money bubble factors

4 Factors To Consider On The Money Bubble of a Poker Tournament

Making a deep run in a tournament is unquestionably one of the most thrilling aspects of poker.

And whenever you make a deep run, you get to play a unique stage of the tournament: the money bubble.

But not every bubble plays the same. This article covers 4 factors you should consider when on the hard bubble of a tournament.

Each factor should play a role in how you strategically navigate the hard bubble phase.

Let’s dive in.

What is The Hard Bubble?

Before getting into the 4 factors, I want to quickly touch on what the hard bubble stage means.

In smaller-field tournaments, the hard bubble is when every remaining player except for one will make the money. In a large field event that pays hundreds or thousands of players (like the World Series of Poker Main Event), the hard bubble can refer to when all but a few players will make the money.

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Factor #1: Field Size

The first thing to consider when playing the hard bubble is the size of the field.

Here is what MTT crusher Darren Elias says about this factor:

In my experience, larger field size usually means a shorter bubble period as more tables are playing and more hands are being dealt. This means there are more chances for a situation where all the chips go in and someone is eliminated.

Are we playing an event that started with 2,000 players and pays 300? Or are we in a small field event that’s paying three or four spots and we’re sitting there at one table? These scenarios are going to play much differently.

If we look at small field events or high rollers, bubble play can typically last a long time. Being the short stack with 10bb is much different than having 10bb on the bubble of a large field event that’s paying hundreds of spots (where 10bb probably doesn’t put you anywhere near the bottom of the field).

By adjusting to how many players remain in the field, you’ll be able to make optimal decisions on the hard bubble.

You should generally be willing to take more risks as the short stack in a small field tournament. But if it’s a big event, you can pass up on more close spots and try to sneak into the money.

Factor #2: Average Stack Size

Another factor that you need to consider on the hard bubble is average stack size (especially in smaller field tournaments). Here are Darren’s thoughts on this subject:

The shallower the average stack, the higher the chances of someone being eliminated every hand. So, if we have an average stack of 15bb compared to an average stack of 40bb, the odds are that in the tournament with an average stack of 15bb, the bubble will be shorter.

Therefore, you should be more willing to hang on and make big folds when the average stack is short. But if you’re sitting on a short stack yourself and the average stack is quite big, you will likely have to risk it to get the biscuit.

This is less of a factor in large-field events, where the chances of there being micro-stacks are much higher, which leads me to the next factor.

Factor #3: Presence of Micro-Stacks

The amount of micro-stacks (5bb or fewer) has a great impact on how you should proceed during the hard bubble.

Here’s what Darren has to say about this:

The presence of micro-stacks supersedes the average stack in terms of importance.

Are there micro-stacks with less than 2bb that are going to be forced all-in soon with any hand as the blinds reach them? We have to adjust because the more of these stacks in the tournament, the sooner they will be forced all-in.

So if a guy is Under-the-Gun with 2bb and will be all-in next hand, compared to on the Button with 2bb and can fold six hands, the tighter we should be playing as a short stack. And conversely, the harder we should be pushing as a big stack to put pressure on the smaller stacks.

Even if you can’t see the status of every table, it is safe to assume most of the time in events paying more than 100 places, that these extremely short stacks will be in the tournament.

When there are several players with fewer than 2bb on the hard bubble, you should be extremely risk averse when you’re a short stack. It’s an absolute disaster to bust in a marginal spot with a 10bb stack when there are 2bb stacks hanging on!

Factor #4: Size of the Min Cash

The fourth factor to consider on the hard bubble is the size of the min cash (i.e. the smallest payout in the tournament).

This factor should always be thought of in terms of the number of buy-ins relative to the entry fee, not the exact dollar amount.

Some tournaments award a 1.2 buy-in min cash, others a 3.5-4x min cash. So, the larger the min-cash in terms of the number of buy-ins, the larger adjustments we should be making in our play.

I think something that both recreational players and pro players struggle with is when they’re in tournaments toward the top of their buy-in range. They play tighter or make adjustments they shouldn’t be making because the money amount is larger and meaningful to them.

We need to avoid thinking about this while also remembering other players may be sensitive to this. Think about how this may affect our opponent’s strategy.

I’ll clarify what is perhaps obvious…

When the min cash is a larger multiple of the buy-in, you should be more risk averse. But if the min cash is relatively small, you can take more risks that may reward you with a bigger stack.

Being aware of this factor can help exploit opponents who don’t adjust accordingly.

Final Thoughts

Playing these hard bubble spots can be stressful, but they also can be extremely fun and profitable.

If you keep these factors in mind and play these high-pressure spots better than your opponents, you can start building bigger stacks and making deeper runs.

Want more free tournament tips? Check out the new episode of the Upswing Poker Level-Up podcast coming out tomorrow! It will include 7 tournament tips that will help you run deep more often.

In the meantime, checkout this wild high stakes hand analysis: Brutal River In High Stakes Poker Game ($80,000 Pot Analysis)

That’s it for today. Good luck at the tables this week!

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About the Author
Patrick Harvey

Patrick Harvey

Graduate student trying to make money in poker so that I don't end up having to drive Knish's truck.

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