Let’s assume Lady Luck decided to smile on you many times at the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event, and you won those 6 or more crucial multi-table tournament (MTT) Texas Holdem hands where you were only a slight favorite or slight to huge (under)dog. You’ve made it to the WSOP final table! Great … now what? There are many answers to this question, but understanding the WSOP November 9 bubble factors and stack-based strategies at the Main Event final table is crucial. Read on to find out how should you play given your respective stack size vs. eight highly skilled opponents (all of whom certainly also got lucky multiple times during the first eight days of play).

“WSOP November Nine Bubble Factors Analysis and The “Sklansky-Chubokov” Numbers:

WSOP 2011: Final-Table Deals Analysis and Nash-Equilibrium Solution

WSOP 2011: Final-Table Bubble Factors Overview

Optimal Texas Holdem tournament strategy depends on numerous factors including the stack sizes and payout structure, respective images, distance from the blinds, the “gap concept,” Nash open-pushes & re-steals (see previous post), and the list goes on and on. This is the beauty of poker and why it is not only a game of chance. When making your game plan at future final tables and also at many stages throughout the tournament (especially right before the “money bubble” and prior to large payout increases), you must understand and play in accordance with the so-called “bubble factors.” For a detailed description of exactly what this is and for multiple examples to solidify your understanding of this concept, definitely read chapter six — “Prize Pools and Equities” (starting on page 121) — of the book “Kill Everyone.”

Below, as is always my aim, I’ll try to give you the essential knowledge so that you can play optimally now. You’ll get the necessary details in our theoretical videos on tournament play, with your personal study and especially at the school of hard knocks at the real-money tables. Just be sure you’re always adhering to bankroll management, so that you can handle the swings.

Yet again, before we can continue it’s important that you review the November Nine’s respective stack distributions and “M”:

2011 WSOP Final Table Stack Sizes Stack % BBs “M” ~Payout per Place
Martin Staszko 40,175,000 19.51% 66.96 25.51 $8,711,956.0
Eoghan O’Dea 33,925,000 16.47% 56.54 21.54 $5,430,928.0
Matt Giannetti 24,750,000 12.02% 41.25 15.71 $4,019,635.0
Phil Collins 23,875,000 11.59% 39.79 15.16 $3,011,661.0
Ben Lamb 20,875,000 10.14% 34.79 13.25 $2,268,909.0
Badih Bounahra 19,700,000 9.57% 32.83 12.51 $1,720,396.0
Pius Heinz 16,425,000 7.98% 27.38 10.43 $1,313,851.0
Anton Makiievskyi 13,825,000 6.71% 23.04 8.78 $1,009,910.0
Sam Holden 12,375,000 6.01% 20.63 7.86 $782,115.0

WSOP November 9 Bubble Factors Analysis

At any MTT final table and especially at the the WSOP Main Event with it’s extremely top-heavy payout structure, pro poker players always consider the effect of different stack sizes in heads-up, all-in confrontations. I’ve analyzed players of various stack sizes moving all-in to make the most-important principles clear. To get a printable color version of this table, click the button at the top of the page:

~Bubble Factors (“BF”)
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Martin Staszko Eoghan O’Dea Matt Giannetti Phil Collins Ben Lamb Badih Bounahra Pius Heinz Anton Makiievskyi Sam Holden
Stack Sizes 40,175,000 33,925,000 24,750,000 23,875,000 20,875,000 19,700,000 16,425,000 13,825,000 12,375,000
Martin Staszko x 2.000 1.727 1.511
Eoghan O’Dea 1.730 x 1.807
Matt Giannetti 1.508 x 1.502
Phil Collins x 1.668 1.454
Ben Lamb 1.253 x 1.548
Badih Bounahra 1.296 x
Pius Heinz 1.424 x
Anton Makiievskyi 1.286 x 1.392
Sam Holden 1.163 1.253 1.361 x

What you need to understand here is that the downward trend of bubble factors is in direct correlation with the respective stack sizes: the closer your stack is to your opponent’s, the higher your bubble factor will be.

Example: when the chip-leader pushes all-in vs. the short-stack, his BF is only 1.163, but the short-stacker’s BF vs the chip-leader is 1.5! This means that the short-stacker needs much more equity than he normally would — e.g. in a cash game without rake where his chips represent exactly the monetary equivalent — to make the all-in call (i.e. only based on “chip expected value” alone). To quote the book I linked for you above, “the chips [that the small stack is] risking are 1.5 times as valuable as the ones he’s hoping to win” (Kill Everyone, pg. 123).

Here’s a concrete example using the Equity and Odds Calculators I’ve created and compiled over the years (this will also be available in the upcoming shop). The short stack is in the small blind (300K) and has posted the 75K ante. It’s folded around to the chip leader in late position, who makes an “open raise” (i.e., steal) all-in. The breakdown is as follows:

Pot (incl. bets) Amount to call
$13,575,000 $12,000,000
Equity needed to break-even 46.92%
Equity needed w/the bubble factor 57.19%

The short-stacker is getting pot odds of 1.13:1 and could call all-in with only 47% equity and still break even in the long run … without the bubble factor! However, to make the same call with the bubble factor, he needs 57% equity against the chip leader’s steal range.

If we give the chip leader an open-push range of the “~top 11%” of Texas Hold ’em hands (i.e. 55+, A8s, ATo & KQ), the short-stacker could call with 88+, AJs+ or AQo+ with a bubble factor of 1.0 (i.e. a cash-game scenario without rake). But with the bubble factor, his calling range drops to only JJ+ or AKs (TT & AKo give him just under 57% equity vs. the chip leader’s steal range). So from being able to profitably call as an underdog (e.g. with over cards vs. his opponent’s assumed small pocket pair), he now has to be a 3 : 5 favorite! Pretty wild, right? Welcome to professional tournament poker and why you should be more risk-averse than in a typical cash game.

Another interesting match-up you should consider is the mid-stack clash: e.g. an open push from Collins vs. Lamb. Their stacks are very close (a difference of only 5 BBs), but Lamb’s BF is much higher than Collins’ BF … because Collin has him covered. That means if these two duke it out, and Lamb gets eliminated, he only cashes 2.7% of the money on the final table even though his ICM equity is estimated at 3 times that: a monetary difference of $782,115.0 vs his expected value of $3,055,539.76 … and a potential royal screw-up in the tune of over $2.2 million dollars! Exactly these kinds of mistakes are what the small stacks are hoping to see, and why it is so lucrative for big stacks to target the middle stacks for their “selective aggression.”

Please note that Collin’s bubble factor is exactly the same vs Holden (the shortest stack on the table), but Holden’s respective bubble factor is way lower than Lamb’s and he’s risking $700K less than Lamb in monetary equity (based on ICM) by making the same call vs. the same player.

The following is a list of key points that you should take away from all of this for your next final table:

  • Haste, in the late phase of any tournament, is your primary enemy.
  • Patience, well-timed moves and “selective aggression” are you best friends!
  • Don’t do the small stacks a favor by playing big pots vs. players who have you covered … when you’re not holding a monster. If you want to play for stacks vs. fellow big stacks, try to do so post flop when you have a lock or big 2-pair+ hand. Your instinctive reaction when you “only” flop top-pair, good-kicker or an over-pair vs. a fellow big stacker should be extreme caution. Play such a flopped hand, under most circumstances in this phase of the game, for “pot-control.” Remember the adage, “Top pair and over pairs are ‘good hands’ in Holdem, not ‘big hands’.”
  • Players are generally much tighter in live games than online … this “tightness” increases greatly as you approach the final table (due to “prestige,” TV-time and of course markedly increased payouts).
  • Most novice and recreational players have never heard of the term “bubble factor” and will thus continue playing like they do in cash games … i.e. only expect more “fold equity” vs. good, educated players. So, assessing your opponents’ general knowledge and fundamental understanding of the game is crucial.
  • Only bet into monkeys when you have the goods.
  • Do not play out-of-position post-flop vs. good players in crucial phases of the tournament, especially if they have you covered and can put you all-in on any post-flop street.

The following video comes from the “Bet types, moves and pot manipulation” video series for cash games … but the principles it contains definitely pertain to tournament play in no-limit Texas Hold ’em:

As a Chip Leader

  • Avoid confrontations with fellow big-stacks without a monster!
  • Target the mid-stacks and small-stacks (but be careful with the latter since they should be more apt to call).
  • Do not “bleed” chips by calling and raising too lightly. Your maxim here is “selective aggression” not “random, post 5-whiskeys aggression.”
  • Here you definitely want to accumulate chips steadily (especially if your table is very passive or lets you run all over them) and avoid what I’ve coined “big-balls tilt” (which also applies to women). This type of tilt is feeling as if you were invincible after a card-rush, winning a huge pot or two, pulling off a multiple-street bluff, running over your opponents, getting lucky or whatever … and then playing far too loosely against strong opposition that ends up costing you 1/3 to 1/2 of your stack! The dynamic swing in relative equities after such a blunder is enormous (i.e. loss of table control, fold equity, etc.).

As a Mid-Stacker

  • Avoid confrontations with fellow mid-stackers and big stackers without a monster!
  • Target the small stacks, and re-steal push “lighter” in certain circumstances against aggressive mid- and big-stackers who try to steal your blinds.
  • Any time your bet or raise = 1/2 of your stack, you push all-in or fold!

As a Small-Stacker

  • Don’t panic, simply because your stack is below the average or even the smallest at the table. Stay patient as long as your stack is still large enough that opponents in the blinds can fold vs. your eventual open push.
  • At 15-25 BBs, you have an “optimal re-steal” stack size … especially since the big- and mid-stackers will be raising you lighter when you’re in the blinds.
  • Almost any time your stack is below 15 BBs, your move is almost always either push or fold; the exceptions here are when you can see a cheap flop after multiple limpers where you can over-limp in late position or “complete” in the small blind: this is especially useful when you hold small or middle pocket pairs, suited Ax hands and suited max-stretch connectors (i.e. 45s to TJs) as well as the occasional suited one-gapper and suited broadway (JT to KQ).

With this, you’ll be way ahead of the great majority of your competition at the low and middle stakes, and will be well on your way to becoming an expert tournament player in the very near future.

Yours on the path,

ot (incl. bets) To Call HCall% of Pot
$13,575,000 $12,000,000 88.40%
X : 1 1.13 Pot with HCall
B.E. Equity (%) 46.92% $25,575,000
B.E. EQ w/B.F. 57.19% 0.75


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