9♠9♣ on the Bubble, what do you do here?

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You are seven-handed on the Tournament bubble with blinds at 5,000/10,000 and no ante. It folds to the Cutoff who goes all-in for 115,000 and both the Button and Small Blind fold. Action is on you in the Big Blind with 9♠9♣, what do you do here?

PRO ANSWER: We are seven-handed on the exact bubble of a smaller multi-table tournament. The payout structure is $980 for first and $130 for sixth with a fairly standard escalating structure in between. The blinds are currently 5,000/10,000 with no ante and we are dealt pocket nines in the Big Blind. It folds around to the Cutoff who shoves all in for 115,000 chips. All other opponents fold and action is on us.

At first glance having pocket nines with 4 big blinds behind seems like a very standard call. However, looking around the table there are 4 other players with 4BBs or less which puts tremendous ICM pressure on us.

If we were to fold here it is highly likely we make the money but very unlikely we face a situation where we have this much of a chip equity edge again. Folding in this spot sacrifices what is likely one of our best chances to build a stack much more capable of a top finish.

Continued below...

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When we run this spot in a computer simulation assuming optimal play from all players, we find that the Cutoff should be shoving 100% of hands in this spot with these stacks. The ICM pressure on the three remaining shorter stacks is very strong meaning a vast majority of the time the Cutoff just wins the money in the middle.

This same computer simulation suggests our calling range should consist of 66+ A8s+ ATo+ KTs+. In the real world you will run into many players who won’t shove 100% of hands in the Cutoff’s position and against this player type your calling range is likely to start shrinking very fast depending on how narrow their shoving range becomes.

If the Cutoff were only shoving 50-60% of hands then pocket nines could easily become a fold, that’s how powerful the ICM pressure is in this spot. Assuming our opponent is able to recognize the situation at hand, they should be shoving more than enough hands to make this too good of a spot to pass up even if some percentage of the time we bust out on the bubble.

Calling is the best play.

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