More About Going All In
Sometimes it relieves you of making a bad guess later
a former column, I discussed getting all in when you have a pair and
non-nut-flush draw, because you have an excellent hand but cannot be confident
about whether you want the flush to come or not. Your opponent may have either a
good made hand or the nut-flush draw when he is willing to go down to the felt.
Here is a related situation:
In a $5-$10 no-limit hold'em game in which someone had straddled, I picked up A-K offsuit in late-middle position. A couple of people called, and I made an unusual play for me by just calling. I often limp with A-K when first to act, and sometimes with one under-the-gun caller, but this was a real rarity for me to limp with two callers and a straddler already in. When the action reached the small blind, an extremely aggressive player who had been raising often, he made it $100 straight, and the three players in front of me all called. What should I do?
Obviously, I am not folding. At this point, I had $1,700 left, and the raiser had a lot more than I did. The other stacks varied in size. So, my choices were to call, raise about $500 more, or go all in for $1,600 more. One annoying factor was that the raiser had been raising the pot $100 more or $120 more; this was the first time that he had raised so little. It could be that he just wanted to build a big pot, but he also could have aces or kings and be looking for action.
I decided to just call. I did not like raising without going all in, since I was not looking for someone to play with me and did not relish the difficult decision I would have if I got called and then missed the flop - and A-K misses the flop two times out of three. As for going all in, I would have done it had my opponent made a bigger preflop raise, but the small raise that I had not seen before from this player spooked me.
Calling could not have worked out worse. The flop paired my king and gave a player who had pocket deuces a set. I lost half a grand, since there was no way I could get away from my hand. The raiser check-folded, so he did not have a big pair. Raising all in preflop, or even $500 more, would have won me a nice pot. True, a sample size of one is not reliable, as any pollster can tell you, but it is hard to feel comfortable with a decision that worked out so poorly.
A-K is a hand that is delighted to be all in, as long as it does not face aces or kings. If the opponent has a weaker ace, the hand has a nice overlay, usually being somewhere between a 5-to-2 and a 3-to-1 favorite. If the opponent has a pocket pair, A-K is around an 11-to-9 underdog, but the dead money in the pot from the blinds and folded players makes it about a coin flip in equity. On the other hand, if both players see the flop and there is a goodly sum left to be bet, A-K is going to win only about a third of the time, assuming that the pair makes a decent-size bet. That is why a tournament player, who often has a fairly small stack size in relation to the blinds and is in an environment in which the blinds and ante money are worth a lot, is happy to bet all in with a raise or reraise and take his chances. On the other hand, if you raise and are reraised with a lot of money left, coming back over the top is a risky play, because the chance of facing a big pair is much higher.
Some players overplay A-K in an effort to get all in. I do not see anything wrong with overbetting the pot size by a 2-to-1 margin, or even 3-to-1, but the bigger numbers substantially weaken your equity with the play. For example, in the 2006 World Series of Poker main event, I open-raised to 1,200 from the button with 200-400 blinds and a 50 ante. The small blind folded, but the big blind raised all in, just over 10,000, enough to put me all in. I had two kings, so I called. He was a 7-to-3 underdog, but got lucky. Frankly, the result aside, I do not think this large an overbet of the pot size is good poker.
A-K is a flexible hand because it hits the flop about a third of the time. A pocket pair is different; it flops a set less than one time in eight. A pair so small that it has little chance of being an overpair will get an attractive flop so rarely that the player must be careful about calling off too much of his stack. It is silly to take a pair of sevens and call a fifth of your stack, hoping to help. You are in a raise-or-fold situation when confronted by a wager so large relative to your stack size. Few players are daffy enough to make such a call with sevens, but I believe it is an error to call that large a preflop wager with any pair. You do not know what your opponent has. If you call such a bet with two jacks, with the intent of seeing if an overcard comes, plenty can go wrong. A king or queen, perhaps even an ace, may be a card that gives your opponent nothing, even when he has two overcards. You do not know if he has any overcards, as he could have a smaller pair than jacks, and you are spooked out of following through when you are actually more than a 10-to-1 favorite. Even when you have an overpair to the flop, you are not home free, as he could have been ahead all along. The bottom line is that the jacks are the same as the sevens; when facing a wager of 20 percent or more of your stack, either move in or fold. Going all in relieves you of making an unfortunate guess later on.
The fact of the matter is that it is often right to take advantage of the poker form being no-limit by betting all of your chips, even when wagering several times the pot size. As we like to joke, you at least restrict your errors to only one, instead of guessing wrong later.