Abusing the Bubble of a SNG or MTT

A sit and go strategy that separates the good players from the great players is abusing the bubble. Abusing the bubble is constantly shoving or re-shoving all in on your opponents, taking advantage of the fact that your opponents can’t call you light on the bubble due to ICM. It’s mathematically incorrect and it would cost them money in the long run.

Knowing how to abuse the bubble of a SNG or MTT will increase how much money you earn per game (your ROI), assuming you pick good spots to abuse and run ok. What bubble abuse does for you is chip away at everyone’s stack, while slowly increasing your own. By the time the bubble bursts you should have a commanding lead over everyone else, putting you in a position to take a top 2 or 3 finish. This is much better than playing the bubble from a passive or even a pure ICM standpoint, because these approaches usually lead to a more even finish distribution (in the money) instead of the top heavy distribution we should be aiming for.

All of this being said, abusing the bubble can go terribly wrong and cost you lots of money if you don’t know what to look for before pulling the trigger.

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Abusing the Bubble Comes Down to How Much Fold Equity You Have

Your ability to abuse the bubble will boil down to how much fold equity you have or don’t have. All other variables will coincide with the amount of fold equity you (don’t) have. I’m going to explain these variables in more detail.

Your Opponents & Their Playing Styles Matter

One variable to consider before you abuse the bubble is your opponents. You need to ask yourself; who are they and how do they play?

There is going to be a big difference between a good player or regular and a bad player. Good sit and go players usually have an understanding of ICM and know that making a call with KQ or pocket 66s on the bubble is bad, and is costing everyone equity in the tournament. Since they know this you should have fold equity.

Bad players, on the other hand, aren’t aware of this or flat out don’t care. They’ll call you with AK because they have AK, and why on earth would they fold that bubble or not? Against these players you usually don’t have much in the way of fold equity, so if they open pre-flop you need to be very careful when re-shoving on them, because there is a good chance that they’ll call (especially if you have re-shoved on them before).

And regardless of whom your opponents are or how they play, you need to keep in mind how much abuse you’ve been dishing out. All of your opponents will get tired of you if hand after hand you’re shoving. Someone is bound to call you light. So you’ll need to either back off at times or tighten your range (the hands you are shoving with).

Stack Sizes & Stack Distribution

Stack sizes will also play a roll. Shoving into the bigger stacks is where you’ll have the most fold equity because they have the most to lose. The shortest stacks are usually the worst, as they’re the ones who need to gamble at some point to try to chip up.

And it’s not just about whether or not you have fold equity, but also what your stack size will look like if you call and lose. If you can shove into the short stack, get called, lose and still stay in the chip lead (allowing you to continue to abuse the table), then by all means shove. However, if a loss means you’ll go from chip leader to 2nd or 3rd in chips, then you might want to pick your spots more carefully.

Stack distribution is huge too. In other words, how big are the stacks at the table and how are they positioned around the table compared to yours.

For example, say you’re on the bubble of an 18-man sit and go; 4 places pay and there are 5 players left. If you’re on the button, the best spot for the short stack is anywhere to your right, as long as he folds to you. You can shove here a wide range because all the players to your left will see the short stack and fold, not wanting to bust before he does. The same thing will happen if the short stack is in the small blind; if you shove (or re-shove) and he folds, you’re applying a ton of pressure to your opponents.

Those are good stack distributions. A bad distribution would be you on the button and the short stack in the big blind. Not really the best setup since he’s the player you have the least fold equity against. It might be better to shove the hand before and the hand after (if possible), and just skip the current one.

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What Hands to Abuse the Bubble With

The hands you abuse the bubble with will depend. As a rule of thumb it should be any two cards (ATC). In theory, your opponents can’t call you, so it shouldn’t make much of a difference what cards you decide to shove with.

That said I prefer not to shove absolute garbage. I like to have some equity in case I’m called. I also prefer hands like 98s or 65o if I don’t have something strong and not usually dominated, like KJ+ or AT+. Re-shoving a hand like A9 or K5 sucks, because when you’re called you’re usually crushed. At least with hands like 98s you’ll have two live cards more often than not.