If you ever tried play money games online, you know that players just love to gamble and put all of their chips in middle preflop. This is simply the case because they don’t risk anything. The story in real money games is a bit different. Well, maybe not at nl2, but higher it is. While you will still find crazy players that want to gamble and just shove preflop, it is by far more common that players will want to play postflop.
Even though postflop is where the majority of the action happens, this is not always the case.
If there is enough money already in the pot and you believe to have the best hand, then you should go all in preflop. How much money needs to be in the middle, for going all-in to be a correct play, depends on the type of the game you are playing and your stack to pot ratio.
It is crucial to differentiate different types of poker and how much different ranges are for going all in. Cash games play differently as the stacks are deeper. On the other hand, in tournaments, especially the ones with faster blind increase structure, you are often short stacked.
At pot limit games and limit games, it is not possible to go all in preflop, at least the majority of the time. On the other hand, you could, of course, shove all in every hand at no limit games even if the pot is small and you are deep. Just because you are allowed to, that is not the approach that would make you money.
When should you go all in
Going all-in can sometimes be tricky, not just for a newer player, but even for seasoned pros. The more you play and the more you learn the game, the more often you will be right when going all in. There are different scenarios when you should go all-in:
- in a bounty tournament, when a shorter stack is already all-in and you hold an ok hand
- preflop, when the pot is 20% of your stack and you have a strong hand
- postflop, when you have around pot-sized bet left and want to bet
- if you are playing all in or fold poker (there are some such games on online poker sites)
- when bluffing and pot is large and you believe the opponent is likely to fold if you shove
- in sit and go’s when your stack is less than 15bb, then your only options are either all-in or fold
- in tournaments when your stack is around 20bb’s and someone has raised before you (at this point you can’t afford to just a call due to antes and so much pot in the middle)
- in tournaments or sit and go’s when you are the big stack (you can really take advantage of higher stack and put pressure on others that don’t want to be eliminated)
All in Before the Flop at Cash Games
Generally, cash games play deeper, and opponents are correctly tighter when it comes to going all in preflop. However, games can become quite crazy if there is a maniac or two on the table that are 3 betting every single hand. Then the whole table will adapt and start going all in lighter.
There is not a set range of hands you would always want to go all in with. It depends a lot on who you are against and if going al in maximizes how much money you would make in the hand.
If an opponent is willing to stack off with Ace Jack and pocket sevens and better, then you will do fine by stacking off AQs and JJ+ against him. Contrary to this, if the opponent is tight and opens only 10% when in early position and doesn’t 4bet often. And now he happens to 4bet you, then you can easily fold your AQ and QQ.
Nevertheless, the ranges with what you should be going all in firstly depends if you play deep-stacked, with standard stacks or short stacked.
Going all in with normal stacks and deep stacked
This is the most common scenario in cash games. You and other players will have around 100 big blinds to play with and often even deeper. For online games, where you can quickly leave the table when deep, maybe playing deep is not so common. But for live games where you are either forced to paly deep or call it a day, games can get really deep.
As a rule of thumb, remember these notes:
- Deeper you are, better hand you need to stack off preflop
- It depends a lot from which position you opened or opponents position
- If games are passive, then you need to tighten your stacking off preflop range
- If games are aggressive and loose preflop with a lot of 3bets and 4bets, then you will make decent money with stacking off preflop lighter
If an opponent opened in early position, then naturally, we need to be tighter with our 3bet, and his 4bet will be very strong often. So our 5bet needs to be only the top of our range (often AA and KK). If opponent folds to some of your 5bets, then you can start calling his 4bets and maybe bluff 5bet all in with some blockers to his hands. Like Kx or Ax (we reduce the chance KK or AA by the opponent).
Also, I am yet to see people folding to a 5bet after 4 betting in live cash games. Some players go as far as even only 3bet only pocket aces. A leak we can exploit for sure.
Going all in at short stacks
Maybe you like to short stack on a normal table, or you just play in short stack games. With 50 big blinds or less, you should be willing to go all in with the majority of the hands you are 3betting with. You stack to pot ratio preflop is so low that now often you are committed preflop. This means you invested so much already that what is left to call will make you more money (or lose less) than what you would by giving up on your hand.
Playing as a short stacker is hugely beneficial if you play against other opponents that are deep stacked themselves. They will often call someones raise or 3bet themselves and then you have even easier decision to shove. Compared to your stack, there is already so much money in the middle, that either being called or if everyone folds to your shove will be beneficial to you.
It is harder to make money by going all in preflop if everyone else is short stacked also. I would avoid playing short stacked games. But when I would sit in as a short stacker on a regular table, I know it would be very beneficial for me.
This is simply because every time there is some money in the pot and another opponent folds, we gain the part of his folded equity.
Quick example. We have AQs on the big blind. The loose cutoff player opens, and regular on button 3bets him. This is an excellent spot for us to shove all in preflop with 40 big blinds stack. The button in this scenario most likely 3bets around 15% of hands. So our AQs have an equity advantage over his range. We are happy with any situation. A loose player will most often fold, then if button calls us, we are fine, we will either win around 12 big blinds if button folds, Or be a slight underdog those times that button has a real hand.
It is easy, but also a quite dull way to make money as a short stacker.
All in Before the Flop at Tournaments
The approach for tournaments is different. You should play tight until the blinds increase, and you are short stacked. The majority of your opponents will also be short stacked at that point. Once you drop below 20 big blinds, you will often be in push all in or fold preflop mode. This simply means you will either go all in or fold. You don’t need to have a strong hand necessarily.
Here are some of the most common scenarios in tournaments to go all-in at:
- If you are a big stack and only low stacks are behind you, then you should shove. They will be afraid to call your shove as they don’t want to bust. This is especially effective just before the bubble
- If opponents behind you are tight, then you should go all-in more
- If a loose player opens in front of you. You should attack his loose opens and shove with a decent hand. Do not bluff as you can get called light and risk your tournament life with 60% to win.
- If you are down to 10 big blinds and on the button, you can shove the majority of the hands
This are just some of the common scenarios that happen at tournaments. In the majority of tournaments, there are antes in play. This makes the pot bigger by roughly one big blind before there is any action. So by going all in with 15 big blind stacks and everyone folding, you win more than 15% of your chips. This is a great result.
With what hand you should go all-in with, it all comes down to math. Luckily for you, all you need to learn is to follow some preflop charts that tell you exactly what to do with a specific hand. Let me repeat this. All you need to do is to learn which hand to shove all in with and which not when you have below 15 or 20 big blinds, and you will be making money. One software where you can practice this is ICMizer. There are others that do the same thing.
A few years back, I was primarily an SNG and tournament poker player for a brief period, and I practiced every day. Most likely, you can become winning SNG player, especially the turbo and hyper-turbo format, in the fastest time compared to cash games, where you need to learn how to play deeper also.
Although not a very fulfilling type of game, you should consider SNGs if you want to get consistent, easy money in poker fast.
Can You Go All In Before the Flop?
Like I wrote above. You can go all-in before the flop every time in no-limit poker games. It is far from the most optimal play if the pot in the middle is not big enough yet, and you don’t hold a strong hand yourself. At pot-limit games, you can only raise for pot before the flop, so it depends on what the action was in front of you. For limit games, it is very unusual to be all in, unless you only had like two big blinds left.