack,The Better

Although the bubble is a profitable time to push-bot, a 3x big blind raise from the table chipleader has a lot more fold equity than an 8x all-in from a short stack. Ninety percent of the time I choose accumulation over survival, but most tournaments have such juicy bubbles that it can be correct to structure your pre-bubble strategy around getting to the bubble with a stack that will allow you to steal. This may mean taking gambles when you’re short in hopes of doubling up to a healthy stack, or it may mean passing on thin gambles when losing the pot would leave you unable to steal on the bubble.

Hopefully, studying more and using these 10 tips will help you make the most of your bubble situations and improve your bubble play significantly!

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