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When to Go All In?

Strategy for Getting Your Chips All-in!

Whether your bet is as a bluff, hoping your opponent folds, or as a value bet trying to get a call – the thrill of saying ‘all-in’ never gets old. When you are new to poker, it can pay to think about the right and wrong times to get your chips into the middle.

There are a lot of factors involved in these decisions. Some of these are to do with your cards, others are to do with the format of game you are playing, how many chips are in your stack and what you know about the tendencies of your opponents.

This No-Limit Holdem beginners strategy guide takes you through the different aspects of getting all-in, and coming out a winner.

All-In Before the Flop – How Many Chips Do You Have?

In No-Limit Holdem, the ability to bet any amount you want is a double-edged sword. This can lead to making mistakes in which your bets can lose over the long term.

For example, if you bet big before the flop, the only hands which are likely to call you are super-strong. If you do this with a wide range of hands yourself, those times everyone folds will not make up for those times you get called and end up losing a big pot.

This is why the size of your chip stack is the primary concern with going all-in, especially in a cash game setting.

If you have 100x the big blind, which is a standard cash game buy-in, then shoving all-in before the flop simply won’t work. If you only do this with big hands like aces, people will realize, and you would not get value from your hand. If you do this with a wide range of cards, you’ll usually win a few small pots, only to lose a big one when someone wakes up with aces or kings.

Good players not only balance their raises so that observant opponents can’t easily work out what they hold, they get their chips all-in in stages. By re-raising before the flop, you can often make the pot big enough that all of your chips can be in the middle before the river.

Going All-In as a Semi-Bluff

Pure bluffs are more rare in poker than many people think. While taking a stab at a pot with a ‘continuation bet’ is common if you raised before the flop and missed – most players will shut down after that if they encounter too much resistance.

If you have some chances of winning a pot by making a flush or a straight, then you have some extra ways to win the hand. When you bet big on the flop or turn, you will sometimes win right away. Those times you are called, you will improve to the best hand some of the time. A great example is if you hold Ace-King suited and hit 2 of your suit on the flop. Here you will almost certainly win if a 3rd flush card hits, and have chances of winning with a pair if an ace or a king hits.

Here, if you raised preflop and see some action on the flop, you might well be able to get your entire stack in the middle with an all-in.

Shallow Chip Stacks – Tournament Play

In poker tournaments, you will start off with ‘deep’ stacks of 100 or more times the big blind. As the game progresses and the bet sizes increase, you will find yourself with shallow stacks on many occasions.

Effective stacks are important here. If you have 100x the big blind, and a single opponent left in the hand only has 10x, then ‘effectively’ you are both playing a 10bb stack. That is all that can be won.

If you have 15x the big blind or less, then playing post-flop poker will be difficult. If you bet before the flop, get called in a couple of places and then bet the flop, the pot will be so big that folding will rarely make sense without a strong read on your opponent’s hand. If you have this difficult stack size, then you have an ideal ‘resteal’ opportunity. When someone raises ahead of you, you can often go all-in, forcing out everyone else and getting a fold from your single opponent. Choose hands which have some winning possibilities when they are called to improve the equity of this move. If you are first to act instead, then pick hands you would be comfortable going to the felt with. Alternatively, prevent those difficult post-flop spots by simply shoving all-in to start with.

All-in Sit N Go Bubble Play

There is a special case at the bubble of a sit and go tournament where all-in play when first to act is mathematically optimal. The reason is that the math of these games makes the chips you lose at the Sit N Go bubble much more valuable than those you can win. This means that you should rarely call an all-in, since you need to be sure that you not only have a better hand, but that your hand beats the chip value math.

As long as your opponents know this, you will rarely be called in these spots.