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How to Play Close to the Poker Bubble in a MTT, STT or SNG

Some poker players claim that being close to the bubble in a poker tournament, whether it'd be a MTT or SNG, should not affect the way you play – fact is closing down on the poker bubble does affect your play whether you want it or not. In my previous article, I explained what's the poker bubble in a tournament. In this article, I will outline how to take the bubble into consideration when you're playing poker.

Some players become more passive
For many players, the prime objective when playing in a multi-table tournament is to finish in the money. Therefore, when they start approaching the paying spots, they start being more conservation, more passive and start playing tight. At this point, this type of poker player will be afraid to take risks – they are not playing according to the odds or EV, they just want to survive long enough to make it in the money. This will typically be done by players with short stacks – they will fold every hand by timing out, or if they do get a monster (AA, KK…), they won't play around, they'll push all-in.

Some players become more aggressive
Inversely, some players decide to take advantage of this close to the bubble stage to become much more aggressive. You'll see these players raise, steal the blinds, and straight out bully the other players on the table. They are aware that the other players are tightening up to try to finish in the money, so they know these players are more likely to fold their average to good hands, and not defend their blinds. This will typically be done by players with big stacks or players whose prime objective is to win the tournament, not just finish in the money.

How should I play near the bubble?
Well, first thing first, you need to figure out the type of table you are sitting on, the type of players you are playing against, and the type of player the other players see you as.

If the majority of the players on your table become passive, it might a good time to loosen up your game a little and to start to steal some blinds. You don't need to make big raises either, sometime just raising by 1 BB will be enough to scare your tight opponents away.

Obviously, the size of your stack matters as well. It's much easier to be an aggressor with a big stack. If you have a small stack, you might want to be more careful in making raises. However, stealing blinds in late position might be a good way to build up your small stack at this stage - especially if the two players on your left (the small blind and the big blind) are playing passive during the bubble stage.

Your poker table image also plays a part at this stage. For example, I'm usually more of tight conservative poker player in MTTs and SNGs. This is the table image I exude to my opponents during a tournament. Consequently, when I reach the bubble stage, I tend to play more hands, and become more loose and aggressive. Why? Because the other players at my table have an image of me that say "he's tight, and only raises with good hands", so they will be even less incline to call me or protect their blinds near the bubble, knowing that there is a good chance that I do have a hand. For me, every thing I do in a poker tournament go towards one objective, winning.

At the start of this article, I said that the bubble stage will affect the way you play. The reason is that even if you'd want to stick to your game plan and play the exact same way at this stage, it won't be possible because the other players on your table won't be playing the same way, which will therefore influence your own play.

You should always keep in mind your objective in a poker tournament – is it to win, or to finish in the money? If it is just to finish in the money, then you might have to tighten up and wait for the other players to bust out. If it is to win, then you will see the bubble stage has an opportunity to pick up some easy pots.