Bubble Mistakes

The bubble of a SNG or MTT is the hardest situation to play. Being as you’re one or two players from cashing, your adrenaline is pumping, you’re nervous. What if you make a mistake and bubble the tournament? You’d have spent hours playing and would have nothing to show for it.

While this ending is impossible to avoid – even for the best of us – some players seemingly open themselves up to being poked by the inevitable needle on the bubble. They make the most basic of mistakes in doing so. Mistakes I hope to help you avoid now.

7 Mistakes to Avoid Making on the Bubble

1. Folding into the Money

Tournament players want to make the money. No one wants to play for hours and make nothing.

I understand.

However, this leads some players to folding their way into the money. They pass on a lot of opportunities to build their stack further in fear of making a mistake or being dealt a bad beat.

I’m guilty of this, too. But it’s a mistake, (often) regardless of how short or deep your stack is.

For example, if you’re a short stack you have little to no fold equity left. Once you run out of fold equity you’re at the mercy of the cards you’re dealt and the player you have to race against.

On top of that, when you’re the shortest player at the table the other players can simply out wait you. So you can’t sit on your hands, you have to apply some pressure when and where you can. The only way to do that is to raise or shove all in a couple of times to bring your chip count up to par with theirs.

Folding with a big stack can be a mistake, too. You won’t see it until it’s too late, but if you wait long enough the blinds and antes will eat away at your stack. A couple orbits of inaction and you’ll go from a top stack to a bottom stack. I’m telling you what – it sucks to go from the biggest stack at the table, to being the bubble boy. If you try to wait your way into the bubble, you’ll unfortunately see what I mean.

2. Playing Too Many Hands

The opposite is true, too. Playing too many hands on the bubble can lead to an early exit. You need to find a balance.

The problem with playing too many hands is that every time you put money into the pot, you’re giving up equity in the tournament. At this stage of the tournament, you’re often giving up more equity than you stand to gain. That means you should be more selective.

More than that, though, many players aren’t that good at post flop play. So every time they decide to play a hand, they’re putting themselves in a position where they have less of an edge. Definitely not a bad idea when you’re a couple of hours away from the money and you want to experiment / learn, but not such a smooth choice if you’re a player or two away from the money.

3. Playing Speculative Hands

Along with playing too many hands, players also make the mistake of hand selection. Instead of playing hands that make decisions easier post flop, they choose hands that take a lot of skill and experience to play. Hands that are often dominated like QJ, JT or A3s. Then they catch a piece and go broke.

If you’re a beginner it’s a good idea to keep things simple for yourself. Play hands like pocket pairs, KJ and AT or better, as it reduces your chances of being dominated when you flop top pair. Your decisions will be easier to make.

4. Flipping

This is a mistake purely in terms of ICM and your tournament equity.

What I see from players is that they’re incapable of folding hands like 44s or AK preflop. They figure they have the best hand, so they should call.

What they don’t think about, however, is how thin their margins are in a race. Check out these examples to see what I mean. The first hand in each example is ours:

  • AKs (47%) vs. 99 (53%)
  • 44 (52%) vs. KQo (48%)
  • KQ (49%) vs. 88 (51%)

You see what I mean? You’re hardly a favorite / underdog in any of these examples. ICM aside, you need to ask yourself, do I want to risk my tournament life on a coin flip?

5. Open Limping Instead of Raising

Open limping is almost always a mistake. It doesn’t matter what point of the tournament you’re at.

However, on the bubble it’s a mistake because it’s exploitable. Someone can re-raise you (in position) and put you in an awkward situation post flop. You also invite more players into the pot, which can make life difficult for you when you catch a piece and need to maneuver the post flop.

Although open raising can too be exploited on the bubble, that’s less likely to happen since raising indicates strength, especially in such a vulnerable. Plus it gives you an advantage (initiative) post flop. It also creates slightly larger pots for you to win, which can quickly and dramatically shift the dynamic at the table (in terms of chip count) if you take it down.

6. Calling More Than They Shove

When you’re on the bubble a rule of thumb that will save you money and heartache is to shove more than you call. But many players don’t follow this rule.

The reason why you want to shove more than you call is because, for one thing, you have the upper hand. You’re putting the other players in a spot to call for their tournament life. In doing so you maximize your fold equity. You’re also telling the other players you have a hand you’re willing to show down, which signifies strength.

The opposite is true if you’re the one calling a shove. Unless you’re spot on with your opponent’s range you’re pretty much guessing. You don’t want to risk your tournament life on a guess, do you?

7. Not Paying Attention to Stack Sizes

Another costly leak is to not pay attention to stack sizes. This will cost you money because there will be enough money in the pot for small to medium stack sizes to go after. Putting more dead money in the pot with these players left to act after you just begs for you to be exploited.

I recommend avoiding raising/limping with shorter stacks to your left (<15 big blinds). Instead, you should open into stacks of 20-25 big blinds or bigger. These guys still have workable stacks and a good chance of cashing, so they will be much tighter than players with nothing left to lose, or the deep stacks that can afford to splash around. You’ll have more fold equity, which is a must-have on the bubble of any tournament.