It's bubble time at the Main Event. It's always interesting to see how different players handle this situation. Some players close up tighter than a drum, while others open up the floodgates.
In an event like this, people have different goals, meaning that sometimes, by-the-book strategy might not be the ideal choice.
For some of the thousands of people who qualified for this event for substantially less than the $10,000 buy-in, the thought of busting out on the bubble might be more than they can handle. Players drop at a rapid pace throughout the day and, for one of these qualifiers sitting on a less-than-average stack, it might be worth their while to hang tight.
There's No Shame in Playing to Make the Money
For some people $35,000 can be life-changing money. If that is the case, there should be no shame in playing a little timidly around the bubble. Obviously this isn't the best way to amass a huge stack by bullying the other tight players but, at the end of the day, a player can still cruise into the money and then gamble their way up to a big stack anyway.
While this strategy will be good for some, it's not optimal, especially if you have chips. If you have an average to above-average stack, the bubble is go time. Against the right opponents with the right stack sizes, the bubble can be a good time to build yourself a stack.
One of the key issues when attempting to build a bigger stack during the bubble period is to choose your opponents wisely. Perhaps the player who is in the big blind when you're on the button isn't so interested in playing tight, but the player on your right is. It's OK to attempt to steal that big blind from under the gun, provided the rest of your table isn't too out of line.
Most of the table is likely to give you respect because you're raising under the gun - combined with the fact that it's the bubble and anybody in early position needs to be worried about players behind them. If you can make it all the way to the button without getting played back at, there is a good chance you'll pick up the blinds and antes.
Let's switch positions and play from the button. It's all about stack sizes now. If you're up against a reasonable opponent who has an average stack and they raise from late position pre-flop, you might have found a good spot to go ahead and reraise. The key here is that your opponent cannot be a lunatic and they must have enough left over to fold and still think they have a workable stack.
Even if they don't put you on much, they might be nervous to gamble for all the marbles after having invested so much time in the tournament. Try to stay away from people who are too short-stacked. They will likely always be more inclined to call or play back at you then the medium stacks who have more breathing room.
If you find yourself at a table that has completely turned into a bunch of boulders during the bubble period, feel free to go nuts. You can raise a large percentage of the time (over 50%) with a very wide range of hands because you're forcing the other players to pick up hand.
At that rocky a table, your steal attempts will work more than enough of the time to cover the times you get played back at. Just remember to keep an eye on your position; the later your position, the better your odds of picking up the blinds uncontested. This kind of table is the ideal one during the bubble.
Not getting too far past the bubble in tournaments? Try to loosen up when approaching it. You might find that once it bursts you'll have many more chips than you're used to having, and that can put you in a position to gamble a little bit when the danger passes and people start splashing around again.