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5 Reasons You Bust Out on the Bubble - Poker Tournament Strategy for Success
by Jonathan Gelling
It's a frustrating experience. We've all been there. It's the middle stages of a poker tournament, the blinds are starting to eat into your stack, the cards aren't coming, and you don't want to bust out on the bubble. Anything but busting out on the bubble! What could be worse than wasting two hours of your life and barely missing the payout?
The only thing worse than that is knowing it might have been different, if you'd avoided the five major mistakes that leave you exiting right before the money.
- Playing too conservatively - Hand values change as the blinds increase. What might have been a marginal hand at 10/20 blinds becomes a must-play stealing hand at 100/200 blinds. Particularly when the antes kick in and up the reward ratio on a successful pre-flop steal, you simply must apply maximum aggression during this bubble phase. It will never be
easier to steal a pot before the flop than it will be during the bubble phase of a poker tournament. All your fellow players are equally anxious to avoid elimination on the cusp of the payout, and they will not push back at you in a marginal situation. It's true that unrestrained aggression will occasionally have you leaving on the cusp of making the money, but
unbridled folding will have you walking away empty-handed far more often.
- Raising more than necessary - A lot of players will reflexively raise three times the big blind regardless of the stage of the tournament. They reason that a smaller raise will simply invite the blinds or button to call with marginal holdings. This may be true, but it's also true that as the blinds escalate, a standard pre-flop raise will increasingly
commit you to the hand. As a poker player, you always want to maintain flexibility. If making a standard raise tends to commit you to a hand you don't want to play for all the chips, you shouldn't make it. Of course, you always want to apply pressure on your opponents. So you will continue to raise with both your strongest and your marginal hands in favorable
situations. But you should raise less than three times the big blind... perhaps 2.5 or even just doubling the big blind will do at higher levels. When the blinds ratchet up and the antes kick in, even the loosest players will begin to back off flat-calling raises. Most players are generally going to re-raise or get out of the way, and you can play the hand appropriately, confident
that you've minimized your losses and maximized your returns by making a cheaper raise.
- Playing drawing hands - Drawing hands like suited connectors lose more and more value in no limit Texas hold em as the blinds increase. Increasing blinds mean fewer players per pot and increase the cost of seeing the flop and drawing on the turn and river. All those factors make suited connectors and even small pocket pairs looking to flop a set unprofitable.
While you may be able to speculate with these hands at the low blinds, you'll whittle yourself down if you remain attached to them in the middle and late stages of a poker tournament. If drawing hands are to be played at all in the later stages, you should play them aggressively pre-flop to steal uncontested pots. Do not call and passively hope to hit some kind of miracle hand late in the game.
- Playing against extreme stacks - There are two types of players you want to avoid on the bubble: the extremely large stacks and the extremely short stacks. The short stacks have nothing else to lose, and they'll be looking to gamble with a variety of hands. While eliminating players is good for the remaining players as a group, you don't want to volunteer to play sheriff against
these short stacks. The risks of being whittled down in all-in confrontations against a short stack simply aren't worth the marginal reward of knocking a player out, unless he's either extremely short or the very last player before the payout. As to large stacks, you generally don't want to stand between them and a pot, unless you have a premium hand or believe you can raise them off their hand.
On the bubble, the big stacks are usually loose, aggressive players who aren't afraid to gamble. It's usually best not to try to out-muscle these players unless you can do some damage to them. You also want to make sure they respect your play and are able to fold a hand before you try to bully a large stack out of a pot.
- Failing to play position - Always raise in position (unless you're facing an extreme stack). If it's folded around to you in the small blind, you will almost always want to attack the big blind unless you're extremely weak and the big blind is extremely loose. On the bubble, it's often the first player to bet that will take down the pot. When it's folded around to you
and you're acting in position, it's a huge mistake to fold. Pay no attention to your cards. Instead, look at the relative chip stacks and what you know of the players at your table. If there's a better than even chance you can steal this pot, then make your move. You might get challenged, but if you make a less than standard raise you won't lose too much if you have to fold. Plus, when you
really have a hand, you'll get paid off nicely. By being constantly aggressive, your opponents won't know when it's safe to make a stand against you.
This article extracted from Poker Tips that Pay: Expert Strategy Guide for Winning No Limit Texas Hold em (author Jonathan Gelling, Play to Pay Publishing).
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