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In this lesson you will learn what the bubble phase is and what your gameplan should be during the bubble phase, depending on your stack size relative to those of the other players. You will also learn how bubble scenarios differ for various SNG types.
Bubble Strategy: Introduction
In this video you will learn what the bubble phase is, and what your gameplan during the bubble phase should be, depending on your relative stack size when compared to those of the other players.
In the previous lessons you learned that the number of chips in SNGs and their value are not directly correlated. Furthermore, you should already be familiar with the risk premium concept, so you know you need extra equity on top of your pot odds to call a bet profitably. This extra equity tends to be highest on the bubble and immediately before it - when the last “unpaid” players are being eliminated. This phase of a tournament is called the bubble phase. In this lesson you will learn what your gameplan should be during the bubble phase, depending on your stack size relative to those of the other players. You will also learn how bubble scenarios differ for various SNG types.
You’ll now see what the bubble phase is, how to apply pressure on the bubble, what to do when you can’t apply pressure, and what the main differences are between the bubble phases of different SNG formats.
Obviously, you cannot draw a line and say, “here is where the bubble starts”. The bubble phase dynamics arise gradually, building as the tournament gets closer to the actual bubble. As you gain more experience, you will gradually learn to adapt to these dynamics. For the purpose of this lesson, however, the bubble phase needs to be specifically defined. It will henceforth be assumed that the bubble phase starts when there are 20% more players left in the tournament than there are on the exact bubble. For example, in a 9-man SNG with a typical pay-out structure, there are 4 players left on the bubble, so the bubble phase starts with 5 players left.
You can do that calculation for other tournament types that you play. If you play a given SNG format, you will notice that the dynamics start to become recognisably more “bubbly” around a certain point.
Applying pressure on the bubble
The first thing you should ask yourself during the bubble phase of a tournament is whether you are in a position to apply pressure on other players. This depends much more on your stack size relative to the stacks of the players left to act after you, than on your absolute stack size measured in BBs. You should think of a bubble phase situation as one where you can apply pressure if all the players left to act have: a shorter stack than you do, a slightly bigger stack than you do, but losing an all-in pot versus you will cost them a large chunk of it, or a much bigger stack than you, but being tight-passive will not use their stack advantage unless they have a real hand.
Your default gameplan in a spot where you are in a position to apply pressure should be the following: you should be opening most hands, making exceptions only when you have a weak holding and due to stack sizes or player tendencies there is a big chance of being called or raised. You should avoid attacking players who can call you light. Their light calls hurt them, however, they also hurt you, benefiting all the other players due to the ICM. Your default play when folded to should be to minraise, although a push is a better solution in cases where players behind you react tightly to an all-in but repush wide if you minraise. That depends largely on specific stack setups and the tendencies of your opponents. If there is a raise in front of you, you should take into account the combination of your fold equity, your showdown equity if called and the risk premium needed, then push or fold accordingly. You should rarely just call. If there is an all-in already when the action gets to you, you should proceed according to the guidelines pointed out in the lesson Playing Preflop: Calling and Isolating All-ins. The good news is that you don’t have to worry about an overcall, these happen extremely rarely in a bubble situation.
What to do when you can’t apply pressure.
There are times when a spot where you could apply pressure is unlikely to occur, mainly due to you having a short stack during the bubble phase. In such a case, there are only two moves left in your arsenal: wait it out or take a stand. The process of calculating whether to take a stand is very similar to when you have a bigger stack and there is a raise in front of you. The difference being when it is the villain who covers you, your risk premium is a lot higher and in effect your ranges should be much tighter. If the action folds to you and you are a short stack, you should not consider minraising. Your actions are limited to pushing and folding, and once again your decision depends upon the combination of fold equity, showdown equity if called, and risk premium needed. If you cannot apply pressure, and it is not profitable to take a stand, you need to wait it out. In a single table SNG, there is not much you can do except folding, and trying to manipulate the blind increases in such a way that they increase immediately after passing you. In a 180-man or 90-man SNG though, where the bubble phase is played out on more than one table, on top of manipulating the blind increases, you should use all your allotted decision time to maximise the odds of someone busting at the other table before you are forced to take a stand. Additionally, if you are taking a stand and the tournament is not yet playing hand-for-hand and there are shorter stacks at the other tables, you should strive to make the hand last as long as possible, in particular by leaving a single chip behind instead of going all-in, which gives you yet another opportunity to use some more of your decision time.
Differences between SNG formats.
You will be provided with in-depth advice on how to deal with the bubble phase in different formats in the next couple of lessons. For now, notice the basic differences in bubble play approaches. Remember, the risk premium largely depends on the payout structure and the size of the risk premium dictates your ranges. The bigger the risk premium, the tighter you should call and the wider you should push. You will notice that the highest risk premium is found in satellites. The bubble of a single table, an 18-man, a 27-man or a 45-man SNG is played out on a single table, whereas the bubble of a 90-man or a 180-man SNG takes place on more than one table. This allows additional stalling, but at the same time causes computational problems, as it is harder to calculate the risk premium with more than one table left.
In this lesson you have learned that: The bubble phase is characterised by special dynamics where calling ranges are extremely tight, and opening ranges can be extremely wide. The bubble phase typically starts with 20% more players than there are on the exact bubble. In spots when you can apply pressure you should do so, relentlessly. When you can’t apply pressure, you should take a stand when it is profitable to do so, but mostly you should look to wait out the bubble.