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How to Survive a Poker Tournament Bubble with a Short Stack

17 February 2016, By: compncards
You’re approaching the bubble of a poker tournament and are one of the shorter stacks left in the field.

There’s a good chance you may bubble - ie bust out before the money spots - in this tournament.

A lot of experts will tell you to try and find a hand, get your stack in and hope for the best.

Rather than tell you to rely completely on luck, here's a different strategy to try and survive the bubble as a short stack.

Evaluate Your Position

First, take a quick look around and determine where you stack up against other players. Are you among the shortest stacks or do you spot multiple players that are in worse shape than you?

Check out the other players at the table that are short and how your stack compares to theirs.

Then evaluate your stack verses the blinds and antes. Are you in such a state where anyone is going to call your raise or do you still have some fold equity?

If there is an extended bubble at this level or the next, how many orbits can you go before you're blinded out?

Finally, how much will you get if you min-cash?

Is it worth trying to eke into the money or do you need to get deep in the money to make your day’s work viable?

Before you scoff at evaluating a min-cash, consider that some people satellite their way into an event.

Let’s say you're in a $500 event with a min-cash of $650. If a player got his or her seat in a $50 satellite, that’s a nice profit.

Once you’ve evaluated all these factors, you can devise your strategy.

When You Have Fold Equity

A good spot to be in when short stacked is at a table with other players in similar spots or with stacks in danger of getting short if they double you up.

This gives you a chance to pick on these players and put them to the test during the bubble period.

Obviously, if you’re going to play at these opponents, you want to have position on them. Otherwise, your plan may backfire.

You want to be in a spot where the other players left are in danger of busting or getting crippled by tangling with you. In this case they will often only play you if they have a big hand or have a true desperation-sized stack.

Riding it Out to a Min-Cash

There will be times where you may want to ride out your short stack to a min-cash. When this happens, you will want to keep a close eye on the other short stacks to see if anything drastically changes.

If it does you may have to find a spot to get your stack in to get enough chips to ride out the wave.

Otherwise, this is a spot where you’re going to sit back and sweat the other shorties and root for them to bust out ahead of you.

This is not sexy by any means and odds are you will bust shortly after the bubble. But if it's your stack and if this play earns you money, you certainly have the right to make it.

Picking Your Leroy Jenkins Moment

There will be times near the bubble that you'll have to buckle down and try and find a hand to go to war with.

This is your Leroy Jenkins moment where you battle the hoard of players in hopes of surviving.

If you can, try and pick up some type of reasonable hand, even if that means two face cards or a weak ace.

Don’t just go to war with 8-3 offsuit and pray for a miracle. Getting it in against one player is ideal but don’t be shocked if multiple players try and take you out.

Sometimes you’re going to bubble and walk out frustrated that you wasted your entire day (or two) just to leave empty handed. But sometimes fortune smiles upon the bold and you double-up to survive the bubble.

This is what they mean by “hours of boredom followed by moment of terror” when describing Texas Hold’em.

Your Goals Will Define Your Strategy

Ultimately, your goals in this tournament will help define your strategy. While we all say that we want to win every tournament, there are times where we will be happy just making some money and going on to the next one.

In those cases, you may have to use a less than sexy strategy to eke out a profit. Keep in mind that the only way to make serious money in poker tournaments is to make final tables and finish in the top 3 spots on a regular basis.

Just surviving the bubble is not an optimal strategy on a consistent basis. But it's still one a player will have to consider from time to time.

In the end, it’s your bankroll and you have to make the decision that’s best for you. 

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