Bubble Play In Tournaments by Paul Sexton

I had just bubbled in the $2,000 Seven-Card Stud Tournament at the World Series of Poker*. I had a drawing hand and I ended up losing all my chips, which was a big mistake. I was embarrassed. I was talking to my Dad – Full Tilt Poker pro, Keith Sexton – and I said, "I can’t believe how unlucky I got." He disagreed, and said my play was just incredibly stupid in regard to money and chip management, based on where I stood in the tournament. He was right.

People say, "You’re not playing to get into the money – you’re playing to win," but when you make the money, you go from zero dollars to double your buy-in. The biggest jump in money outside of making it to the final table is getting into the money. I didn’t really understand that. Winning the hand that I busted on wasn’t important in the grand scheme of things.

The next tournament I played was the $1,500 Mixed Limit/No-Limit event. I got so low on chips I had to decide whether to take a chance, with slim odds of winning the tournament, or just try to hang on and make it past the bubble and then call it a day. By staying patient and paying close attention to the field, I managed to cash before I busted.

There are a number of things you need to be aware of in these situations, including the status of everybody else around you. Knowing how many chips you have in relation to the field is crucial in terms of helping you decide at what point you have to make the painful decision that you’re just going to have to fold hands to get into the money. You’re basically sacrificing your tournament, the chance to get to the final table, and your chance to win. But sometimes you have to do it.

You need to know where other players are in the tournament, especially the smaller stacks and what their situation is. How many stacks are below you? Where are they in relation to the blinds? I had a real low stack, three off the money in the mixed event, but I knew there were a couple of short stacks that were going to be forced into the blinds before I was. One player was at a shorter table than I was and another was under-the-gun while I was on the button, so I knew that I could be patient because they were going to have to play a hand before I was. That’s really important because, if you’re sitting there and you know you’re next with a hand like Ace-10, you’re going to have to throw your chips in. But if you have Ace-10 and another guy is going to have to make a decision whether to go all-in or not before you, then you can lay it down. Other players’ situations have a huge bearing on what hands you’re going to play.

Short-stacked on the bubble, I’m folding everything, including big pairs. Looking around the room, I knew that one player was going to be all-in in the blinds and that I had four hands before the blinds were going hit me. I had almost nothing in front of me – maybe 1,300 chips – and the average chip stack was around 33,000. Still, I would have folded pocket Kings on that hand because what’s the difference? Even if I triple up, I’m still all -in when the blinds reach me. All I’m doing is risking my money there. That pot is insignificant. I’d rather take my chances and hope that the other player who has to go all-in gets knocked out before me.

It’s sickening to bubble out in a tournament. People talk about it all the time. You go over it with friends. You figure out what you did wrong and if you make an improvement from the last time, that’s great. The cost of my lesson was my $2,000 buy-in in the Stud event. You can make the same mistake at a final table where it costs you hundreds of thousands of dollars, so I got off pretty cheaply. You never want to be forced to fold into the money, or a bigger pay day, but sometimes it’s just smart poker.

Paul Sexton

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