Beginners Online Poker Tournament Bubble Play - Play To Win Or Play To Cash?

Which Is The Most Profitable Poker Tournament Strategy In Lower Buy-In Tournaments?

While everyone would like to reach the final table of an online poker tournament the fact is that only 9 or 10 players will make it. Over the long term will playing aggressive risky poker win you more money – or should you slow down near the bubble and assure yourself of some handy cash first?

This article looks at some costly errors that newer players make as the bubble approaches and addresses the question of whether you should always play to win – or guarantee yourself some cash?

You have been online for 3 hours and now just 10 more of the 1000 people who started the tournament must bust out in order to get the money. Your stack is ok, but not great. With around 20 times the current (large) blinds you are in a comfort zone with an average stack.

At this point many beginning tournament players will only ever play ‘premium hands’ (and do some stealing of blinds from vulnerable smaller stacks!). And wait until the bubble has burst before opening up their ranges again. However, they are missing out on an excellent opportunity to win more chips – an opportunity that could see their chances of reaching that elusive tournament final table increase significantly.

Here is the logic, it is based on a typical payout schedule for a small buy-in online tournament. Let us use a $5 tournament as an example. 1000 started and 100 get paid.

1st - $2000
2nd - $1500
3rd - $1000
4th - $700
5th - $450
6th - $300
7th - $200
8th - $150
9th - $100

Right up to 100th…. $10

As you can see the payouts are heavily weighted to the final positions, getting into the money will usually bring you somewhere between 1.5 to 2.5 times your buy-in.

Here is the strategy concept that many beginning players miss:

For every time you reach the final table you could mini-cash something like 71 times and still not make as much profit… yes 71 times!

Here is the math – average payout for the final table (total prizes for the 9 participants divided by 9) = $711.11c. Average payout for places 81 to 100 in the same tournament = $10.

Play To Win Or Play To Cash - So what does this mean for your tournament bubble strategy?

Simply put it means you should play to maximize your chances of reaching the final table and not let the fact that you may miss out on the small cash for 100th place influence you.

In practical terms there are several things you could do. You can re-raise the big-stacked ‘bully’ who is (correctly) using the opportunity of the bubble to raise with a wide number of hands. You can open-raise many pots from late position in an attempt to win the blinds and antes from small and medium stacks who are trying to fold into the money.

The biggest error that beginning poker tournament players make is to tighten up at the bubble. Next time you are in this situation take advantage – but do not tighten up yourself. Remember, for every time you bust out before the money you will increase your stack several other times – and reaching the final table will net you an average reward of 71 times the lowest cash!

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ACR Poker Mark's Rec

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