Tournament poker is full of tense and highly charged moments. And no stage of tournament play is more tense than the bubble. Playing for hours only to bust just short of cashing is profoundly frustrating. Conversely, the mental and physical relief felt after surviving a tournament bubble is rewarding in and of itself. Importantly, there are other goals that can be accomplished during bubble play dependent on your specific situation.
Poker pro and coach Kenna James has recently developed a series of Combat Trainer scenarios with APT that focus on bubble play. Kenna defines the Bubble as the last 1% of the field before payouts start. So if a tournament is paying 10% of the 1,000 player field, the bubble starts when 110 players remain. Each bubble scenario is accompanied by a short video where Kenna addresses the general situation you’ll find yourself in: short-stacked, medium-stacked or large-stacked. Kenna plays a number of hands in each scenario and talks through his decision-making.
Surviving the Bubble
Kenna first takes on the unenviable position of being short stacked. Kenna focuses on survival to the money stage rather than trying to maximize a big payout. His first advice is to gather data. How many players are left until the bubble, and how many blinds do you have? Where are you in terms of chip counts: dead last, or are there several players with smaller lower stacks? Next, Kenna suggests calculating your M factor – how many rotations/hands do you have before you are blinded off? The results of your of information gathering will frame your strategic options.
Next you address the global question: do I need to play a hand to survive? How many hands can you see before you will be forced to play a hand? Another important consideration is whether the discipline and patience of other players remaining is weaker than your own. If you can possibly blind off into the money, you may even fold a hand as strong as AJo to an aggressive raise or shove. If you decide that your stack is not large enough to fold to the money, you’ll look for a value hand to shove with. Kenna suggests looking for a top 3% hand if calling a shove, and a top 7%-8% hand if you are open shoving. He acknowledges that his approach calls for tighter play than many GTO driven players would suggest. But watching him work through his approach will give you important food for thought.
Managing the Bubble
With a medium stack on the bubble, the fundamental question Kenna poses is: what’s your purpose? Are you trying to just survive to the money or are you trying to exploit and grow your stack? Your objective will frame your strategy. If you are trying to survive, you’ll sit back and play few hands until the bubble bursts. If you are trying to chip up, Kenna warns that you need to be cognizant of the big stacks and their approach. Some big stacks are passive and not trying to exploit. Others are very tuned in to their ability to back down medium stacks through aggression.With a medium stack on the bubble, the fundamental question Kenna poses is: what's your purpose? Click To Tweet
Exploiting the Bubble
In a large-stack scenario, goals change. Survival, for the most part, is not a concern. Maximizing your potential for a big cash should be your singular purpose. Kenna notes that paying attention in poker is a dying art, but one particularly critical in big stack, exploitive bubble play. Kenna says “Observation is looking with a purpose.” Simple enough, but many players do not heed that advice. Big stacks sometimes kick back until the bubble bursts, taking a mental break from the long tournament grind.
Kenna’s advice for the big stack on the bubble is to stay focused and remain ruthless and totally dedicated to your purpose. At all times you should be making good profitable plays. While some players will call very light to a small stack shove, hoping to knock a player out, Kenna believes you should make solid mathematical decisions when contemplating these calls. Kenna uses the APT Shove-Fold Tool to show an example of such decision-making.
Whether you are planning to play the upcoming WSOP or a tournament in your local card room, watch Kenna’s videos about bubble play. Then train until you pass through the bubble or bust trying. The time you spend with Kenna’s bubble play combat trainers will deliver great value to your future tournament results.
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