Bubble bashing

Playing the bubble in a sit&go is what separates a losing player from a winning one

In this quiz we’re going to examine the awkward situation of playing on the bubble with a short stack. As the short-stack, you generally need, rather desperately, to double-up. At the same time, you must exercise some care so as not to be eliminated by making poor decisions out of this desperation.

A fourth-place finish in a full-ring sit&go is easily the most disappointing result. You have already spent a good deal of time getting to the bubble, and a fourth-place finish gives you no reward for all that effort.

That said, disappointment is something we must live with when we play poker. And while you do not want to be eliminated as a result of poor decisions, you also do not want to cost yourself the lion’s share of the payout because you were too passive and focused simply on surviving the bubble.

If you have read my previous series addressing sit&go play, then you know that I recommend playing aggressively and attempting to win the sit&gos you play rather than creeping into the money, virtually assured of a third-place finish. Most players employ the latter strategy, and because of this you can often use aggression to your advantage even as the short-stack. Keep in mind, however, that what is needed is selective, rather than blind, aggression.


The quiz consists of four questions with marks for each. Please read each question carefully and answer before reading the analysis. For each of the following hands, the conditions are as follows:

BLINDS: 100/200

ANTE: 25


The table has tightened up significantly, as no one wants to be eliminated after putting in half an hour of their time. The action folds to you in the small blind, and you look down at 9?-4?. Your chipstack is a meagre 1,400 chips after posting the blinds and ante. The big blind has 3,000 chips after posting. The other two players each have over 4,000 chips. What should you do?



9-4 offsuit is nothing to be excited about. You could fold and wait for something better. It might seem that pushing with this hand is foolhardy, as you are just hoping that the big blind has nothing with which to call you. Certainly, if he does call you will be behind. But how far behind would you really be? Say he holds A-J. You still have a 36% chance of winning the hand. Not only that, but you also jump up to 3,200 chips and move into third place, giving yourself a good chance of taking down the tournament. Moreover, the medium- stack will be hurt should he call and lose. He knows he will become the desperate short-stack, and this makes him even less inclined to call. Medium-stacks are generally exploitable because they are focused on survival and will thus preserve their chips rather than risk a good chunk of them to catch your bluff.

If you answered A) Push, give yourself two points.


The big-stack has been bullying the table and, alas, has position on you. Once again you find yourself in the small blind but the bully is in the big blind. The action folds to you, with 1,250 chips after posting the blind and ante, and you find Q?-7?. The big blind has 5,825 chips, and the other players have 3,175 and 2,850. What is your play?



With little fold equity and a table position that will not get any better, you might think that you simply have to hold your breath and shove in this situation. This, however, would be a mistake. As the big-stack closes the action, he is extremely likely to call you. One large difference between attacking a big-stack and attacking a medium-stack is the calling range. When players amass a pile of chips, they tend to loosen up, which means a much expanded calling range. That means you must estimate that you will be taking your Q-7 against an enormous range, likely 80 to 90 percent. You do not have enough equity versus that range to push in. While you are indeed in bad shape stack-wise, you will probably gain more fold equity by waiting for the next hand, as the big-stack will have to factor in the medium-stack to his left.

If you answered B) Fold, give yourself two points.


You are in the big blind facing a push from the big-stack on the button. Once again, the big-stack has been bullying the table. The big blind has 5,825 chips, while the other players are medium- stacks with 3,275 and 2,850. The small blind with 2,850 chips folds and you now have 1,150 chips left and look down at 9?-8?. What is your play?



The big-stack is pushing here with a wide range of hands, using his chips to increase his lead. If you check the ICM numbers, you will see that he can profitably push 75% of his hands. This means that your 9?-8? will be ahead a good portion of the time. Nevertheless, merely having the best hand is not enough. While it may be the case that you will get it in with the best hand, you will not be winning enough of those times to justify calling off your chips. There’s a medium-stack to your left and you can attack him on the next hand. You could attack him with the exact same hand, but in that case, you would have some fold equity, even though you would have less chips, as he is a medium-stack and will want to protect his stack.

If you answered B) Fold, give yourself two points.


Once again you find yourself facing a call for all your chips in the big blind. This time, the opponent is not the big- stack but the medium-stack, who has made it 2,850 total. The big-stacked player has 5,875 and the other medium- stack has 3,125. You have 1,250. The medium-stacks will generally be looking to maintain their position, so when they do get involved they are likely to have some strength. How much strength is the crucial question, and answering this depends on how your opponent has been playing recently. If he has just been folding every hand and has now suddenly sprung to life, then you should obviously fold. If he has been pushing in every other hand, however, then you can call with a fairly wide range.

In this scenario, however, he has neither gone into his shell nor become super-aggressive, but he has raised a few times and has pushed in as the small blind two rounds back. You look down at Q?-10?. What is your play?



Against an aggressive medium-stack this is a fairly easy call, but against someone who is showing discretion, it is a much more difficult decision. I would estimate that the small blind is pushing with about 40% of his hands. That would include all pairs, Aces, Broadway hands, most suited connectors and some King-high and Queen-high hands. In this case, I recommend folding. Sure, Q-10 looks like a million bucks when you’re short-stacked, but this is not the spot to hang your tournament life on the line. A medium-stack who is showing discretion will have you beaten here the majority of the time – in fact, you may very well be dominated. Of course, you may be in a race against a small pocket pair or even have a slight lead against suited connectors. The decision is close, but you must exercise some patience with the short stack when calling off your chips. It’s not the worst place in which to call, but if you answered B) Fold, give yourself two points.


How did you fare in our quiz?





Mike Sexton once described Mel Judah as one of the best short-stack players on the planet. He further opined that Mel had the patience of Job. Many, many players lose patience while playing short and simply put their chips in the middle with any decent hand, hoping for the best. There are spots to do that, but you need to pick them rather than blindly falling into them. Play a patient game and consider the players you are playing against as you make your decisions. Basic ICM calculations are merely a guide for proper play. The crucial factor is always one of estimating the raising/pushing and calling ranges of your opponents.

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