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The Bubble Mafia

by Katie Dozier |  Published: Feb 29, '12


Whenever the bubble’s getting close in a smallish live tourney, I get a lump in my throat that has nothing to do with ICM. My fear comes from the bubble mafia; the individuals that take it upon themselves to aggressively make sure the player that would have bubbled actually gets paid.

Usually, in a daily tournament, this means that someone says “we should all pay the bubble $20 each” and people start throwing cash on the table. When pressed I politely say I’m opting out, and chaos ensues. How could the girl that’s been friendly with the whole table turn out to be a scrooge?

I have no problem with people voluntarily putting up the money. What I do have an issue with are the individuals who make it their sole cause to get others to pay up.
At a recent Venetian final table with nine paid, and ten remaining, a man brought up paying the bubble. I was the chip leader, and there was a really short player. Not only would handing someone with 2 ante-adjusted big blinds $20 be kind of crazy, it would also hinder my ability to pwn the bubble.

When I declined, the whole table reacted, telling me I should just pay. It turned the table’s demeanor from a fun Saturday night in Vegas to some sort of court room proceeding. The Godfather of the Mafia even resorted to name calling, and I just put on my headphones and focused on accumulating as many chips as possible while the mini-stack continued to try and fold his way into the money. I did win the tournament, but I had to call the floor as the ringleader was very hostile when I busted him.

The card-carrying bubble mafia members can surprise you. I once saw an octogenarian cuss out a man for not paying up at the Bellagio. Also, at the ladies WSOP event last summer, some women decided to run around collecting $10 from everyone for the bubble girl (which was no small feat with over 1,000 entrants). I don’t have a problem with someone deciding to do this, but I do have a problem with the mafia member that pointed at one of my friends that declined and said, “Just because she’s a bitch doesn’t mean we all have to be.”

Of course, there are some arguments for agreeing to pay the bubble. As one of my friends pointed out, hand for hand/bubble mode can go on for a really long time when people don’t pay up. However, if you’re the big stack then that is hardly something to complain about.

The line I use does sometimes appease people. I say with a smile, “I’m sorry, I’m going to pass. If I bust, I won’t get paid.” More times than not though, this still seems to make people angry. Maybe this is because my otherwise friendly demeanor makes this very unlikely to them, and they probably thought I would be the first one to throw $20 away.

Ultimately, of course I’m very willing to break rapport with my table by declining to pay the bubble. However, I think that the casino staff shouldn’t allow other players to be harassed for opting out of a voluntary decision, and that other players shouldn’t allow someone to be treated cruelly— regardless of the circumstances. Let’s keep the mafia where it belongs— in the movies. :)

Katie “hotjenny314” Dozier is a lead coach for Team Moshman and one of the Grindettes. An accomplished super-turbo and MTT player, she makes videos for Drag The Bar and PokerStrategy . Dozier, co-authored Pro Poker Strategy: The Top Skills and The Superuser. She posts more frequent updates on Twitter.

Any views or opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the ownership or management of


almost 10 years ago

One of my favorite poker stories involved John Juanda at a WSOP event. He had the chip lead, but more than doubled his stack during the hand-for-hand on the bubble while playing table captain.

Some of the other players wondered why he was folding whenever the tables shortest stack moved all in. The other players thought he was playing favorites, but in reality, Juanda just wanted the bubble to go on forever.


over 9 years ago

I don't see what the problem is with paying the bubble. Won't the short stack be more encouraged to just finish up?


9 years ago

I think I'm going to take on a new approach next time, since they're going to be so pissed at me anyway..."no speak english" even if I've been speaking english the whole time before that.

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