Setting MTT Goals Part II: Bubble Play
2006 Randy Saylor  
Part one of this series analyzed the payout structure of online MTTs. This second part gives a detailed example of how to approach the bubble of an MTT with the payouts in mind.

Let me give you a recent personal example. I was playing in the Poker Stars $55,000 Guaranteed, a $10+1 rebuy tournament that starts at 2215 US Eastern Time daily. I had gotten fairly lucky early on, and was able to increase my stack without making too many rebuys. I had $31 invested in the tournament after the add-on, and had a nice stack going in to the break. Over 1500 players had entered, and the rebuys built the prize pool to over $60,000. The top 180 players would receive a payout.

I played a normal tight-aggressive, solid game through the middle stages of the tournament. When the blinds increased to 200/400 with a 25 ante, there was now $825 in the pot preflop on each hand, enough to make a few moves worthwhile. I shifted gears and increased by aggression. I was able to slowly build my stack, always staying slightly ahead of the average despite not catching many cards.

As the second break approached, I found myself unlucky to be moved to a new table. I had felt I had good control of my previous table, but the new one had an aggressive, large stack player two seats to my right. This destroyed my chances of making any clever moves. I continued to get poor starting hands, so my stack started slowly dwindling.

When there were about 230 players left, I was at about 38,000 in chips, when the tournament average was 40,000. This is hardly a desperate situation, but since I had no leverage at this particular table, I needed to make a big move quickly, or I would be blinded down to all-in or fold status.

I had two options: play super tight, limp into the money and then hope for some luck with my (then) micro-stack of chips. Had I chosen this tack, I might have won $17. I’m serious. The payout for places 136-180 was about $48. I had invested $31. Seventeen dollars is not much return for four hours’ work. My other option was to play an aggressive game and either get a stack or go home. I chose number two.

The big stack aggressor was raising almost every pot that was folded to him preflop if he was not in one of the first three seats. There was simply no way he could have as many quality starting hands as he was representing, but the cardinal rule of “don’t attack the big stack” kept us all from fighting back. If I remember correctly, the blinds were 1500/3000 with a 150 ante. This meant T5850 (T = tournament chips) went into each pot before the deal.

The aggressor was raising to 10,000 every time. This is a smart move, because is doesn’t tip your hand to the other players. With my stack at about 38,000, it meant I could go all-in over the top of this player and effectively raise 28,000. Assuming everyone then folded to him, he would be forced to call 28,000 for a pot of 43,850. He would be receiving 1.56 to 1 expressed pot odds. Those odds are not anywhere good enough to call with anything worse than 88+, AQ+, or AT+ suited. The odds of him folding were in my favor, and would increase the next time I tried it with more chips.

Note that if you do make this play, you must have enough chips to make your opponent fold. It doesn’t matter what cards you have! If your opponent has a premium hand, you’re probably done anyway. But if the opponent raises to 10,000, then you go all-in for 12,000, he only has to invest 2,000 more to call! Those pot odds mean he must call with any two cards even if he knows you have AA!

The first time, I had T3. Or maybe it was KK. I told you, it doesn’t matter! Either he’s calling or he’s not, and chances are good that he’s not! I raised all in, everybody folded, and I had about 54,000.

The second time, one orbit later, I had about 47,000 chips when he makes his move again. I re-raise all-in with 87. When you make that move with a poor hand like that, you don’t want a call, because you don’t want your opponents to see your starting hand requirements there, but here it worked out for the best. A tiny stack player behind me called all in for less than T3000. The aggressor folded, and I was heads-up against a player who couldn’t hurt me. I did not want to have to show my 87, though. The opponent showed jacks, but I was lucky enough to catch two pair to knock him out. My stack increased to about 65,000.

My cover was blown, though, because now the tough guy knew I could raise with nothing, too! Only one thing could save me - a premium hand. The very next hand, my wildest dreams came true. I was dealt AA. Tough Guy raises to his usual 10,000. Now what? I’ve got the perfect hand! I can double up!

Quiz question: Should I raise to a) 20,000; b) 30,000; c) 65,000.

Quiz answer: C! All-in! This is the perfect move for this situation. I just made the same move with a fair hand that got lucky. I might be getting out of line, and he will now call me with any kind of decent hand at all.

He called. He had KK. I won and increased my stack to about 136,000, which was in the top 10 per cent of the leader board! Tough Guy earned a bubble finish for his efforts after busting out a few hands later.

Unfortunately, that was my last really good hand of the night, and my stack dropped like a rock. My aggressive plays fell apart, and I finished 14th for a $400+ profit on the night. Next time, I’ll make the final table for one of those bigger payoffs.

If I play that tournament 100 times and hit the final table only once (losing every other time), my average profit will be about $4800 (the average of the top nine places).

If I play 100 times and squeak into the money every time (nearly impossible, of course), I would profit about $22 per entry, or $2200. Do you want $4800 for one final table or $2200 for 100 consecutive squeakers? You choose.

In baseball, teams are usually right to play small ball, meaning hit singles and manufacture scores rather than trying for home runs. In MTTs, going for the home run is usually correct. See you at the final table!

Part One of Two: Analyzing Payouts
Part Two of Two: Tournament Bubble Play

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