Popping the Bubble

The 6-max SNG is probably the only ‘soft’ game in NLH. Tournaments swarm with sharks, cash games are rich in nits and 9 man SNGs have turned into tiresome push or fold exercises. Still, 6-max SNGs have remained rather perspective.

Oodles of money can be won by players who devote some time and efforts into mastering their strategy. And nowhere is this more crucial than on the bubble. At the bubble stage in a 6-max game, the blinds are generally dramatically lower than in a 9-man.

Hence, there is a plenty of room for regular players to make mistakes, and for poker gurus to take advantage of them. On the bubble in a 9-man game one can see someone going all-in every single hand. Mistakes do occur but they are range from either shoving too wide or too narrow, or calling too loose or too tight. 6-max bubble stages have more nuances and give a lot of space for outplaying other players.

However, locking up cash and surviving the 6-max bubble is a very difficult task that calls for some skillful strategies like min-raising, re-shoving, and firing bets on multiple streets that are not used on a 9-man bubble. The greatest advantage of 6-max SNGs is that they offer infinite possibilities to the players. The pressure of the incredible increase from 0% to 35% of the prize pool, in conjunction with deep stacks when the bubble comes around, leave room for some fantastic and intricate lines that put the nerves of your opponents to the test.

Different strategies
Analyzing a hypothetical situation is the best way of studying different strategies needed on the bubble in 6-max games. Let’s see how our betting patterns should alter depending on being the huge stack, the medium stack or the short stack.

The short-stack player
If you have a short stack, you need to take some risks to survive the bubble. Since you don’t have much equity to protect, you are likely to finish in third place, so you can’t do without taking a few risks to gain chips of higher denomination and improve your chances. However, you must choose your targets sensibly. Note that doubling up through the chip leader won’t make the bubble pop or bring a crucial hit. This is not the same as doubling through the middle stack: you increase the number of chips up to 4,000, while dramatically damaging the middle stack. Since there are lots of advantages of winning the middle stack’s chips, he should be chosen as your major butt.

The blind of the chip leader might also be harder to steal because he doesn’t have much to lose as a large part of his chips is not at risk. However, you can’t just wait for the poker gods to show you mercy and need to stay ahead of the increasing blinds. You can try resorting to a pre-flop raise-fold steal, an open-shove steal and even the reshove for value now and then. As the blinds get larger, your fold equity will decrease along with your skill edge. You should shove with a hand like 7-8s since it has 35% equity against a calling range of 5-5+, A10+ instead of open-shoving an Ace and coming across a dominating hand (A-5o has less than 29% equity against the same range). To sum up, if you are shorty, your best option is to take some risks to remain a threat for other players, but you shouldn’t overvalue hands of A-x type.

The mid-stacked player
Let’s assume that you analyze this from the point of view of the middle stack. The mid-stacked player must stay away from big pot conflicts as he has a huge equity to protect. Imagine the following situation: the huge stack open-shoves the button and the short -stack player in the small blind makes a fold. If the huge stack is shoving any two cards in this situation, only 6-6+, A-10o+, A-9s+ and K-Js+ will allow you to call. In case the shove-range is about 50%, you would need to have 9-9+, A-Js+to be able to call. The mid-stacked player is at a great disadvantage from both sides and he needs to exhibit utter care in his play. Against weak-tight players making min-raises and c- bets of a bit less than 50% of the pot are the order of the day. Against aggressive players, your primary goal is to open-shove hands like strong Aces and pocket pairs sinve they hold a pretty strong position when called. Shoving vulnerable Aces won’t be a good idea. While staying away from a conflict with the big stack is desirable, you shouldn’t reject a favorable chance for restealing. This type of counter-attack takes nerves of steel and a clear understanding of table driving forces. For instance, if the big stack decides to min-raise and avoids open-shoving, you should reconsider his motives as usually it will mean that he is on the steal. Let’s imagine the following scenario: the huge stack player opens from the button and then the short stack folds the small blind. In this case if the percentage of huge stack’s ‘fold to 3-bet’ is pretty big, you can safely reshove hands such as 9-10s. The player who has the highest number of chips will probably open shove the middle of his range in order to increase his fold equity, so he would only min-raise with monster hands in anticipation of bringing about a light reshove and with poor hands in anticipation of taking the pot down risking as little as possible. As he will fold the garbage, you should work out what hands can beat the hands he will call your shove with. Of course, you do not want anyone to call your shove, but it’s safer to have a hand that won’t put you down in case you come across a really massive hand.

Huge stack
At last, we come down to the big stack approach. Having a safety cushion between him and the middle stack, the player, who has the maximum number of chips, can increase the force of his aggression, absolutely confident that his tournament life cannot be ruined in a single hand. The middle stack will be hurt. When confronted with the risk of possible collapse, a poor middle stack will be ruined very soon. The recommendation for the big stack is to keep his eyes on the bubble as a chance to chip up and set up a dominating lead to take into heads-up play. To reach this goal the big stack can use a wide range of moves that are available for him. He can act like a nit, stay away from danger and lock up a cash (an effective strategy against two aggressive players), or he can intensify the pressure by mercilessly stealing from the two stacks who are on the brink of collapse. One more important point to consider is the impact that a raise made by the chip leader will have on other players. Such a raise will not only accumulate chips, but it will make it impossible for other players to gain chips. A wise chip leader will make the two shorter stacks helpless by playing aggressively.