Playing Poker on the Bubble

In a poker tournament, the bubble is the point in the tournament at which the next player out will not win any money, but the rest of the players will win money or cash. In other words, if the tournament pays out the top 27 players, when there are 28 people left, they are on the bubble. That unfortunate player knocked out in 28th is said to be knocked out "on the bubble," or to be the bubble and have been bubbled.

Playing on the Bubble

The bubble period is where things can get quiet, weird, or wild. Players often change their style of play depending on their stack. It's do-or-die time when you have to decide whether you can survive to take the prize or you need to be actively playing to bust out the other players.

Bubble players can generally be broken into two categories. There are those whose goal is to simply survive the bubble and take home some cash. Then there are those who are playing to win, and who can use the bubble to accumulate more chips.

You are likely to see some players folding every hand, even good hands, playing as tight as can be. Meanwhile, other players start raising and going all-in on many hands. Your choice will depend on the size of your stack and how the other players are playing.

Your strategy will also depend on how many players are left at your table, which determines how many hands you can survive folding with the antes and as big blind and small blind.

The bubble also presents a good opportunity to accumulate chips by playing loosely and aggressively, especially if you have a big stack.

Big Stack on the Bubble

You are in the best position if you've accumulated lots of chips before the bubble. Now you can play aggressively and take advantage of the tight survival play by the other players.

You can steal the blinds with preflop raises. You are under less stress because it's actually to your advantage to keep the bubble going and giving you these opportunities to add to your stack. That means you don't have to call every raise as you can cut your losses on any one hand. You'll need to observe the medium stacks carefully as they are the ones that can eat into your stack if you misread their play.

Medium Stack on the Bubble

It can be tempting to play passively when you have a medium stack on the bubble, but that will usually result in only a small prize and losing out on the opportunity to the bigger prizes. It's a wiser choice to play tight but to keep playing, looking for opportunities to add to your stack.

Short Stack on the Bubble

If you have a stack of 8-10 big blinds on the bubble, you are short stacked, but you aren't quite into the danger zone where you need to either fold or push all-in. Your stack can still be intimidating enough who you open raise. But when you are down to 5-6 big blinds, you have little choice but to fold or go all-in, choosing your starters wisely and determining whether your opponents are playing loose or tight.