Playing Strong On The Bubble


If you have played many Texas Hold’em tournaments, you have probably experienced the tension that most players play with when it gets close to making the money or what is commonly known as “the bubble” Most players tend to get a little tight when it gets time to either make some money for the time you have invested or be put out right before you do. Obviously size matters at this point: your chip stack will dictate how you play when it gets late in the tournament, but whatever your stack size, you need to play it strongly rather than timidly. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t, but at least you will not be blinded-off or have your stack diminished to the point that you are not a threat to anyone. Here is a hand I played in a large entry tournament on PokerStars the other night.

Late in the tournament, there were less than 20 players left. The top 9 make the money at the final table. I had a chip stack of about $12,500, which did not put me in a real enviable position. The leaders were up around $40k+ and while there were a handful of players below me, I knew that I needed to make a move or risk becoming a non-factor.

In early position I was dealt A-K off suit. There were only 6 players at my table and the blinds were at $1200-$600. Big Slick is a great hand to be dealt short handed in any case, but here, I knew an all-in would likely only net me the blinds. What I needed was at least one call from a big stack so that I could maximize this hand. At this stage of the game, with my relatively short chip stack, I couldn’t count on seeing these cards again any time soon.  So, I put in a raise of 3x the Big Blind, or $3600. Both blinds has big chips stacks ($30k+) so I thought I could at least pull a reckless call from one of them.

Everyone folded around to the Big Blind who re-raised me all-in. What would you do here? I have about $8900 in chips left, I can fold and get out of this hand right now and still take one more shot. However, the blinds are getting up there and I will probably end up taking that shot with less than A-K. I do not like to have to trust my last all-in to A-rag or something like that. Also, this is basically what I wanted; an opportunity to double up to put me in position to actually do some damaged in this tournament. I have to figure that I am being pushed by the big chip stack who knows that I don’t want to go all-in or I would have in the first place.

I make the call and he flips over A-A, pocket rockets!!!

At this point, as you can see, I am screwed. I have a less than 6% chance to win the hand and when no miracles arrive on the Turn or River to give me a runner straight, I am out of the tournament in 16th place, finishing just out of the money. Bad play or good play?

Hindsight always being 20-20 you could argue that I should have folded the hand rather than call the all-in. However, that would be incorrect. If you are not going to play hands like A-K VERY strongly late in a tournament where the action is short handed, you are not going to win ANY tournaments, much less finish in the money often.

You have got to make that call. I don’t care if you end up out of the tournament 9 times out of 10, you have got to make that call. It is a good play and a correct play. If you run up against pocket Aces, that is just bad luck and the way it goes. You can’t do anything about that and I guarantee  you that it won’t happen often. A-K is most likely the best hand you will end up with at that point in the tournament and you have got to play it and let the chips fall where they may. Frustrating as it is when it doesn’t work out, you still have to play it that way.

What about going all-in pre-flop? Well, many times I would advocate that strategy late, you will pick up blinds that way and push many players off the hand, but in this case, going all-in would not have made any difference. He is not going to fold those pocket Aces no matter what bet you make. Sometimes, luck just runs the opposite way, even when you play smart poker.

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