Tips for When You’re Approaching the Bubble in Multi-Table Tournaments

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BetMGM Oct 23, 2023, 10:00 AM

Tournaments are one of the most exciting ways to play live or online poker. The variance involved is much higher than in cash games, so you could go far longer without any wins. However, the rewards and feelings of accomplishment can be so much greater when you succeed. 

There are few things as exhilarating in poker online games as winning a multi-table tournament (MTT). But, in order to do so, you’ll need to survive high-pressure situations like the bubble. In this guide, you’ll learn key strategy tips for when you’re approaching the money in an MTT.

What Is the Bubble?

To earn prize money in a poker tournament, you must finish among the highest places, as dictated by the event’s rules. As you near these payout spots, you eventually reach the cutoff point, where the next player out is the last to receive no winnings. 

This is the money bubble, or simply “the bubble,” and it’s the most tense part of any tournament. Your strategy needs to change as you approach this point in the tournament. 

How Multi-Table Tournaments Differ From Others

In terms of online poker tournaments, there are two main types. Multi-table and single-table tournaments (STTs) might use the same poker rules, but they’re very different formats to play. 

High stakes, big fields, and stellar rewards, including the coveted WSOP bracelet, are all associated with MTTs. Single-table tournaments, on the other hand, are smaller and easier to win but offer less glory and lower payouts. The most common STT format is the Sit ’n Go (SNG).

Number of Players

SNG tournaments feature a predetermined number of players and often use one table. Once the event fills up, the tournament begins. With multi-table tournaments, there’s usually a specific start time and a potentially unlimited number of players. 

Playing Style

Blinds escalate much faster in SNG tournaments. This means the style of play adopted by most participants is more aggressive. On the other hand, MTTs are typically slower and feature more complex strategies. Blinds still increase, but the structure is different, allowing for more variation in how you play. 

Prize Pool

With so many competitors to beat, reaching the final table of a multi-table tournament is challenging. However, the prize pool is much bigger, too, as a result. In addition, the prize structure is very different. 

Usually, just the top three players take home SNG winnings. With an MTT, the top 10% of finishers might receive a share of the prize. The exact payout structure varies by poker room. Some of the best online poker sites may give out prizes to the top 15%. 

Game Duration

Unlike playing online casino games, poker tournaments can last for a long time. SNG events normally finish comparatively quickly, thanks to the lower number of participants and the faster pace. On the other hand, MTTs can last for hours, sometimes even days. Therefore, joining an SNG tournament requires much less preparation and commitment than an MTT. 

MTT Strategy When Approaching the Bubble

Surviving the challenging early stages of a tournament and approaching the prizes means it’s time to start thinking about the bubble. If you’re playing in online poker real money events, taking home cash from this position is a real possibility. However, there’s still work to do as you approach the cutoff point.

Imagine the tournament awards prize money to the top 10% of finishers. It’s fair to say that you’re approaching the bubble when there are around twice that number of players remaining. In other words, when around one-fifth of the starting field is left, you’ll need to start adjusting your strategy. 

Here are some tips as you get closer to this point, which apply whether you’re playing live or in an online poker tournament.

Playing to Your Stack Size

You need to be extra vigilant of your stack size when deciding how to play poker during this phase of the event. For example, if you have a shorter stack, you’re much more susceptible to pressure from opponents with more chips. 

As a result, you need to play tighter and look to call down where possible. Of course, you should do the opposite if you have a larger stack. Loosen up and put pressure on players with shorter stacks who can’t profitably call with many hands. 

It’s important not to focus on simply surviving during this phase, as it makes it easier for your opponents to exploit you.

Take Initiative

While you shouldn’t be blindly aggressive during this stage, taking the initiative when entering pots is a good idea as you approach the bubble. This means opening good starting hands and making more continuation bets. In addition, you should value-bet your strong and medium hands and avoid slow playing.

You should still be selective over which hands you play and mindful of your opponent’s behavior. However, being first to bet before or after the flop will help you win more hands without seeing showdowns. 

Avoid Unnecessary Risks

Playing passively will put you at a disadvantage when approaching the bubble, making it much harder for you to finish among the top positions. However, you need to balance your play and avoid taking unnecessary risks if you actually want to reach the money. Any mistakes made here will be more costly than at any other stage in the tournament. 

You should avoid calling raises from out of position with marginal hands like gutshot draws. Resist the temptation to chase draws with bad pot odds, too. Lots of players with big stacks will also be more likely to call all-ins from smaller stacks during this phase, but this is very risky.

It’s easy to get carried away and throw caution to the wind. While trying to eliminate opponents is tempting, it matters a lot less at this stage. While it’s important not to overly emphasize survival, you do still need a stack if you want to make the money. So, don’t be completely reckless; rather, put yourself in the best possible position.

Don’t Blow the Bubble

As the bubble approaches, things become a little more tense at the table, especially when you’ve been playing for long periods. The next stage of play is what separates you from the prize money, and it’s important to use the right strategy. 

Although many tournament players tighten up, you should base your actions on stack sizes and the behavior of opponents. 

If you’re ready to put this advice into practice, register at BetMGM and join dozens of daily tournaments with real-money prize pools. What’s more, there are plenty of exciting slots and live dealer casino games to try out while waiting for your next MTT to begin.

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Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.