If you’re not familiar with the term “bubble” on a poker table, it refers to the last player who gets knocked out of a tournament or sit-and-go before the money. If the event pays out six players, the one who finishes in seventh place is the bubble player. It goes without saying that when an event is approaching this period of time near the bubble, everyone left takes a little bit of extra precaution. With everyone so apprehensive this period in a tournament can pose opportunities for players who employ well-timed aggression.
How you should play around the bubble will depend on your stack size compared to the stack size of the players you are in the hand with. If your stack is big, you can force the action against shorter-stacked players. They would have to be on a monster hand to risk their tournament life so close to the money, and most players will shy away from big pre-flop bets at this juncture. Medium stacks make the best targets because they’re not looking to double up like the smaller stacks. If you have the biggest stack at the table you should be trying to steal blinds virtually every hand.
If it’s you on the short stack you have to decide what your goal is at this time. Do you want to try and win the tournament, or will you be happy with finishing as deep as you can as long as you make it to the money? If you’re going for it, this is a good time to try and double up. Bigger stacks will be doing what was just suggested – attempting to steal all the blinds they can by making a big raise pre-flop. Wait until you get a decent hand and let the big stack make his raise, then re-raise the rest of your stack and hope for the best. If you get action from the big stack you’ll likely be up against a weaker than normal hand. The big stack player may even opt to fold if his hand is weak enough, and you’ll pick up the pot without further risk. If you get action and win the hand you’re on your way. If you don’t, you’re on the rail.
If your goal is to make it to the money, and then as deep as you can after that, you should shy away from play as much as possible. Play around the bubble can be a short period of time, and if you take all the time allowed to act someone on another table may go out before you. Often other players will follow your lead, and will begin to play slowly to slow down the table’s action.
If you have a medium-size stack it’s best to stay out of the action as much as possible. If the blinds are still manageable for you there’s no reason to risk your chips at this time. If you get a good hand that you want to play, try to only get into hands with stacks shorter than yours. Stay away from the big boys who can knock you out in one shot. It may cost you a blind or two, but you never know what you may be up against during this period of the tournament.