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How do you approach the Bubble?

Having a strategy for the bubble in MTTs is not only essential, but also required, as every tournament you play, the bubble phase will arrive. No matter your stack size, some adjustments and change in strategy needs to take place in order to maximise your tournament result.

Different players adopt different styles during the bubble phase of a tournament. There are players who will tighten up and hardly play a hand. Some become too loose and raise too often. 

How should you approach the bubble and how can you make the most of this relevant situation in an MTT?

Here are some points to consider.

A. Awareness & Perception

As mentioned earlier, the playing style of your opponents changes during the bubble stage. 

You need to be perceptive of this face and figure out this change in style. I.E

(i) Which player has tightened up?

(ii) Which player is opening a lot more than before?

(iii) Which player is playing the same way as they did before the bubble stage began?

Be aware specifically of the players in late positions. Observe the change in their style of play. What was their Vpip before the bubble stage and if it has reduced or increased now?

Once you have identified the various changes in playstyles, make adjustments to your style accordingly. Try and apply pressure on players who have tightened up and are not playing any hands. Stay away from players who are now raising more often.

B. Stack Sizes

At the bubble, being extra aware of stack sizes becomes crucial, as the risk size is directly proportional to the stack size of your opponents.

Let’s look at a broad classification of stack sizes.

(i) Very Short Stack (5-7bb)

     Your fold equity is going to be really low with such a short stack. Here’s where your perception and awareness comes in handy. You have already identified the various playstyles at the bubble. Be willing to go all-in against players who have tightened up, with less than premium hands, like suited connectors. Against loosened up players, however, you’d have to be more conservative and pick your spots accordingly. 

(ii) Short Stack (8bb-13bb)

    At this stack depth, you have a decent amount of fold equity. So, at the bubble, you still have some leeway to apply pressure on players who seem to have tightened up. Be wary of the loosened up players though, as they will be ready to call you off more frequently. Open-raising and folding to a 3-bet is a viable adjustment to make at this point. 

(iii) Medium Stack 

Medium stacks are the most vulnerable and prone to being pressured during the bubble stage. With a medium stack, you can technically just keep folding till the bubble bursts. But this would mean you are opening yourself up to be pressured and exploited, as other players who are aware, will be mindful of the change in your playstyle. 

Again, you can apply a significant amount of pressure on the big stacks and short stacks. The bubble stage can provide decent opportunities to add to your stack consistently, especially against the tightened up players. 

(iv) Big Stack

    Having a big stack on the bubble is obviously ideal, but with a big stack, you must be careful of other big stacks and even medium stacks. Try and not to get into hands with other big stacks wherever you can. 

Applying pressure on stacks smaller than yours, however, becomes easier and poses a great opportunity to increase your stack size easily. 

You should widen your range especially against players who have tightened up. It goes without saying though, don’t call light. Being the initial aggressor has its own set of advantages which we have gone through in our previous blog. 

C. Be proactive & ready to exploit

Notice and recognise players who are playing too passive on the bubble. These players are open to being exploited by a player who is actively raising and re-raising. 

At the bubble, in general, most player’s mindset is to fold to any kind of aggression. Being aggressive at this stage will definitely be profitable in the long run. 

Don’t forget that you want to go deep in the tournament. Making min-cash after the bubble is not your goal. 

A large percentage of players will tighten up on the bubble and wait till the bubble bursts. They tend to ignore the most important aspect of MTTs – collecting chips.

Use this to your advantage and keep collecting those chips.