Online poker can be incredibly fast-paced, especially when multi-tabling. The speed of the game demands quick thinking for profitable players, but long-term winners also realize when to slow it down and deep think about a hand. The decision to “go all-in” or not is one of those critical times that can determine your profitability for the session, or even longer. A typical all-in hand is going to involve a lot of money or chips, so this is the perfect opportunity to take advantage of your time clock. Here are some things to think about before committing all those chips to your big move.
- How many players are acting behind me?
Position is always a critical factor when making a move. The more players behind you statistically means the more likely they will have a hand, and this is exacerbated when short stacks are involved. If you are targeting one player or are the last to act, going all-in is more ideal based simply on odds. Keep your seat position in mind (as well as your hand strength) and use that to your advantage.
2. Are your chips getting the best value with this move?
Whether it a cash game or tournament, your chips have inherent value, so you have to think of them just like investments when you push into a pot. In other words, is this a good investment for you? For example, I frequently look at my opponent’s profile and realize that I can beat him, but it doesn’t have to be now. A hand that has too thin of an edge but is going to turn into a big pot is very risky and often results in frustration against weak players. Think about how the pros manage to stay alive for so long in big money tournaments. They tend to avoid large pots with thin edges. I am not talking about equity here either. It’s more about putting your chips into play with the best possible outcome, just like a good investment advisor would strategize with your money.
- How sure are you if this is going to work?
Success from going all-in can happen in 2 ways: everyone folds or players call, and you win the hand. If you have pocket aces, you’re likely looking for a caller or two, but if you have pocket deuces, then not so much. Either way, you’ll want to be at least somewhat confident of your chance of success. Pausing and thinking about a hand have inherent benefits in the action alone. This is where using an arbitrary percentage of success can really help you focus on making good decisions. For example, can you say the move will have a 50% chance of success? For smaller pots or small stack situations, this may be all you need, sometimes even less. However, when it comes to serious money situations like deep in a tournament or your full buy-in at a cash table, then you should be looking at much higher, like 75% to 90%. In other words, after thinking about all the factors, you can confidently say to yourself – “If I go all-in here, I’ll have a 75% chance winning the pot.”
- Is this move based on logic or emotion?
Realizing when emotions are taking over is the real difference between profitable play and losing money. Virtually every poker session creates adversaries because personalities and previous game action will always have a bearing on the current hand. It’s normal to be getting caught up in emotions of anger or jealousy towards another opponent. However, asking yourself this simple question can force you to take a step back and illuminate a potentially costly error on your part. Remember, bad players can get a good hand too, and you might very well be playing right into a trap like a check raise. You don’t want to be the fish in this hand you want to be the player setting the bait. Eliminating emotions from your decision inherently means you have to use logic to make the next move. If you find yourself thinking about what makes you angry or mad about the opponent, rather than the quality of the hand you are playing, then a full stop is required. Replay the hand in your head and then make your move.
- Work backwards from the nuts.
You’ve been in those hands when your opponent shows a cold-stone winner like a straight or a set – and you are just shocked. You had no idea. You can prevent this from happening ever again by working backwards from the nuts. Working backwards from the best possible hands is a good starting point for when you have to call your stack all-in because it forces you to really narrow down your opponent’s range. You would be surprised how few times you had to do this before getting very good at knowing your opponent’s hand. Unless you have the nuts, a player who is deep in a hand with you will often have a pretty good hand too. So there aren’t as many possibilities as you might think.
In addition to these five things you can also ask yourself; What’s the worst that can happen?
If you feel you have a thin edge or are a slight underdog, it is almost always a good decision to play the hand – IF your opponent is a short stack. Let’s say up to 25% of the size of your stack is a reasonable amount to risk under normal circumstances. In situations where you know you are going to be heads-up against a small stack, then you know what the worst-case scenario is. If that outcome is acceptable, then lean towards playing the hand, in spite of other obstacles you may have assessed during your deep think.