All-in! Why, when and how in Texas holdem poker

Poker winning handsThe “All-in” Move in Texas Hold’em Poker

The most common type of poker played nowadays is the no-limit Texas Hold’em poker, meaning there are no limits to how big of a bet can you make. If you decide to make the biggest bet possible and move all of your chips to the middle of the table, you’re “all-in”.

The all-in is one of the most powerful moves you can make in a poker game. Even though it’s an incredibly simple poker strategy, it can transform the entire game – if  you are called and win it can chip you up and take you to final table of a tournament or the cash-out grill at the cashier. However all it takes is a single false step and you’ve lost everything you’ve got.

Being such a significant move, everyone who plays Texas Hold’em will end up going all-in at least once every tournament as the search for the Texas holdem winning hand, when they are running low on chips if not before, and maybe in cash games too. So, let’s take a deeper look at how this move works and how you can implement it in your Texas Hold’em strategy.

Poker winning handsHow the “all-in” Works?

To go all-in is to bet all you have on the table. However even if your opponent goes all-in with $1000 when you have $50, you still have the option to call and win only $50 from his stack. When there are three or more players, however, things get a little bit complicated. When one player is all-in and the others are battling for additional chips, side pots are created. To better understand side pots, let’s take a three-way example:

  • Player 1: $25
  • Player 2: $100
  • Player 3: $200

Player 1 goes All-in with $25, and can only win $25 from the other players’ stacks. All bets above that amount will go into a side pot.

Player 2 raises the bet to $100.

Player 3 calls the bet, leaving a total amount of $225 in the pot.

This amount is then divided into two pots:

  • The main pot with $75 ($25 from each player)
  • The side pot with $150 (the remaining $75 from player 2 and 3)

If player 1 wins, he gets the main pot with $75. The second best hand loses the main pot but wins the side pot.

Poker winning handsWhen to go all-in?

Now that you know the rules for going all-in, it’s time to learn how to use strategy to get the most out of this move.

The first reason to go all-in is to protect a hand. Ideally, the all-in is used when you have the best hand possible made up of the cards in your hand and any of the cards on the table, up to a maximum of five being used. When you make the move, you force the other players to either call your bet or pay their draw out. However, make sure that you don’t go all-in pre-flop early in a tournament as you won’t get much value out of the pot. Instead, wait patiently and slowly raise the bets until you have a large enough pot. Of course this does risk a weaker hand catching up to yours on the flop, turn or river, so you have to balance how much you could lose against your chance of winning.

You can also go all-in on the flop to prevent other players to see the turn and river cards and get some Texas Hold’em winning hands. If they haven’t hit the board or made a hand, they will probably fold.

Still, one of the most common reasons to go all-in is the bluff. This presents the biggest risk in your poker strategy, and you need to be well aware of the playing styles of your opponents in order to do this at the right time. Try to avoid going all-in when you have no outs, as this greatly reduces your odds of winning and relying only on your opponent’s hand also being poor enough for them to fold. If they have any sort of hand and detect your bluff through your actions or words, you might be called and lose your All-in chips.

Even though the all-in can make a dramatic finish to your poker game, it’s advisable to first make a few big raises before going all-in. If you feel like you have a better hand, try getting as many chips out of your opponent as possible without risking all of yours. If by any chance you lose, at least you saved a lot of chips in the process.

This is especially important in tournaments, where the downside of losing an all-in move is much bigger than the upside, compared to a cash game. In cash games, you can either double your money or lose everything, while in tournaments you risk leaving the entire competition.

Poker winning handsWhen to call an All-in?

When faced with the decision whether to call an all-in or fold, you must keep pot odds in mind. Pot odds represent the ratio of cards that can improve your hand and the money you need to call. To summarize, if your chance of improving your hand is bigger than the amount you need to call, you can go ahead and call the all-in. You also have to figure out whether your opponent is bluffing if they have gone all in, even on the river. They might do this if they have missed all their draws or pairings and it is the only way to win the pot. At these times you must figure out what type of plays they have been making, are they loose aggressive? More likely to be bluffing in this situation then.

It also depends how many chips you have already invested in the pot. But if you think they are bluffing and you have hit the board for a pair or better, or even if you think you have a high card which can win, sometimes it is worth making the call.

Poker winning handsWhat are the odds of winning an All-in?

We’re also going to explore some preflop one-on-one all-in matchups to see the percentage chance of winning with different hands.

  • AA vs. KK – Larger pair has more than 80% chance to win
  • AA vs. KQ – Pocket Aces has more than 80% chance to win
  • AK vs. AJ – The better kicker has more than 70% chance to win
  • JJ vs. A10 – The Pocket Pair has more than 66% chance to win
  • AK vs. Q10 – Overcards (AK) has more than 57% chance to win
  • QQ vs. AK – The Pocket Pair has more than 52% chance to win
  • One Overcard (A3 vs. J10) – Overcard has more than 50% chance to win

Poker winning handsIn summary

As you see, the only hard and fast rule for playing the All-in in Texas Hold’em poker is that there is no hard and fast rule. You need to pay close attention to the other players and assess each hand individually – could it be a Texas holdem winning hand – while considering all the possible variables, including chip stack size, position, styles of opponents play and stage of the game. Good luck and see you on final table or cashing out at the casino cashier.