World Series of Poker Europe

Talking Poker: The Bubble

The Bubble

Each week, the Talking Poker series highlights a particular poker term. We’ll give you a clear, to-the-point definition of the term and an example of the strategic concept to which it refers, so that you can start using the term and implementing the related strategy into your game. This week we turn our attention to that crucial stage of a poker tournament — the bubble.


The term “bubble” has a couple of different definitions in poker, both concerning tournaments. The “bubble period” is the time during which only a few more players need to be eliminated before reaching the cash. Also, the last player eliminated before the money is said either to “be the bubble” or to have “bubbled” the event.


In a no-limit hold’em tournament that started with 200 players, there are 21 left and 20 are getting paid. Player A has a 20 big-blind stack and raises 2.5 times the big blind on the button. The small blind folds, and Player B in the big blind with a 60 big-blind stack goes all in.

Player B is trying to take advantage of the “bubble period” by putting pressure on a shorter stack that might be afraid to be eliminated from the money. Since Player A’s range for raising on the button is quite wide, he will fold to the all-in bet most of the time.

Let’s say, in this example though, Player A actually has a good hand and calls with {10-Spades}{10-Diamonds}. Player B shows {A-Clubs}{2-Hearts}. The board runs out, and Player B hits an {A-}. That means Player A is eliminated “on the bubble” and has “bubbled” the event. 

Strategic Considerations

During the bubble period, it is common for play to slow down and tighten up due to players being afraid of busting before the money. Players should be aware of their own stack size throughout a tournament, but especially on the bubble. Big stacks may want to identify the players who are scared to bust before the money, particularly the short stacks. Using selective aggression, medium-to-big stacks can take advantage of this period to accumulate chips. Because of this, short stacks will need to be deliberate with their moves. 

Watch and Learn

Take a look as Jonathan Little, author of the Secrets of Professional Tournament Poker series, answers strategy questions about playing on the bubble of a tournament. He discusses big stack play, common mistakes, and whether or not it’s ever correct to fold into the money.

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