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What's the Poker Bubble

There probably isn't a more frustrating feeling in poker than finishing on the bubble in a poker tournament. Imaging spending X hours grinding, stealing blinds, making moves, winning races just to finish in 19th position, when only the first 18 players make it into the money. Now, if finishing on the bubble happens often for you, then, at the very least, it means that you're good enough to go deep in a tournament on a regular basis, and that's always a good start.

Let's start by defining some of these terms for those of you who are not familiar with the poker bubble.

Definition of In The Money & Out of The Money
In a poker tournament, there will be a prize pool, which is made up of all the buy-ins of the players participating in the tournament. For a tournament to be worthwhile, this prize pool must be divided so that the higher you finish the more money you receive.

For example, in a 36 player tournament, the prize pool might be attributed so that only the first top 9 positions pay. First position will pay more than second and so forth. Hence, if you finish in the top 9, you finish in the money, if you finish in 36th to 10th position you finish out of the money. In poker, like anything else, you want to be in the money.
 
Definition of the Bubble
Finishing on the bubble means finishing just out of the money - that is in the last position that doesn't pay. In our above example, that would be the 10th position since only the top 9 positions pay, so the player who gets knocked out of the tournament in 10th position finishes on the bubble.

Definition of Hand to Hand
In a MTT, when you reach the bubble stage, the tournament will be played hand to hand. Hand to hand means that every table plays one hand at a time, and the next hand can't be played until every table has finished playing the current hand.

Hand to hand is put in place so that it's fair for everyone – i.e. a low stacked player could deliberately take a lot of time to act in hopes that someone else busts out of the tournament before him, so that he doesn't finish on the bubble. This won't work during Hand to Hand. If two players on two different poker tables get knocked out of the tournament in the same round during Hand to Hand, it is the player, between the two, who had the less chips at the start of the round that will finish on the bubble. So, may this be a lesson of poker etiquette for you when you reach the Hand to Hand stage – don't delay the game, it won't help you and it will only piss other players off (there might be one exception where delaying your action during Hand to Hand might be useful – I'll talk about it in the next article).

In my next article, I will talk about how to play when you're close to the poker bubble in a MTT, STT or SNG (Multi-table tournament, single-table tournament or sit and go).