Tough situation on the bubble

downloadHello everyone! In this blog post, I am going to share with you the most important hand from a $5,000 event I recently played. Nearing the bubble, I was cruising along with an 185,000 stack. Average once everyone got in the money would be roughly 175,000. When you have an average stack on the bubble, your general strategy should usually be to avoid playing a gigantic pot versus the big stacks while applying pressure to the short stacks. This will allow you to build your stack while avoiding going broke. It is important to have a rough game plan before you approach any poker situation. I have laid out my tournament strategies in my best-selling book, Secrets of Professional Tournament Poker. 

Everyone folded around to the big stack at my table (an excellent player who has great results over the last few years) who raised to 8,000 out of his 500,000 stack at 2,000/4,000-500. So far, this player has been running incredibly hot, making numerous premium hands versus his opponents’ strong, but second-best hands. He was min-raising most of the time when the action folded to him which made me assume his range was quite wide. Everyone folded to me and I decided to call with Ac-Jh, with 180,000 going to the flop.  While I think I have the best hand most of the time, I do not think reraising has much merit because I have no clue how he will react. If I thought he would 4-bet with an incredibly wide range, I would then easily 5-bet all-in. Since I had no clue if he would 4-bet wide or tight, I decided to call the min-raise and see what developed on the flop. This also helps accomplish my strategy of not playing huge pots versus the big stacks.

The flop came Ah-Th-6c, giving me top pair with a strong kicker plus a backdoor flush draw. I checked, as I typically do in this situation because I want to avoid playing a pot for my entire stack, and my opponent bet 9,500 into the 22,500 pot. I called. There is no point in raising because most likely, my opponent is drawing thin, and if he happens to have me beat, I want to minimize my losses. I am certainly not trying to play my hand in a manner that leads to me folding it at any point and I do not think my opponent will jam his stack in on the flop with anything worse than a strong flush draw, meaning when the money goes in, I will either have 60% equity or I will be crushed by a better made hand.

The turn was the (Ah-Th-6c)-4h. I again checked and my opponent bet 20,500 into the 41,500. At this point, my hand is essentially a bluff catcher as I don’t think many players would value bet in this situation with a worse made hand. Given my opponent is an excellent loose, aggressive player, combined with the fact that the big stacks should usually attempt to push around the middle stacks on the bubble, my hand is too strong to fold. I elected to call.

The river was the (Ah-Th-6c-4h)-Kh. I improved to the second nuts, but I elected to check because I thought if I bet, I could not possibly justify folding if my opponent decided to raise, plus he may make a hero-fold with most worse hands. My opponent bet 68,500 into the 82,500 pot. When someone makes an abnormally large bet (most of this player’s bets tended to be on the smaller side), is usually polarizes their range, meaning they have an abnormally strong hand or an abnormally weak hand. Since I lose to all of the strong hands (the nut flush) and I beat to all of the bluffs, I elected to call. I do not think there is any merit in folding, again due to my opponent’s playing style and the current tournament dynamics. Unfortunately for me, he showed Qh-Jd for the nut flush.

Notice that as played, unless my opponent improved to a straight or a flush, I would have won a sizable pot, even if he didn’t bluff the river. It is mandatory that you give players who should be overly aggressive the opportunity to bluff. While you will get outdrawn some portion of the time, the risk is well worth the reward. By getting outdrawn, I was left with a 15 big blind stack on the stone bubble which isn’t the end of the world.

Once I was down to a short stack, I resolved to play tight and lock up a min-cash before opening up and playing for the win. It is always important to analyze the payout structure when you are near the bubble. In European Poker Tour main events, getting in the money is quite important, given there are usually no significant payout jumps once you get in the money for quite a while (when a tournament pays 15% of more of the field, this is often the case). I implemented my plan then busted as soon as we got in the money with T-T versus A-K, resulting in an $8,860 min-cash. Mission accomplished!

complete-poker-strategyIf you want to learn more about my complete tournament strategy, I suggest you check out the exclusive webinar, My Complete Tournament Strategy, where I lay it all out for you.

Be sure to follow me on twitter @JonathanLittle for updates about my life and to be notified about new blog posts. Thanks for reading!

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