Tournament Poker Bubble Strategy – Make the Most of the Bubble

Poker, Cards, Tables, Money, Chips

Poker tournaments offer many players the opportunity to turn a huge profit. However, it takes many hours of studying and practicing to develop a strategy that allows you to compete for the top prizes.

One of the key stages of each tournament is the so-called “bubble.” The term refers to the cut-off point at which players receive (or don’t) any money. The last person to be eliminated before payouts are issued is the person who “pops the bubble.”

Many people don’t know how to play on the bubble, so I’m here to help. I share several different ways you can improve your poker bubble strategy. My tips are focused on managing your stack and putting yourself in a position to accumulate more chips.

Reaching the Money is Not Your Goal

This is the most important aspect of any betting strategy for bubble play in poker tournaments. Winning a large cash prize requires you to go on a deep run and reach the final table.

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Surviving the tournament to a point where you’ll earn a payout often isn’t enough. You’re typically winning a cash prize worth only two or three times the initial entry fee you paid (at most).

When you’re playing the bubble, you should try accumulating as many chips as possible. However, you must remain patient and avoid taking too many risks. Ultimately, the size of your stack will determine what your strategy will be.

For veteran and professional players, the bubble is a position where they have to get a little creative. They understand that the goal is to reach the final table with every tournament, but their strategy framework will go into effect when they play the bubble.


Always base your decisions on winning the tournament, even when you’re just trying to survive. Never play in fear of walking away with nothing. Your strategy should be to play aggressively whenever the situation warrants it.

Keep in mind that certain players are also simply trying to cash out. They’re just giving away equity, and your job is to take it. Make sure you have a winner’s mindset and capitalize on situations that are easy to win.

Bubble Play Strategy for Small Stacks

When you have a small stack of chips, and you’re on the bubble, there’s not much you can do. Your only choice is to go all in on hands that have a decent of bringing you some chips one way or another.

The problem with the short stack is that anyone can use their chip advantage against you. You also can’t exploit anyone in terms of the stack size, and your opponents want you to lose because you’re on the brink of elimination.

Ultimately, you should remain calm and collected when you have a short stack while playing the bubble. Take every opportunity you can to double up, and avoid playing passively because your stack will only continue to dwindle.

You should also push your chips to the middle of the table if you have any fold equity. Putting other short stacks and people with middle stacks under pressure often works. Be careful with big stacks, though, because they might call you lightly.

In essence, your goal is to go all-in in any spot with decent fold equity and with any hand that does well in showdowns.

Poker Bubble Strategy for Medium Stacks

Medium stacks are in an interesting position, because there’s no clear strategy when playing the bubble in poker tournaments. You can go in two different directions depending on what the situation warrants.

The best approach is to base your decisions on how other players at your table are approaching the bubble. If everyone is playing scared, you should get more aggressive. People with big stacks will sometimes try to coast to the final table, and you should challenge them more often when that’s the case.

People who’re playing scared are often easy to identify. They’re folding most of their hands, looking at the clock, and constantly requesting updates on how many players remain. In online tournaments, these are the people who fold all the time and take a lot of time on each turn.


Players with a more conservative approach to playing the bubble often wait until they have a strong hand to raise or call. That’s why you should back down with mediocre hands if they show signs of strength.

I also advise you to attack the blinds of all players with a small stack. You’re backing them into a corner, often forcing them to fold their hands. Many players with small stacks are often playing to survive the bubble.

You should always try to set yourself up for a deep tournament run, and a medium stack gives you more leverage. However, you constantly have to assess your position and make adjustments accordingly.

Bubble Poker Strategy for Big Stacks

A large stack allows you to get aggressive with your poker bubble strategy. It’s the best position to be in no matter the stage of the tournament. You have a ton of flexibility and leverage to pressure other players.


The biggest fear for every player is to bust while playing the bubble. You can use this to your advantage to gain more chips, which puts you in a better position to win poker tournaments.

Veteran players also understand that big stacks allow them to open things up and pursue a wide range of hands. Furthermore, some players will play extremely passive, and you can force them to fold almost every time.

The other benefit of your aggressive approach is that you will build a certain image. Most people will think you’re a maniac, so the chances to win a lot of chips with a premium hand later on rise significantly.

Additional Poker Bubble Tips

I also want to offer you a few tips on how you can improve your poker tournament strategy when playing the bubble. These are simple changes that anyone can implement and increase their odds of winning.

  • Know When to Fold: You simply can’t play every hand, even if you have the biggest stack. Take your shots when it’s advantageous to you and allows you to advance deeper into the tournament.
  • Know When to Raise: You don’t want to come off as an ineffectual player. Make sure you’re mixing in a few raises to show everyone else you’re not predictable.
  • Protect Your Blinds: Blind bets allow you to be more aggressive. Simply call or re-raise a few times, and players will back off (especially people who’re only playing to cash out).
  • Follow the Other Tables: You should stay aware of the other tables in the tournament. If there are a few super short stacks, the bubble is likely to burst soon.

Ultimately, you don’t want to leave any money on the table. Always put yourself in a position where you have the edge over the other players competing in the tournament.

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Petko Stoyanov
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About Petko Stoyanov
My name is Petko Stoyanov, and I've been a gambling writer for more than ten years. I guess that was the natural path for me since I've loved soccer and card games for as long as I can remember! I have a long and fairly successful history with English Premier League betting and online poker, but I follow many other sports. I watch all big European soccer leagues, basketball, football, and tennis regularly, and I keep an eye on snooker, volleyball, and major UFC events.