The most popular poker format in the world right now is known as No Limit Texas Hold’em. This game is famous because it is one of the only poker games that allows you to bet all of your chips at any given moment. In the poker world, this is known as “going all-in.”
Most players think they know when they should be going all-in, but a large percentage of them are either doing it way too often or not often enough. The truth of the matter is that you will never win in poker if you never go all-in, and you will never win in poker if you go all-in every hand. There is a happy medium in there somewhere, but how can you find it?
My advice is to consider each situation according to how many chips you can possibly lose. There is a different strategy for going all-in when you have a short stack compared to when you have a medium stack or a big stack. For the purposes of this article, I will assume that a short stack implies that you have less than 10 big blinds, a medium stack implies between 11 and 25 big blinds, and a big stack is more than 25 big blinds.
Throughout the course of your poker adventures, you will often find yourself with a short stack that consists of less than 10 big blinds. While these situations might be depressing at the time because no one wants to have a short stack, the tradeoff is that this is the simplest stack to play since going all-in is the only move that you should be doing.
The reason for why you should be either going all-in or folding with a short stack is governed by mathematics. You simply will not hit the flop often enough to justify limping or calling any raises with a short stack.
So, which hands should you be going all-in with? The answer to this question depends on what position at the table you are at during that specific hand, and how many people have already put chips in the pot before you.
In today’s “information age,” it is extremely easy to use Google to find a No Limit Hold’em shove chart. This chart will tell you the entire range of hands that you should be going all-in with from every single position and with every single stack size, as long as you are the first person in the pot. If you consider the fact that going all-in is your only move with a short stack, it is easy to see how important these charts can be in these short stack situations.
If you are on the button with 5 big blinds, a shove chart will show you that you can comfortably go all-in with a whopping 50% of all of the possible hands that can be dealt. This wide range includes marginal hands such as jack-seven suited or ten-eight off-suit.
Most people are not comfortable with going all-in with these sort of weak hands because they do not understand the math behind it. This chart already takes into account how often your opponents will have a strong enough hand to call your raise, and then you still have a chance to win even if you get called. Going all-in whenever the shove chart tells you it is profitable to do so is a great way to build your stack up and it gives you two ways to win the hand.
The two ways that you can win the hand when you go all-in pre-flop are when everybody folds, or when you get called and win the all-in. The scenario where everybody folds happens way more often than you might expect it to, so it would not be wise to just wait for a top-10 hand when you are short stacked because you pick up a large percentage of your chip stack for free on every successful all-in steal.
In situations where you are not the first person to put chips into the pot, you will not be able to refer to shove charts for advice, but you can still adjust the chart ranges accordingly. If there’s a limp ahead of you, you will need to tighten up your range slightly compared to the percentage of hands that you were shoving when it folded around to you. If there is a raise ahead of you, then you will need to tighten up your range A LOT.
If you consider the same situation where you have five big blinds on the button, but someone has just called one big blind ahead of you, then you will no longer be able to shove 50% of hands because this person will be committed to call your all-in bet with any hand he has. Therefore, you should only be shoving all-in with the hands that you feel are ahead of the range of hands that he might be limping in with since you no longer have any fold equity. Fold equity is the percentage of the time that your bet gets the other players to fold, and in this case, that percentage is 0%.
If this limping player is involved in a lot of hands, you can consider shoving between 20%-25% of all possible hands with your five big blinds, and if he rarely plays a hand you should be cautious and shove somewhere around 10%-15% of hands.
Once your stack reaches a medium size, which is between 11 and 25 big blinds, things are not quite as simple as they were when you had a short stack. You can still refer to the shove charts to see if you can go all-in with a certain hand when you have 20 big blinds or under, but just because you CAN shove all-in with a medium stack doesn’t mean that you SHOULD go all-in.
Let’s say you have 20 big blinds and you hold the best hand possible in No-Limit Hold’em, which is two aces. If you check a shove chart, you can see that going all-in with this hand is a profitable play. However, it is probably more logical to make a normal raise with this monster hand so that you can induce other people to see a flop with you or even try to re-raise you.
This example hand might seem like common sense, but it proves a very important point. Unlike when you had a short stack, you have other options outside of going all-in when you have a medium stack. When your stack lies in the upper end of this range you can begin to limp or make a standard-sized raise to between 2-2.5 big blinds with every hand you raise with.
I recommend coming up with a balanced approach where you shove all-in sometimes and do a regular raise sometimes. Some examples of good hands to include in the all-in range are things like small pocket pairs or suited aces with a small kicker. These hands have enough value to shove all-in with a medium stack, especially in late position. Not to mention, they are tough to play after the flop.
Let’s assume that there was a raise ahead of you, and you hold a chip stack of 15 big blinds. Is there any range of hands that you should be flat-calling this raise with? The answer is probably “no” unless you are trying to get tricky with a high pocket pair.
Therefore, you should be re-raising or folding most of the time when you face a raise with a medium stack. The main difference between a medium stack and a short stack is that the medium stack has more fold equity on these re-raises. The fact that you have more chips will make some extra hands fold and I recommend taking advantage of this instead of just calling to see a flop with only 12 or 13 big blinds.
Now let’s pretend there is just a call ahead of you and you have a medium stack of 15 big blinds again. Is there a certain range of hands that you can just call with? Sure there is, but it might be better to take advantage of all of the dead money in the pot by just going all-in with any hand you want to play. This way you can possibly make people fold who have a better hand than you, but I don’t recommend bluffing too wide in these spots.
The bottom line is that if you are not the first person in the pot and you have a medium stack, you need to be raising or folding most of the time. This is called selective aggression and it is extremely useful in medium-stacked situations.
Some people get excited once they get a big stack in a tournament because this means that they might win all of the money. However, you cannot let this excitement get to you because you are controlling a lot of chips and you do not want to do anything drastic.
Overall, there will be a lot fewer profitable pre-flop all-in bets to do once you have a big stack. The main reason for this is that winning the chips in the middle does not increase your stack by a very large percentage; so, it’s not worth risking your whole tournament life to win it.
Everyone else at the table has already folded and you look down to see Ace-King suited with a big stack of 35 big blinds. Many players think that this is a good spot to go all-in because they hate the feeling of raising such a big hand and missing the flop, which happens around two-thirds of the time. These types of players like to go all-in before anyone has a chance to get lucky on them, and they cost themselves a lot of money in the process. An overbet is not necessary when you have a big stack; you should just be making a standard-sized raise of about 2-2.5 big blinds.
The only time you should be going all-in before the flop when you have a big stack and you are the first person in the pot is when everyone left to act has a short stack and you have a medium-strength hand. Low-strength hands will be able to just fold and high-strength hands can make a regular-sized raise. Once people catch onto this pattern you can switch it up, but this is a good place to start.
The only times when you should be going all-in before the flop and you are not the first person in the hand is if there has already been at least two raises ahead of you. Having a big stack means that you have too many chips to just 3-bet all-in against one person but against multiple raises it is perfectly fine because there are already a ton of chips in the pot.
The range of hands that you should be doing these 4-bet or 5-bet all-ins is extremely small because people do not 3-bet or 4-bet very often these days and you will run into a monster most of the time. However, it is occasionally a good idea to keep your opponents guessing and mix in these all-in moves as a bluff once they see that you always have a premium hand in these situations.
All of the sections up to this point have focused on strategies that you can use which relate to going all-in before the flop comes. Now I would like to take a look at when you should be going all-in after the flop is dealt on the table, otherwise known as “post-flop,” since this situation occurs often.
The simplest way to organize this post-flop strategy advice is to break it up into stack sizes like I have been doing this entire time. Once again, for the purposes of this section, I will be considering the various post-flop strategies for a short stack, a medium stack, and a big stack.
If you read the section on Short Stack Preflop All-In Strategy from above, you will know that this section is going to be very short. There are very few situations where you will be in a post-flop situation with a short stack because you will be folding or going all-in before the flop with every hand.
One of the only times where you should be seeing a flop with a short stack is when you are in the big blind, and everyone else has just called one big blind. If you do not have a good hand in this spot you can check and a flop will be dealt. If you hit the flop hard with a hand like top pair or better, you can check/raise all-in, and if you flop a big draw you should just go all-in right away since you will not have any fold equity against a flop bet with your short stack.
A medium stack will not have a ton of all-in decisions after the flop since most of them are made before the flop is dealt. However, since there are more ways to see a flop with a medium stack than with a small stack, I can give you an example of a situation that you might find yourself in.
Let’s assume that you have 15 big blinds and you decided to just call one big blind from the button since 4 other people called one big blind as well. Since the flop is only 5.5 or 6 big blinds at this point, depending on whether the small blind completed the half big blind or not, your stack-to-pot chip ratio is over 2:1. Anytime this stack to pot ratio is over 1.2:1 you should probably not be going all-in very often, because this is seen as an “overbet.”
While an overbet all-in can be useful at times, it is usually incorrect because making a normal bet will allow you to keep players with weak holdings in the hand. You also tend to make your normal betting ranges unbalanced when you put too much weakness or too much strength into your overbet all-ins.
In general, you should just be shoving when you have a big hand or a big draw with a medium stack and when you have right around the same amount of chips that are in the pot. It is also OK to shove as a bluff on occasion if you do not believe someone’s bet, but you should be sure to at least have 2 or 3 outs to a very strong hand whenever you do this.
Just like with a medium stack, you should never be going all-in after the flop is dealt when you have more than 1.2x the pot. These sorts of overbets are not useful because you will either push out weaker hands and win small pots or you will get busted by superior hands and lose big pots.
Once you have gotten to later points in the hand, such as the turn or the river, you will often find yourself in a situation where your stack is less than 1.2x the pot. In cases like these, you need to consider going all-in if you can make a better hand fold, or if you can make a worse hand call. If neither of these two options can possibly happen, then you should not be going all-in.
Let’s assume you have 16 big blinds left in your stack on the turn when there are 15 big blinds in the pot and you hold pocket Kings on a 2-3-7-9 rainbow board. In this situation, it is certainly correct to go all-in because even though there are no better hands that will fold, there are a ton of worse hands that will call such as 10-10, J-J, or Q-Q.
If you happened to hold a draw such as 6-8 or 8-10 in this situation, this is also a great time to go all-in because even though you cannot get a worse hand to call your all-in, you can get a LOT of better hands to fold. In the rare instances where your all-in is called, you will win by hitting your straight outs around 1/3 of the time, and you will also win a ton of times by making the other players fold their better hands.
There are a lot of moves that you can make in poker, but the most important one to understand is known as “going all-in.” By putting all of your chips in the middle at the correct times, you will be able to get value from your big hands as well as get better hands to fold which allows you to win the pot with nothing. It is impossible to be a winning poker player if you go all-in too much or never go all-in at all, so the strategy for this move simply cannot be ignored.
The main things that you should pay attention to when deciding whether or not to go all-in is how many chips you have in your stack, how many chips other people in the hand have in their stack, how much money is currently in the pot, and how high the strength of the hand you hold is. There are also a completely different set of rules for when to go all-in before the flop and when to go all-in after the flop, since the pre-flop principles and shove charts cannot be applied post-flop.