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Multi-Table Poker Tournament End-Game Strategy Part I: The Money Bubble

patrik antonius poker player

Poker Tournament and Cash-Game Specialist Patrik Antonius

If you are playing to maximize your potential for profit in multi table tournament poker, you must play for the win.

The biggest prize payout is reserved for first place.

Depending on the size of the player field, the payout difference between finishing 9th and 1st is astronomical in terms of what you spend to buy-in to the tournament. The ROI (return on investment) you receive from winning a large multi table poker tournament can take your poker business to the next level instantly.

Figure it this way, if you have a $100 bankroll and buy into a $10 poker tournament that has 6,000 players in the field and you finish first, your bankroll will increase to over $10,000. For an investment of a mere $10 and your time and focus, you can potentially be running a poker business with a lot of capital to invest. With a $10,000 online poker bankroll reserved for multi table tournaments, you will be able to play almost every tournament your poker client runs around the clock while still practicing proper bankroll management.

poker stars sunday million poker tournament payout structure

A Typical Payout Structure for The Sunday Million $1,000,000 Guaranteed on PokerStars.

As a poker business owner, this is something that you can take massive advantage of. If you have developed your game enough to handle multiple tables at one time, you can play up to 24 tournaments at a time simultaneously. A long-term winning strategy requires a large amount of volume and having the bankroll to play as many tournaments as you wish at any time can help you reach long-term tournament volume goals quicker.

While playing 24 tables at a time will drastically decrease your focus on each individual table, you will not be required to focus exclusively on an individual tournament until it reaches the end stages. If you have played thousands of tournaments online and have some good experience, you can essentially auto-pilot the slow beginning stages of your tournaments and isolate the tournaments that have reached the deeper levels.

When I am in a session, I will reserve the left portion of my computer monitor for tournaments in the late blind levels. I will have my “auto-piloted” tournaments in the early blind level stages to the right. This helps me focus on the most important part of my tournaments, the money bubble. When I say “auto-piloted”, this refers to my basic aggressive strategy I use with a 100bb (big-blind) stack. In the early stages with 100bb, play is very ABC and I don’t get out of line too often. As the money bubble approaches however, I adjust my strategy accordingly.

The money bubble occurs when a tournament reaches the point where as a few more players are eliminated, the remaining players will be paid out. The rest lose. If the tournament has 1,000 players in it, and 100 get paid, you will receive nothing for being the “bubble boy” and finishing in 101st.

The money bubble usually defines the rest of my tournament. I will normally go on to bust on the bubble, or reach the final table the tournament. I am not playing to finish 100th and win a small payout, I am playing to have every chip in play at the conclusion of the tournament. Finishing 900th in the PokerStars.com Sunday Million $1,000,000 guarantee tournament will earn you $250.64. The buy-in for the tournament is $215. You will only win $45.64. Finish first in the Sunday Million, and your earn a life-changing $180,210.16. The difference is too hard to ignore as a profitable poker business owner.

For these reasons, If I have accumulated a big stack as the bubble approaches, I will apply a TON of pressure to the remaining opponents at my table. One of my favorite, and possibly strongest moves in tournament poker is putting an opponent at a decision for his entire chip stack and tournament life. Having a bigger stack than the remaining opponents at your table puts you a great advantage to accumulate even more chips that will help you reach the final table.

I will give you an example of a hand that took place at the East Coast Poker Championships at Turning Stone casino in the spring of 2011. I won a free $350 entry to this tournament by having my seat randomly selected in a cash game two weeks prior to the event. I was not going to play in this tournament or any of the tournaments in the series, but winning the ticket changed things.

Jonathan Duhamel 2010 WSOP main winner

Jonathan Duhamel 2010 World Series of Poker Main Event Champion

The tournament started promptly at 10:00am with 850 entrants all coughing up $350 or a raffle ticket to enter. The total prize pool was $297,500 with a first place payout of $46,500. The money bubble was set to burst at 85 players with the 85th place player earning a meager $500.

Play was very slow in the early stages as it is in any major live tournament. Dealers can’t deal as fast as the online poker software dealers do, so the amount of hands you see early in a live tournament is drastically decreased compared to its online counterpart. We started with 30,000 in tournament chips with the blinds starting at 50/100. 30,000 tournament chips represents 300 big blinds (300bb) so we were extremely deep stacked to begin the event.

For most of the tournament, I hovered around 30,000 going down to 10,000 at one point but recovering to about 45,000 at the dinner break at 6:00pm. At this point, the blinds had reached 1500/3000 with a 500 chip ante. I only had 15 big blinds left with not much room to maneuver except to go all-in pre-flop and try to steal blinds or if called, potentially double up.

There were about 180 players left when we resumed play. I was able to win a double up and a few other decent pots with some well-timed aggression to chip up to 200,000 as the money bubble approached.

The money bubble is a lot more interesting in live play for a variety of reasons. First, no player except a tournament professional wants to bust on the bubble and be the “bubble boy” of the tournament in front of hundreds of spectators. No one wants to be the guy who exits the room as everyone cheers that the bubble has been burst. It is a humiliating feeling for most amateur players to play for 10+ hours and receive no money as they leave the casino. In online poker, no one has to see your face, and no one is able to humiliate you as you exit your poker client.

As the tournament reached the final 110, a big hand came up which propelled me to a nice chip stack before the bubble burst.

I had just switched tables from one that I had been playing at for the last two hours, and was now faced with all new opponents except for one player I recognized from my table at the beginning of the tournament. I had played with him for a few hours, but never got into a hand with him. Although I didn’t play a hand against him, I observed him closely along with the rest of my opponents at the table like I normally do. Although I play almost exclusively online, live poker tournaments give me the ability to put my reading abilities to the test to size up my opponents. I can focus on a single game, and develop reads while not even in hands to set me up for certain plays later in the tournament.

My opponent was around the same age as me, and my read on him was he was a typical ABC TAG (tight-aggressive) player who never gets out of line, bluffs, or bets with less than top pair. Every hand I had seen him show down and win pots with was top pair or better, and he was playing maybe 10% of his hands. This is the type of opponent I love to exploit, especially deep in big tournaments where most amateurs are fatigued and wanting to limp into the money to make their day a success.

The hand started with blinds of 2500/5000 and a 1000 chip ante. I had the button, and a stack of 205,000 representing about the chip average of 40bb. The perfect stack size to pull aggressive moves on weaker tight opponents. My opponent in the cutoff position had about 190,000 (38bb). He opens for a min-raise of 10,000 chips (standard open pre-flop raise in modern tournament poker) and it folds to me on the button and I look down at 22. 22 is a good enough hand in this spot to set mine (call pre-flop and hope to flop a set) so I flat call on the button. The small blind folds, the big blind calls and we go to a rainbow flop of 873.The big blind checks, the cutoff continuation bets 20,000 into a pot of about 40,000 and I call on the button for two reasons. One, if he checks the turn I am going to bluff about almost any turn and two, if he does have a hand, I can bluff him off a lot of turns and rivers. I might also hit a 2 and take his whole stack if he has an over pair to the board of 873. I am not too worried about the big blind, he has a small stack and probably missed this dry flop and doesn’t want to commit his tournament on a bluff.

There is 80,000 in the pot, and the turn comes a Q. I have about 185,000 left and he has 170,000. He thinks for a few moments, then checks to me.

big poker chip stack

The Money Bubble is The Best Spot to Accumulate Chips Late in a Tournament

My range on my opponent is now narrowed to AK-A9 excluding AQ, small pairs that missed a set, and any face card combo that missed the Q. If he has a set or a Q, he is going to bet this turn based on my prior reads. Once he checks, I can make a few different choices based on my read. My holding at this point doesn’t matter to me, but it does to my opponent. I am in a great spot to apply aggression and put him at a decision for his whole tournament.

With 185,000 left here, I could check and see a free river, but I don’t want to him his pair on the river if he has over cards. As far as I have seen, this opponent has yet to bet, then check/raise the turn. I can probably get him off a hand with a decent bet if he has no pair. If he does raise, I can snap fold knowing he has a big hand and get out for cheap.

I decide to bet 25,000 into the 80,000 pot and he thinks for a moment, and decides to call. If he had a set here, he would almost certainly raise. My read at this point is that he has hand like 99,10-10,JJ and maybe 77. He is certainly not calling here with ace high based on my read, and he almost certainly has a pair. I feel he would bet AQ on this turn but checking is also a possibility that I can’t ignore.

The river comes the perfect card for me, the ace. He checks and the action is one me.

The ace is great because I don’t have any aces in his range except AQ which he will most likely bet the river with and I can just fold.

The pot is now 130,000, and I have him covered with 160,000 to his 145,000. At this point, I don’t feel I have any showdown value because any pair beats my pair of twos. I need to bet to win this pot.

If my opponents has any pair like I assume he does besides the ace or the queen, it is almost going to be impossible to call a big bet on this river. I have to bet to take him off his weak pair.

I think for about a minute, while counting my chips already knowing I am going to shove all of them in as soon as he checked to me. I want him to have to think about all the possible hands  that I could have that beat his weak pair during that minute. I want him to also realize his entire tournament life is on the line here.

I slowly count all my chips, put them in a neat stack then slide them all into the pot nice and slow making it look like I have a big hand and want to get paid off. I sit in my seat very comfortably staring at the cards, he glances over, shakes and buries his head, and dumps his cards into the muck.

This was a perfect spot to apply pressure and it helped me gain some chips before the bubble.  I would end the tournament in 42nd place for $900 after going card-dead and then getting it all in with 1010 vs AQ and running into an ace on the flop. Had I won this flip, I would have around 600,000 chips and a shot at the final table, but that is beside the point. You simply have to get lucky in tournaments at times to win, but having the skill to accumulate as many chips as possible by applying pressure on weaker opponents can propel you deeper into the final stages. As the final stages come to a close and you reach the final table bubble, you can once again exploit certain opponents.

Stay tuned for Part II: The Final Table Bubble and Part III: Booking The Win at the Final Table 🙂

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