Home » How to Survive the “Bubble” in Poker Tournaments

How to Survive the “Bubble” in Poker Tournaments

Home » How to Survive the “Bubble” in Poker Tournaments

How to Survive the “Bubble” in Poker Tournaments

A poker player picks up a stack of chips.

Sometimes things don’t go according to plan when playing online poker and one of the worst things that could happen is to get caught in “the bubble.” It can be disheartening and some new players could end up quitting poker for good after having this experience. 

The good news is that it’s not the end of the world if you find yourself in the bubble, and there are ways to make it through this part of the game. Here we’ll be looking at different ways to survive the bubble in online poker tournaments and how to make the most of the situation if you feel stuck.  

What is the bubble?

The bubble is a point in land-based or online poker tournaments that requires one more player to bust for the remaining players to cash. Most players, especially amateurs who are familiar with this point in the game, try to avoid the bubble at all costs. But once the bubble bursts, it’s generally met with an ovation from the rest of the competitors, as you’ve essentially become the sacrificial lamb for them to cash. Meanwhile, the remaining players might look at you as some sort of hero … even though you’re broke. 

The funny thing is that when you make other people money, you usually get some sort of commission, but if you bubble, you only learn that you should’ve folded earlier. The bubble is important for many experienced players as this is where they establish the framework that’s needed to win the tournament. 

The bubble exists at a point in poker tournaments where players want to make it to the next round – the fear of failing to do so is where the bubble lies. This could be in the form of an increase in prize money, making the final table, or making day two of a tournament. Since all players want to achieve these things, the gains are significant enough to change the dynamics of the game – this is something that’s not found in online casino games because players can’t see each other.

Using your stack to get out of the bubble

A stack refers to a stack of casino or poker chips and the size of the stack will determine your options for your next move. Below we’ll be looking at the different sizes and what can be done with them, whether you’re a casino visitor or you prefer to play poker online. 

The short stack


Two small stacks of red poker chips.

Regardless of the poker variation, be it Omaha poker or Texas Hold’em poker, the short stack is the worst-sized stack to have in the bubble. It’s regarded as the worst-sized stack to have in general, but it’s especially bad in the bubble. This is because you won’t have enough chips to exploit anyone, and you’re the player everyone hopes will lose. 

This is certainly not an ideal situation to be in and this is where you’ll need to be very careful with your moves. The first thing to do is find a balance of patience and discard your fear. Sure, this is easier said than done, but it’s your main key to surviving the bubble. You then need to come to terms with cashing not being your only goal. The decisions that you make in the bubble should be prioritized to set you up to win the tournament. 

Once the bubble bursts, you’ll have fewer chips, a smaller stack to work with and an uphill battle to reach the core of the tournament. It’s easy to have an emotional response to the game, as nobody wants to walk away a loser. To make the most out of your short stack, you’ll be looking to double up, as this is a favorable position.

The medium stack

Medium stacks allow you more freedom, leaving you with two options and both are correct – depending on the circumstances. Look at how other players at your table are choosing to approach the bubble. If the players are scared, or they have big stacks and are looking to coast to the money, this is where aggression pays off. 

These players are easy to spot as they’ll be looking around and updating the rest of the table of the player count. By opening a pre-flop (a portion of a hand that’s played before the flop is dealt) with a variety of hands, it would put a lot of pressure on the smaller and medium-sized stacks at the table.

But be prepared for aggressive and professional players, and if they’re there, get ready to tighten down a bit on the opening ranges. This is because there’ll likely be three or more bets in the pre-flop and plenty of tough spots that you’ll need to work through. While you can still exercise aggression, you’ll act more as a counter puncher than the one instigating it. 

The big stack

If you have a big stack heading into the bubble, you’ll likely have the most fun. Here you’ll have more room to move around and put pressure on other players. You’ll be able to leverage everyone else’s fear of busting the tournament while winning more chips and enhancing your odds of winning. 

You can take the same steps as you would with a medium stack, but here you’ll have even more freedom. The goal is simple; find the tight players and go after them by opening into their blinds with a wide variety of hands. The most important thing to remember is not to waste a lot of chips trying to bluff everyone on each hand. 

Having a big stack isn’t a guarantee that you’ll make it out of the bubble, but it’s an advantage that any player would like to have. 

Put your newfound knowledge into practice with BetMGM

Join BetMGM and test your skills by participating in one of the many online poker tournaments that are available. You won’t be restricted to online poker as there are plenty of games available. BetMGM is the ideal online casino if you’re looking for the best gaming experience. Whether it’s table games that interest you or online slots – chances are, you’ll find what you’re looking for.