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Tony Murtagh

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The G-Spot: Stealing on the Bubble
9/7/2007 4:24:32 PM

By Tony Guerrera

The bubble is that point in a tournament right before the money. In a large multitable tournament, the bubble might start 10-15 places before the money. In a small multitable tournament, the bubble might start somewhere around 5 places before the money. And in single table tournaments, the bubble is usually considered to be one place before the money, though bubble-like playing conditions typically begin when you’re two places away from the money.

Bubble-like playing conditions also occur at two other times: right before the final table of a multitable tournament and right before a big jump in payouts. The term “bubble-like playing conditions” is appropriate because play on the bubble is unique. By being aware of the unique playing dynamic, you’ll recognize prime opportunities to steal chips. And you’ll also recognize situations with normally playable cards and position where folding is best for your poker hands.

Bubble Dynamics

The driving force behind the bubble’s unique playing dynamic is that nobody wants to be eliminated on the bubble. For players with really short stacks, this makes a lot of sense. If a player is two or more double-ups away from being an average stack, his chances of taking a top pay spot are slim, meaning that it’s usually best simply to sneak into the money and take whatever payout he can. If a player is within two double-ups of having an average stack, accumulating chips should generally be a priority; however, players in this position also tend to avoid confrontations that will send them to the rail during bubble play.

The bottom line: players avoid skirmishes on the bubble. To take advantage: steal! At this point in the tournament, players’ stacks are such that raising to somewhere around 2.5 big blinds is usually sufficient enough to take pots uncontested preflop. Whenever short or medium stacks are the only players remaining behind you, raise provided that you have more chips than them (you need more chips since fear of elimination is where your increased fold equity comes from).

Don’t Invite Opponents to Resteal

You won’t be the only player aware of this changed dynamic. If you raise, and a very large stack is behind you, the large stack may reraise because he assumes that you’re most likely stealing and that you won’t want to risk being eliminated on the bubble. Medium stacks not concerned with simply sneaking into the money can pose this same problem.

In short, you should be looking to add chips to your stack on the bubble. However, if you’re not careful, it’s possible to squander valuable chips. In short: know the default bubble dynamic, know that your deeply stacked opponents know the default bubble dynamic, and look for short and medium stacks who deviate from the default dynamic.

Tony Guerrera is the author of Killer Poker By The Numbers. Visit him online at

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