From Daniel Negreanu's MasterClass

Tournament Strategy: On the Bubble

Learn Daniel’s strategies for navigating the precarious “bubble” including how to get in the money by leveraging big stacks and avoid ICM suicide.

Topics include: Understanding the Importance of ICM • Leverage Big Stacks • Playing Short-Stacked • Playing With a Middle Stack • Avoid ICM Suicide


Learn Daniel’s strategies for navigating the precarious “bubble” including how to get in the money by leveraging big stacks and avoid ICM suicide.

Topics include: Understanding the Importance of ICM • Leverage Big Stacks • Playing Short-Stacked • Playing With a Middle Stack • Avoid ICM Suicide

Daniel Negreanu

Teaches Poker

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You're going to hear the term bubble quite often. And what exactly is the bubble? Well, the bubble is the point of the tournament where everyone left is about to make the money, so that they're going to guarantee a profit. For example, let's say there's 1,000 players in a field. Often that'll pay anywhere from 100 to 150 players. So let's say this tournament pays 150 players, and there's about 155 players left. So just five of those players are going to end up with a loss. Everyone else is going to go home with a profit. That's the time where the short stacks have the maximum amount of pressure on them to just squeak in, and they're going to have to tighten up their ranges. So that's right when the bubble happens. You'll notice a huge shift after the bubble for these short stacks, who are all in the money. And now, they're like, wee, they're ready to get it in because they've locked up a profit. - So I promise we're going to talk a little bit about ICM, which is independent chip model, which essentially distinguishes the value between a chip early on and a chip later on. And it becomes most important around the money bubble. It will also be extremely important at final tables, because with every player that gets knocked out, you lock up extra money. Now, it's important to note that if you play at the poker tournament with the only goal of winning the event-- if that's your simple, number one goal-- then you're going to play a certain way. Now, that's not how tournaments typically work. 10% to 20% of the field is going to get paid, which is going to highly affect your decision making. So if it was winner take all, you'd played very similar to the way you would in a cash game. When you see value, you take it. That's not the case in tournaments, because when you're trying to make money as your goal, rather than just winning the tournaments, you have to factor in the value of your chips in certain situations. So the bubble becomes an opportunity and also something to be wary of depending on your stack size. You know, there's no easy like magic pill formula for this. A lot of it is going to come through experience and practice in these situations to understand the situations where you should be more aggressive and you should be more careful. So I would say as a general rule, what you would do is, let's say, if you're five-handed or six-handed is have a deep understanding of like, OK, am I in a advantageous position or am I in a weak position? If I'm in an advantageous position, I can play more aggressively. If I'm in one of the weaker positions, I need to be a little bit more careful and focus a little more on playing conservatively. - Obviously, if you're on the bubble and you have a big stack, you have unbelievable leverage, because the other players at the table are going to tighten up their ranges significantly, especially if they're very short stacked. So a player that normally might go all in against you with Ace-...

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Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

I am a college student who has been playing poker occasionally and Daniel has assisted me in understanding the game in ways I never before imagined. Very interesting content!

Brilliant stuff! Can't wait to take it over again. So much to learn!

It's been inspirational. Since watching it, I've started re-reading all my poker books such as Super Series but I'm gaining all new information from them. Sadly I reside in the middle of nowhere and prefer live games to online, but come the holidays the local tables better watch out! If I do well enough locally, I may even trial a trip to Vegas.

Many tips on what to look for when sitting at a poker table, and how to act, etc. I could listen to Daniel talk about his passion (poker) forever!


A fellow student

I've been winning at tournaments for years, so I know all about ICM, but I think it would have been nice if he'd actually explained the math and assumptions behind it before using the term ICM. That being said, math turns a lot of people off, so I guess I understand why he didn't.

Mike B.

Being a novice, I don't understand when he says someone has 10 or so blinds left to play. What does that mean?

Joseph H.

The author is good with playing players and such, but this is poor advice. You sometimes need to play tight right on the bubble, but playing to mincash is really bad. It is situation dependent, but you usually should not be real tight with open pushes and should look to play back at big stacks abusing the bubble. Also, the course does not discuss ICM issues in the money, where it often is important to play tighter to move up in payouts. There may be some situations to open fold AQ with 7xBB on the bubble, but you are getting called tighter, so such nitty plays are generally bad.

William K.

Where is the "ICM Chip Trainer"? It's been mentioned several times in the comments, but I don't see where/how to get it. A bit of math in the lesson or PDF would have been helpful to clearly demonstrate how the value of tournament chips vs. actual money relates and changes as the tournament progresses. If it's in the trainer, great, but please make it obvious how to get the trainer.

R H L.

Even though I am a fairly veteran player, I find that I often go deep in tournaments, but as we get towards the bubble I am often one of those short stacks thats fighting for my tournament life then. I rarely get to the bubble situation with large or even just average stack. So I either bust out just short of the $$$, or even if I do make the money, I am still a short stack and bust out with one of the low payouts. That led me to believe that I am too tight in the middle stages and am not stealing enough blinds along the way. But when I re-assess my play after each tourney I can't point to any hands where I messed up or major mistakes I made.

Richard L.

Ok I have down loaded the ICM Trainer and it looks like it's written in German or something? Did I miss something???

Benedikt M.

I'm wondering. Is there a short "rule of thumb" similar to the "Change in % = #Outs x 2" to figure out if you should push or fold according to ICM? These formulas you find online are way to complicated to do it in a live situation at the table.

Marc C.

Daniel makes a good point on being middle stacked and folding a big hand before the bubble. I had pocket Queens with about 58,000 units in a $500K event at the hard rock hollywood. I joked that because it was the last hand of the night, whoever goes all in will win the hand. To my dismay, in front of me a 50,000 stack shoved all in. He was playing loose, bragging that he would just buy into another tournament the next day if he lost. I would have been at 58,000, lower middle for day 2 if I had folded and could have made a serious run for the money. Instead I snap called with my monster Queens. He turned over Ace - 4 of diamonds, and ran out a straight flush !!! To turn insult into injury, the shrpo hard rock blog recounted the entire hand and my name......ugly, very ugly. I really like the blog guys and always BS with them when I see them at big events. They have actually been very positive and I appreciate them, even though that one post was like unlucky donkey ! It turns out the other player was someone with a $5,000,000 plus cash history, and was making a move, as I had said to Win the pot by having no one call. To his credit, he walked up to me the next day, shook my hand and said, hey bad beat , right ? That's poker. You can not and should not ever take it personally, or feel like a few bad turns mean you cant win. You can always win. Money is important, and believe it or not, its more important to cash, even min cash, over time then it is to push for the win in deep tournaments with over 500 players. That being said, of course you want to win, but you have to be smart to stay funded and play on for future events. Best to all, MC6

A fellow student

Ok so I've learned this ledson from Daniel from his "FREE" YouTube videos. Why should i pay for something I can get for free???


The ICM Training Program mentioned is the workbook is a windows applications. Anyone figure out how to use it on Mac?