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Considering Stacksizes

With only one player left to bust before the money kick in, make sure it isn't you...

The "bubble" is the stage of a tournament when there is one more player left in than places paid. In a standard single table tournament (STT), the first three places earn a slice of the prize-money, therefore the bubble occurs when four players remain. The next player eliminated goes out "on the bubble", leaving with nothing.

It is crucial to play this stage well, because it determines not only whether you win any money, but also plays a part in determining how much. Once the bubble has burst, all remaining players will make some return on their investment.

General guidelines for bubble play

Tighten up your calls

Play tends to tighten up on the bubble, as players know that the next one eliminated will leave with nothing. Often, if one player pushes all in everyone else folds. As a result, you should tighten up your calls, as calling an all in bet and losing could mean the end of your tournament. It also means your opponents gain a free ride into the money without risking anything - not a scenario you should create for them.

Push more frequently when first into a pot

This is a logical consequence of the previous point. You can exploit the tendency of your opponents to tighten up by pushing all in with a wider range of hands. You will be able to steal the blinds and antes, therefore keeping your chip stack from blinding away.

Be more aggressive if you are the big stack

There are several natural advantages in being the big stack, especially on the bubble. You can't bust in a single pot so you can be aggressive with a wider range of hands. You're not risking as much as a medium or short stack, so you can take a hit and still play on in the tournament.

You have your opponents covered, so they will have to cope with a threat to their tournament life every time they get involved in a pot with you. They will be less inclined to do so with anything but a strong hand, and you can exploit this.

Tighten up your pushes against big stacks

While you should be moving all in with quite a few hands on the bubble, be more selective when you push against a big stack. With his dominant chip position, the big stack can afford to call with a wider range of hands so your risk of busting is significantly higher than against a medium stack.

Attack the closest in chips

When you are short on chips, indentify the player with the most similar chip stack to your own and focus your aggression on him. You will create a "him-or-me" situation and gain maximum value if you win an all in confrontation. In contrast, if you win an all in against a big stack who has you well covered, you are not rewarded with a place in the money. You get the double up, but there are still four players left and the battle of the bubble goes on.

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