Looking at my list of topics, I am getting close to the finish line on my tips for casual players. I have a few other intermediate thoughts, but I have probably given the casual player more than enough to digest and incorporate into their game. I will wrap things up with a couple of final thoughts on the all-in move and practicing your game.
Tip #9: Going All-In
Depending on your cards, it can be the sweetest or harshest three words spoken at the poker table: “I’m all-in”. Make the right decision and you might grab the chip lead. Make the wrong call and you are off to the fridge for another beer.
For the inexperienced player, the decision to go all-in is typically a pretty easy one. They have entered a pot with a mediocre hand that caught just enough of the board to entice a loose call on the flop and on the turn. As we get to the river, they realize that they have already committed most of our chips to the pot thus they ‘have’ to call all-in with their final few chips just in case they have the best hand. More often than not, they come up short.
If nothing else, my previous tips should eliminate the above as we are playing hands from a position of strength rather than chasing after cards. The fact that we are still in the hand means we have a realistic chance of taking down the pot. That said, the decision to raise all-in or call an all-in bet is a tricky proposition. I will go through each of these options separately.
Overall, the key to handling the all-in situations is to avoid needlessly putting yourself at risk to lose the tournament. Even if a fold puts you down to the short stack, the right decision is the right decision. It is when a player decides to roll the dice in hopes of a double up that bad things happen.
Calling an all-in bet:
I will start with what I think is the easier of the two all-in decisions. To call an all-in bet, consider the pot odds being offered, the strength of your hand and the possible hands that your opponent might have. On the last point, let’s eliminate a bit of the judgment for the casual player: almost always assume the all-in better has some sort of hand. Do not ever assume a total bluff and do not ever decide, ‘What the heck’ and make the call. I have done the ‘what the heck’ call numerous times and my win percentage is somewhere right around 0%.
Pre-flop, I would suggest sticking with the real easy to call hands. These would include AA, KK, QQ and perhaps AKs. Assuming you haven’t invested much into the pot, there just isn’t any reason to risk your tournament life with 10-10.
Post-flop, I would suggest folding unless you have hit the monster hand that you were trying to hit, or instances where you are one card from the nut flush. There are plenty of other viable calling situations, but substantial experience is needed to make those tough decisions. While the casual player is working up the learning curve, he or she might as well keep it simple.
If you insist on making the tough decisions, you need to calculate the pot odds and consider what hand your opponent might have. If the pot odds justify a call, you then need to work through what your opponent might have based on his betting history. What I would do is identify the types of hands that would beat my hand and then try to assess if the opponents betting history is consistent of that type of hand. If it is, I will almost always fold.
If I had a flush and was afraid of a bigger flush on the turn, I would try to answer whether or not it would make sense for my opponent to have raised all-in with a better flush. If there wasn’t much risk of a bigger flush being beaten, I would expect my opponent to slow play the hand in hopes of other players making bets. An all-in call would suggest the player has some other hand such as three of a kind and is trying to scare off anyone still drawing to a flush.
If the individual had consistently raised and bet throughout the hand, generally that individual is not going to have a straight or a flush. A high pair, two pair or low to medium three of a kind are likely. If I have KK but there is an Ace on the board, I am probably going to fold.
In my experience, raising all-in is a somewhat terrifying process. Unless I am confident with my read of my opponent, the raise all-in is the one time at the table where I am losing control over the game and truly risking ending my tournament life. Thus, I do not raise all-in very often, especially early in a tournament. The flip side is that the all-in raise applies maximum pressure on your opponent. It therefore has to be part of a well rounded strategy.
In making the all-in raise decision, I ask myself three questions: what does my opponent want me to bet; what are the odds that my hand will hold up; and how many chips does my opponent have?
On the second question, I do not want to go all-in if I am stilling drawing to a hand unless I am severely short stacked. I want to get in with the best hand and make my opponent rely on getting lucky to beat me.
On the third question, it is vital to know how many chips your opponent has. If they are really short stacked, they are more likely to call an all-in raise which means I should not be trying to bluff them out of a hand. If they have a tonne of chips, it is possible that they will be a little bit looser with their call. If they are somewhat short stacked and hoping to hang on until other players are knocked out, they might be very tight in their calls.
For the first question on what does my opponent want me to bet, I answer this through my play leading up to the all-in raise. In my discussions of play pre and post-flop, I have indicated that I almost always raise when my hand is good enough to call. I do this to gain information on the strength of my opponent’s hand. The fact that I still have an opponent at the river generally suggest strength of their hand which means I need to have or portray an unbeatable hand to put the rest of my chips in the pot.
If I am in a situation where my opponent has been the aggressor and I have not raised, I try to gauge whether or not they have the confidence in their hand to call an all-in bet. Assuming I have portrayed strength in my response to their bets, I essentially have to determine if I feel like they were trying to steal the pot. If they are trying to steal and I have more chips than they do, I might just raise all-in to see if I can steal the pot. I will of course have some sort of hand that has a chance to win the pot.
Lastly, I will consider the hand out there that might scare my opponent off of their hand. If I have played my hand in a way that gives my opponent the impression that I have this hand, I may raise all-in to force them to decide if their hand can beat the hand they fear most.
I hope the above discussion of raising all-in has scared the casual player from seriously considering following my advice. The nature of the all-in raise is such that you typically only get to make a mistake once if you are lucky. One bad read and the game is over. A bad read is highly possible for the casual player.
With that said, I would like to propose that the all-in raise be used by the casual player as a weapon against more experienced players. I have written throughout this series of tips that it is very difficult for the casual player to make difficult judgment calls without first gaining the necessary experience. The logical next step then is for the casual player to avoid situations where the experienced player has the opportunity to outplay the casual player through superior judgment.
The way to do this is with the all-in raise pre-flop. This play eliminates all future decisions from the casual player and forces the experienced player to make a decision solely based on the strength of the two cards he or she was dealt. There is no risk of being outplayed post flop and there is no risk of making incorrect call or fold decisions. Just raise all-in and forget it!
This strategy is obviously not one to use on every hand. It is can be effective once the play is down to five or six players. If can also be effective in late position in a game that is being played quite aggressively. If I am in a game where there are several players with unbridled aggression the all-in bet can be effective. If they are raising every time I make a bet and squeezing me out of the action, a timely all-in raise is a good way to make the other players calm down a bit and steal my fair share of the blinds.
The risk remains that you are going all-in with an inferior hand though this risk doesn’t have to be all that high. With five or six players at the table, the odds of a high pair being dealt is quite low. If you are third or fourth to act, that only leaves a couple of players who might surprise you with a monster hand. More often than not, the callers will have AQ or KJ or 7-7 or some sort of similar hand. What these means is that you can think about the all in raise with any pair starting probably with the 9-9. AK, AQ, AJ, KQ (preferably suited) also are contenders to raise with. Even if your opponent turns over 9-9, two overcards aren’t going to be that much of an underdog.
Summary Tip#9: Going all-in
- Never be loose in your all-in bet. If you think, “What the heck”, it is time to fold.
- To call an all-in raise, consider the pot odds, the strength of your hand and what hand your opponent might have.
- Opponents rarely bluff all-in. They have some sort of hand.
- Rarely call all-in on drawing hands.
- Pot odds have to justify the call.
- To raise all-in, consider number of chips your opponent has left, odds that your hand will hold up and what your opponent wants you to do.
- If opponent fears the all-in call, make their fears come true.
- Be wary of chip stack size and impact on opponents’ propensity to make a loose all-in call.
- Consider making life simple by raising all-in pre-flop.
- Situations where your lack of experience is being exploited.
- Later in the tournament when 5-6 players or less remain.
Tip #10: Play Free Sit-n-Go Tournaments Online
As is the case with any set of skills, mastery only comes through practice and repetition. This is especially true in poker as a player needs to work on implementing a strategy of play and have a chance to apply it to real life hands.
The good news is there is a cheap and easy way to get as much practice as the casual player desires. All of the big poker sites have a .net version which allows players to gamble with play money.
A common and often valid complaint of the free games is that they aren’t representative of ‘the real world’. It is fake money so players play like idiots. I have certainly found this to be true in the 1 table no-limit games where you sit down with chips and play. Players might as well go all-in as they can simply get more free chips if they lose.
The good news is that I have found some free play for the casual player that plays probably 85% true to ‘the real world’. The 1 table sit n go tournaments for whatever reason play pretty well. In a sit n go, each player buys into the tournament and is given $1,500 in chips. Top 3 players win some additional play money.
So, play for free a bunch and you will certainly surprise your buddies at the next home game by taking home some of the money!
Thanks to everyone for reading. I hope that a few people out there get something from my experience and are able to apply it and become better players. See you at the tables!