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After the bubble bursts

So you’ve made the money... what now? Stuart Rutter offers a crash course in getting your head straight and making solid decisions once you’re guaranteed a return on your buy-in

Congratulations! The bubble has burst, you’re in the top 10% of the field, and whatever happens now you’ll be going home in profit. It’s definitely a time to really enjoy the buzz of tournament poker, but unfortunately that’s not the point of this article. More importantly, it’s a time to avoid our first classic error.


There is a noticeable release of tension when a drawn out bubble has burst, and it can make many players really relax. This is a good thing in part, but if you take it too far, could mean that you lose your concentration on playing your ‘A’ game at an incredibly important part of the tournament.

However many tournaments you play in a year, the moments you will look back on that have truly shaped the year are not at the start of the event, but the spots deep inside the money where the pots are massive and the decisions are crucial. The money jumps can often be massive, and we’re going to take a look at how to put yourself in the best possible situation whatever size stack you hold...

A short stack (0-15 big blinds): A player who gets into the money short has probably suffered the tension around the bubble more than most, and is more likely to make our next classic error.


Many players play too tight before the bubble, which can be understandable, but then wrongly see the bursting of the bubble as a reason to go too far the other way, and are far too willing to gamble.

There can be a feeling for a short-stacker that they are free-rolling and there is a wisdom that they should “get it in”, but this wisdom becomes nonsense, unless we look carefully at the correct way to “get it in”.

Remember in poker that there is the world of difference between calling all-in and moving all-in, and that you can move with a much wider range than you call, simply because it carries a good chance of picking up the blinds and antes for free.

However, it is the middle ground that confuses people, and it manifests itself in this kind of classic error.


You are in the big blind with 90k at blinds of 5k-10k, and the cut-off, who is a big stack, raises to 30k. You have pocket fours, he may be stealing with his raise, and you decide to ‘move’ in.

This will look like fine logic to most players, but it is important to understand why it is an error. It will sound bizarre, but the reason is that you are not moving all-in, but effectively calling all-in. Why?

If we assume the cut-off raiser is a reasonable player, he will do some quick maths when it comes back to him. He will realise that he has only to call 60k to win a pot that will be 185k plus the antes, and he ought to call with whatever hand he has raised with.

Even when we understand this, pocket fours may still feel like a hand we are happy to go with, but it certainly shouldn’t be. When people talk about hand ranges, it may sound complicated, but really you can think about it as simply as this. When you are all-in with pocket fours, you will hit one of the following categories:

• Racing against any two over-cards

• Crushed by any one of 10 overpairs

• Crushing one of two underpairs

Even if we add in a very small chance that you will face only one overcard in a hand like A-3 suited, it doesn’t change the fact that this a very bad combination of hands to be gambling your tournament life against. In this scenario, we should really only be starting to move in with the pair that divides the crushed/crushing range in half, and that is actually pocket eights.


It may start to seem that we should be locking it up at this stage of the tournament, but this is definitely not the case.

If you are genuinely moving all-in rather than calling all-in, you can do it with far more hands. If we turn round our example and put you in the cut-off with the action folded to you, then you can definitely push with fours; indeed you can with any pocket pair, and much more than that. In fact, where you are pushing 90k to try to win 15k plus the antes for free, you would be right to move all-in with something like the top 60% of hands you are dealt.

It all means that the advice for a short-stack is this: be very active about moving your stack in, but when you do, always be sure that your opponent(s) do actually have the option to fold. When you know that you definitely will be turning your hand over and relying on luck, make sure that you beat more of your opponent’s range than is beating you.


Let’s say that there are 30 players left in the money, and you are shooting at a final table of nine. You have a deep stack, room to play poker, and the chance to push people around. There is a whole area of strategy as to whether you should take a loose or tight attitude to the tournament, but it can basically come down to one fundamental question…


Is it better to give yourself the best possible chance of simply making the final table, and the chance to begin the big money jumps (the tight option), or should we use the loose option and shoot at giving ourselves a chance of making the final table with a really big stack? This option will hurt our chances of taking a final table seat, but will help our chances of winning the whole thing.

If we pretend this is the GUKPT, then the relevant prizes to look at would be something like this: you currently have £1,500 for the min-cash, there is £5k for ninth place, 18k for fifth (the average final table finish), or a massive £70k for the win.

It is those massive jumps in the top three or four prizes that really shape our decision, and leave a very clear answer to our question. A big stack player may think he should lock up his final table seat, but actually the far better option is to push the boundaries, and aim for chips over survival. You only have to look at the fact that coming fifth three times in this situation is not as good as winning once, and coming 30th in the other two.


One really strong move is to three-bet (re-raise) the smaller stacks pre-flop, and give them a decision for their tournament life. However, this carries two warnings; make sure that the short stacks do actually have the room to pass, and also be aware of the fact that many of them will make our third classic error, and be too willing to gamble. This actually means that you should do most of your bullying not on the shortest stacks, but on the players whose position in the tournament is harder for them to define – and that is the medium stacks.

If you three-bet a short stack before the flop, or make a continuation bet against him, you probably will be directly putting him all-in. Against a medium stack, this is not the case, but actually your move can be stronger. These two scenarios would both be examples of the implied all-in. Namely, for the medium stack, they carry the knowledge that if they do make this call they will probably commit themselves to calling off the rest of the chips on the next street(s). It is a great way that you can threaten their whole stack, without actually having to stake it all yourself.

Medium stacks (15-50 big blinds): You’re in the middle of the leaderboard, but in the comfort stakes, you’re at the bottom. A good big stacker will bully you, and the gamble-happy short stacks will stand up to you. It may surprise you to hear which victims you should choose; they are not the ones you can threaten with elimination, but the ones you can threaten with a big dent; your victims should be the big stacks. The dream situation would be if you perceive when they might bully you, and use the trump card of bullying them back to win the pot. Let’s have a look at how this might happen.

You are playing a stack of 330k, and raise with pocket fours on the cut-off to 30k at 5k-10k. The big blind has been active with his big stack, and makes it 80k to play.

One thing you should not do is call, and allow him to make your life worse on the flops with no four. Here, you have a great spot to make the brave play of moving all-in. If the big blind was bluffing, you will win a sizeable 110k (plus antes) for free, but even if he has a hand like A-10 or 7-7, the dent you can threaten in his stack may still win you the pot.

If the move does not work, your hand obviously is not good against his calling range, but strangely it is not so bad. You still have a good chance of a race, and the numbers work out that the chance of a free 110k is definitely worth the risk of having to make a bad all-in gamble of 330k. That aside, it will do wonders for your image!

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