How to Abuse the Bubble in Turbo Sit and Go’s

One of the first strategies you’re told to learn as a new sit and go player is ICM, or the Independent Chip Model. What is ICM? Wikipedia explains it like this:

In poker, the Independent Chip Model (ICM) is a mathematical model used to calculate a player's overall equity in a tournament. The model uses stack sizes alone to determine how often a player will finish in each position (1st, 2nd, etc.). A player's probability of finishing in each position is then multiplied by the prize amount for that position and those numbers are added together to determine the players overall equity.

ICM is used for short stack situations. Assuming you know with 100% certainty what your opponents’ ranges will be, ICM tells you what hands to fold, call or shove all-in with. It tells you how to (mathematically) beat the game.

And, combined with a solid early and middle game, you will, in fact, do well with sit and goes.

However, you can do much better, and make more money per game, if you know when it’s best to ignore ICM.

One such situation is on the bubble when you have a commanding chip lead. In this type of situation, you will often want to throw ICM aside and throw your weight (stack) around. In doing so you’ll wither everyone’s stack down to the point to where you’re all but guaranteed a first place finish.

In the sit and go and multi-table tournament communities, this is known as abusing the bubble.

What is “Abusing the Bubble” and Why Do We Do It?

Abusing the bubble is a term that players use to describe the big stack at the table that frequently shoves all in, forcing everyone to fold (often due to ICM telling them to). This player is maximizing the fold equity he has due to the situation (the bubble) and his stack size.

For example, lets say we were on the bubble with the following setup.

  • Button – 13,000
  • Small Blind – 4,000
  • Big Blind – 3,000
  • Under the Gun – 5,500
  • Cutoff – 1,500

We’re the button with nearly half the chips in play. The blinds are 200/400/25 and the top 4 players pay.

Now, lets say that the under the gun (UTG) player decides to raise to 800 chips, leaving 4,700 chips behind. The cutoff folds, and now it’s our turn to act.

This is a spot where we should shove 100% of the time, regardless of the cards we’re holding, and barring any reads that tell us otherwise. There are several reasons why:

  • The UTG has the 2nd biggest stack size. He has the most equity in the tournament (next to us), and consequently, the most to lose. It’s mathematically wrong for him to call with any worse than, say, QQs+ and maybe AKs.
  • The shortest stack at the table folded. The UTG won’t want to bust before he does, especially since the cutoff will blind out in less than 2 orbits if he doesn’t double up in the meantime.
  • The blinds might fold, too. In fact, we’re hoping so. This puts additional pressure on the UTG.
  • If the UTG folds, he’ll still have 4,700 chips left. He’ll still be 2nd in chips.

These are all reasons for him to fold. So these are all reasons as to why we should shove and give him the opportunity to. In doing so, we “abuse the bubble.”

But the main reason – what you should takeaway from this – is that by forcing him to fold, we do 3 things:

  • Increase our stack size, either increasing or maintaining our fold equity.
  • Shave his stack size. He becomes less and less of a threat to our 1st place finish.
  • Keep the other stack sizes in the hand (hopefully), so that we can continue to leverage them against the middle-sized stacks.

When we abuse the bubble, the goal is to wither everyone’s stack down to the point that’s it’s a crapshoot (almost entirely luck) for the remaining players to cash in 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc, when the bubble bursts.

And barring any bad luck, we always take a 1st place finish.

When Do You Abuse the Bubble?

Ha. When don’t you abuse the bubble?

Seriously, though, in a situation like I outlined above, you should shove every hand you can. Every. Single. Hand. And continue shoving until someone calls.

That said, there are stack setups that are better than others. In other words, in what seats the different stack sizes are in, relative to you. For example, the one I outlined above is ideal. And here is another example of an ideal stack setup:

  • Cutoff – 13,000
  • Button – 4,000
  • Small Blind – 3,000
  • Big Blind – 5,500
  • Under the Gun – 1,500

This is an ideal setup because the 2nd largest stack is in the big blind. So when we shove he will be the last to act. But he’s also put money (involuntarily) in the pot. That’s a relatively easy steal for us.

That’s not all, though.

In addition, the UTG is to my right. If he folds, I now have the added benefit of the shortest stack not in the hand, but still in the tournament. That will be the first thing the big blind thinks about when it’s his turn to act.

A bad setup would be the opposite. What I don’t want is the (2nd) biggest stack to my (immediate) right, because if he folds I have no leverage. Nothing to scare the remaining stacks left. If anything they’ll call light, just because they know they have to take a risk at some point to remain in the tournament.

The bottom line is that we want the 2nd-3rd biggest stacks to be in the middle of the table, with the shortest stacks on either side of them. That gives us several leverage points.

When to Not Abuse the Bubble?

Knowing when not to abuse the bubble is just as important as knowing when to. So here are some things to consider before shoving all in with a raggedy hand.

==> You need to have a healthy stack to abuse the bubble. If you have a stack that’s in 3rd or 4th place, you probably won’t have the fold equity necessary to shove all in. Meaning, if you shove, a player can call and lose, and still be in the tournament. As a result, they’ll call your reshove lighter.

You can start to abuse the bubble when you have a 2nd place stack. Just make sure that you can obtain the chip lead within 1-2 plays.

==> Don’t abuse the bubble if the players you’re shoving through or into aren’t capable of folding. If they’re calling you with a weak hand, it’s a mistake on your part to shove any two cards. In other words, the wider your opponents’ ranges, the narrower yours needs to be.

==> Avoid abusing short stacks. They’re going to call you light, because at some point they will have to gamble to stay alive in the tournament.