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Playing the Bubble with a Short Stack

Playing on the bubble of a sit and go or tournament can be difficult, as many players have the fear of busting and not making the money.

This fear is never more real than in situations when you're a short stack. As a short stack, you're hanging by a thread between possibly min-cashing or bubbling and making no money at all. One wrong move and it's all over.

Avoiding being the bubble boy when you're the short stack will involve a little bit of luck. However, there are things that players can do to increase their chances of squeaking into the money.

Tips for Playing the Bubble as a Short Stack

One of the first things you should look for as a short stack on the bubble is if there are any other players as short, or shorter than you are. The primary reason for this is so that you can determine how fast you need to act. Are you the shortest and are about to go through the blinds next? Are there others on the bubble as short as you are? These questions will help you determine what kind of strategy you might want to use.

If there are other players as short as you are, one strategy you can try to use is waiting them out. To do this, you will need to figure out who will go through the blinds first (you or him) and if it's him, if the blinds and antes will be enough to take him out.

I only suggest this strategy as a last resort if you have no fold equity left. It's not a good idea to just sit around and try to min cash if you're a short stack and have fold equity. Also, keep in mind that this strategy can backfire on you too. Say you try to outlast that player and he doubles up - now you're in a heap of trouble and will need a lot of luck to avoid bubbling the sit and go.

In the more common situations where there is no one to outlast, you'll need to make a play soon to avoid being the bubble boy. Depending on how short you may be, you might even need to act before the blinds hit you again. Not only to avoid bubbling, but also so that you can maintain what fold equity you might have.

Before you make a play, you're going to want to look at stack sizes. Remember that you're going to have more fold equity on the bubble against players who have stack sizes that can be heavily damaged by yours and less verses players who can call you and still not have anything to worry about if they lose.

So with that in mind, I'll often look ahead to find the best players to shove into. I might have a perfectly reasonable hand to shove like J9 suited, but if it's going into a player who will likely call me simply because he can call, I might be better off waiting. A better player to shove into would be someone that would have a hard time calling me without a great hand. You can generally shove into these players with much worse than J9 just due to their calling ranges being so tight. You just have more fold equity verses these guys. I should also point out that sometimes you'll have your spots taken - players will open before you have a chance to act forcing you to fold. So, if you're going to try to shove into a specific player or two, you don't want to decide this when you're 3 hands away from the big blind. You'll end up having to take the blinds without chipping up if your spot is taken.

Now, if it's probable that you're going to be called when you shove preflop regardless of who you shove into (lack of fold equity), then you might consider trying a play such as the limp and go. Just limp in preflop and shove any flop. Often times this play is effective because limping in looks so strong given that the standard play as a short stack is to shove. It's the best way to maximize what little fold you may have. This, of course, is assuming you have at least 5 big blinds or so.

In situations where I'm the shortest stack on the bubble and I'm not first to act, I do tend to bend the rules of ICM where needed. In other words, I will make much lighter calls with hands like AQ+, KQ and smaller pocket pairs (and better) if someone opens in front of me and I feel that I'm ahead of their range. An example of this would be when a regular is abusing the bubble because you're so short and no one else can (is supposed to) call. Many times these regs are on a 90-100% hand which AK is well enough ahead of. It's a risk I don't mind taking, especially if I'm becoming desperate.

Summary of Playing the Bubble as a Short Stack

My last piece of advice, and likely the most important, is that you should never let yourself blind out for any reason. You're not always going to find the ideal situation where you have a great hand, tons of fold equity or the ability to shove into a specific player. Sometimes playing on the bubble, especially as a short stack, means that you will just have to click the all in button, close your eyes and hope for the best.

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