This post was originally published on 20 March 2020 and updated on 16 March 2021.
You might be wary of the tournament bubble. After all, there’s no worse a place to be busted from a poker tournament) with the possible exception of heads-up).
All the effort and hard work, especially if you’ve put into practice everything we’ve told you about in this guide, is wasted.
It may even be what stops you trying the Sunday Million again.
But what if you could learn quick strategies that, when the time comes, will help you navigate the tricky waters around the bubble, and put yourself in a better position to face that other bubble – the final table.
That’s what this article is about.
It’s about getting you past what is almost a mental block.
Sure, it’s not always something you can control. But that shouldn’t stop you doing everything you can to get through it, and keep using those same simple strategies for every pay jump, all the way to the final table.
Read on to learn ways you can increase your chances of making the money.
There’s more to the bubble than stack size
It might look like a simple equation – you either cash or you don’t.
But there’s more to the bubble than that.
It’s not just about stack sizes (although that’s a big part of it).
It’s also about the types of players at your table, and how they are most likely to play at this crucial stage.
That’s what we’re going to break down in this article.
Not just the types of players, but how they are likely to play.
Even better, we’ll show you how to identify these players using a simple trick, which allow you to take a better, more profitable approach to playing them.
The three types of player to look out for
There are three main types of player to look out for.
First we’ll go through the characteristics of each kind of player when they’re on the bubble.
Then, we’ll get to the all important system of working out who is who (it’s super easy and requires no special knowledge, or anything like that)
Then we’ll jump ahead to the bubble AFTER the bubble, when you’re looking at a spot on the previously elusive final table.
Let’s get started.
How to spot which is which
Knowing the types of players at your table not only helps predict how they will approach the bubble it also means you can adjust your strategy to make the most of it.
And working this out is easier than you think.
There are three main category of players.
- Professional or solid winning players
- Casual or fun players
- Microstakes players
Each has a different motivation, and will play differently when the money is in sight.
Let’s take a look at each.
Professional or solid player
As you’d expect, these players are looking to play optimum strategy.
That means if they’re short stacked, they understand the implications of a stack of say three big blinds. Even if they move all in and double up they’re still in critical condition.
So the best ICM strategy (clicking that link will take you to a really easy example of what that means) is to play ultra-tight. They want to make the money just like everyone else.
However, give these players a big stack and they’re likely to use it to exploit the smaller ones desperate to min cash.
Casual or Fun player
For players like this, and you might put yourself in this category, cashing means more than just making the money.
It’s about achieving something. It might be your first chance to cash in an event this size, and that’s not to be sniffed at.
Cashing the Sunday Million sounds even better than Playing the Sunday Million around the water cooler on Monday.
But because it’s so important, playing for their entire stack is unlikely.
Maybe you’re in this category.
If you are this will be a big moment for you.
You’d also be forgiven for avoiding any risk at all given the enormous boost to your bankroll making the money would represent.
It’s a windfall you can’t easily ignore.
But before we get to how you can adjust your own game to take on each of these categories (regardless of which you belong in yourself), you need find out which of these categories fit your opponents.
That’s what we’re gong to talk about next.
How to determine what type of players are at your table
This is where we introduce you to a simple trick that will help you work this out.
Again, there’s nothing complicated about it. In fact, it’s so easy you’ll wonder why you haven’t used it before,
The easiest way to work this out would be to know how much each player bought in for. But there’s another way that gives you a good idea.
You’re going to use the search function in the PokerStars lobby.
From there select TOOLS.
Then select FIND A PLAYER.
Then type in the screen name of the player you want to look up. Next, use the bullet points below to get information:
- If they’re playing three other tables of buy-ins of $5 and lower: Micro stakes player
- If they’re ONLY playing the Sunday Million: Probable Casual/Fun player
- If they’re playing eight tables with buy-ins of $20+: Pro/reg
- And if their search is blocked: Most likely a regular player
A simple way to find out so much.
Do this with other players at the table, and in a few moments you’ll get a rough idea of who you’re up against.
Even better, you can make changes to how play against them.
Actually, most of this is now logical.
If you’re up against a fellow casual player, or a fellow microstakes player (and you’ll know this having looked them up) you can apply pressure, knowing they’re most likely to fold as they look for a min-cash.
So if your stack is bigger than theirs get stealing from them.
But a word of warning.
Make sure you’re sensible about this.
Take this example from PokerStars School.
Let’s say it folds to us in the small blind.
We have a 15 big blind stack and the big blind has 12 big blinds.
If the BB is a micro stakes player, we can raise small with any two cards and win the blinds and antes often enough to turn an immediate profit.
We don’t need to put 12 big blinds at risk since we expect this player type to overfold to our raise, specifically because of the bubble situation.
So we can simply raise and fold to a shove, knowing it’s probable they have a bonafide monster when they re-raise us.
That will put you in a great position to make the money. But remember, that’s just the first hurdle. You want to go even further than that, to the next bubble if you can. That’s what we’ll go over next.
What about the other bubble?
What you’ve learned getting through the money bubble will help enormously as you try to reach the final table.
But there are some important differences. As outlined on PokerStars School
- Players are no longer faced with “going home empty”. Everyone has secured a significant payout.
- The players left in the tournament will likely be stronger, i.e. more pro/reg heavy.
- Play is shorthanded, with two tables playing down to five players each until the eventual nine handed final table is reached.
And yet the same principles apply but adjusted slightly.
Let’s take the same example as before, where we have 15 big blinds to our opponent’s 12. Only this time they’re a well known regular (and winning) player.
Now a min-raise with our entire range to steal may not work as well as before.
The strong player will move all in with a reasonable number of hands to leverage fold equity on us, something that wasn’t a concern on the money bubble vs. the desperate micro player.
The better play for us is probably to simply raise all-in directly, not with all hands, but with a reasonable ICM type range that can be found on good push/fold charts for a 12 big blind stack.
The strong player will probably call us somewhat correctly. But they’ll still fold more than they should according to ICM call ranges.
They likely perceive an edge over the remaining field, or perceive that we are not actually shoving as wide as we “should” be in this spot.
Plus, they’re human too.
They may not be 100% versed in what the call range should be themselves, folding some of the weaker hands that are correct calls but not intuitive.
No more winging it on the bubble
So let’s recap.
Put simply, there are three different types of players in a tournament, and each is most likely to play a certain way on the bubble.
Using the notes here you now know what those three types are.
And you also know how to use the search system in the PokerStars client to work out what TYPE of player they are. And from there, how they’re likely to play.
That means you’ve also equipped yourself with inside knowledge about them that you can exploit.
That’s regardless of the category of player you fall into.
From there, with sensible play, you can take advantage of shorter stacks, and the types of player at your table.
So no more winging it on the bubble.
No more folding and folding and hoping for the best.
Instead, you can take control of what happens here. You can start making the money, and then going deeper and deeper into tournaments.
And when you get in range of the final table, you can readjust.