When To Shove In Poker (Going All In)

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There’s not a much more exhilarating feeling in Texas Holdem than putting all your chips in the middle, also known as “shoving all in”, or just “shoving”.  The very name “No-Limit Holdem” is a nod to the fact that a player can go all-in at any time – that’s what the “no limit” part of the name refers to.  With the freedom to push all-in whenever you choose…how often should you be doing so?

Shoving Every Hand

Why not shove your whole stack in every hand?

You’ll see people do this sometimes – maybe they just lost a big pot and only have a small fraction of a normal stack left.  They announce “I’m all in”, everyone usually folds, and they win the blinds and perhaps a limp or two.  It works most of the time – in fact, a player employing this strategy will win almost every pot he plays.  So why not use this strategy?

It’s very simple – shoving all in every hand works almost every time, every time except the last one.  You keep shoving and shoving, and sooner or later someone will wake up with a strong enough hand to call you.  And the longer you try and employ the “shove every hand” strategy, the lower and lower the hand requirement will be until someone calls.  For a few hands, everyone will fold unless they have aces, kings, or queens, but after 5 or 6 times, someone will think about calling with pocket jacks, tens, ace-king, ace-queen, and maybe even lesser hands.  Pretty soon, you’ll be all in and you’ll most likely be an underdog, and you’ll lose your stack.

poker card equities

So going all in every hand is out.  Let’s look for some times when it might make sense to shove our stacks in.

Shove For Value

Going all in with a monster hand and getting a call from a lesser hand is a tremendous feeling – we’ve either won the absolute maximum possible (if the shove was on the river), or we got our money in as a huge favorite (on an earlier street).  But we can’t simply shove all in every time we think we have the best hand – most poker players are simply not going to pay off an all-in bet unless they feel like they also have a big hand themselves.  You have to rely on your hand reading skills to determine when an all-in bet is going to be profitable. Here’s an example hand that I played online.

A player who I knew to be fishy and overvalue his one pair hands limped from middle position, and I raised from the button with 5♥ 6♥.  This hand is pretty weak on its surface, but I now have position on the bad player, and I know that he will play fit-or-fold poker and give up on many flops.

The board came 4♦ 5♠ 6♦, giving me top two pair.  The opponent checked to me and I made a healthy value bet, knowing I would get a call from lots of weaker hands.  Like I predicted, he called me.

The turn was an amazing 6♣, giving me a full house.  Once again I bet, and once again he called.

The river was nearly the perfect card for me, the 7♦.  This card put a 4 straight on the board, so any eight or any three held a straight.  It also filled a diamond flush, so if he chased a flush, he just made a second best hand.  On top of all that, I knew that this poor player could NOT fold an overpair no matter how dangerous the board got, meaning that pocket nines and up were all incapable of folding (pocket eights also, but those made a straight).  There were just so many second best hands that I felt like this player would call, I simply shoved my whole stack in when he checked.  He insta-called me with 88 and I won his stack.

Shove As A Bluff Or Semi-bluff

Most players won’t stick their whole stack in the middle on a cold, naked bluff with a weak hand like ace-high on the flop or turn. Although there’s nothing preventing it, the danger is that if you felt like your opponent was going to fold, but you end up being wrong and he calls, then your stack is almost always going over to your opponent. Think about it, if he has a hand strong enough to call an all-in bet, then there’s almost no chance for a hand like ace-high to catch up on future streets.

Often times, a player will employ what’s called a semi-bluff on the flop or turn.  A semi-bluff is a bluff (which can be an all-in bet but doesn’t have to be) where we’re on a decent draw – we probably don’t have the best hand now, but there are enough good cards left in the deck to give us a strong hand on future streets to catch whatever the villain is holding.  Here’s a hand I played that employed a semi-bluff:

I opened the pot from middle position with A♥ K♥  A loose-aggressive player called me on the button, and we went to the flop heads up.

I got a strong flop for my hand:  5♠, 2♥ 9♥.  I didn’t have a pair, but I had the nut flush draw and 2 overcards to the board.  I made a standard continuation bet, and my loose-aggressive villain min-raised me.  I responded my going all-in over his bet.

Note that I don’t really care if this villain calls me or not.  If he calls me with a hand like pocket tens or Ace-nine, I’m actually a small favorite to win the hand, even though I’m currently behind, holidng only Ace high!  I’m in the biggest trouble if he flopped a set of twos, fives, or nines, but even then I’m going to catch him with my flush and hold up about 25% of the time. Usually, decent players will fold their one-pair hands here – most good players don’t go broke with a single pair, and my bluff will win me the pot.

Shoving as a semi-bluff helps you get paid more

when you shove for value

I want to mention this last bit of advanced logic because it will help you as you move up the poker ladder, even if it doesn’t help right away.  In the lower levels, many of your bad opponents aren’t paying much attention to your play and won’t see patterns in how you play certain hands.  But if you play with really good players, or maybe if you play in a home game where you have the same opponents over and over again, they may recognize how you play in certain cases.  And these observant TAG poker opponents might make good decisions against you unless you are mixing up your play when they’re at the table.

For example, I know many players who will only stick their stack in the middle on the flop when they hit a big draw like my Ace-King of hearts hand above.  If they happened to flop a set on this same 9-5-2 board, they would almost always slowplay the flop and then wake up and show aggression on the turn.  Because I know this about them, I can zero-in pretty well on their hand when they raise my flop bet, and I can play much better knowing what they have.  If I were to have AA or KK, for example, maybe even holding a heart myself, I know that I’m a solid favorite vs their drawing hands and I can call their semi-bluff shove.

But what if my observation is that they raise their big draws and also their sets on the flop? Now when I’m sitting against them with an overpair, I’m in a big pickle.  I’m either a decent favorite to their draws, or a giant underdog to their sets, and I don’t know whether to call or fold.  When a villain has me in that type of situation, he has a huge advantage over me, because no matter which action I take, I’m running the risk of making a big mistake.

Hopefully, you’ve learned some examples on how and when to employ the most exciting bet in Texas Holdem – the all-in bet. If you’d like even more info about getting it all-in, I have a complete video about getting AK and QQ all-in preflop – a skill that most players either too often or too little. It’s a bonus video in the Playing 3Bet Pots Series which gives you a complete blueprint for winning more money in 3bet pots. Check it out now!

AIPFQQAK

Matt Tagliaferri

Matt Tagliaferri is a freelance writer and poker player located in Cleveland, Ohio. Make sure to follow him on Twitter!

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