Moving “all in” is one of the most daunting propositions in poker, regardless of how experienced you are. It often means putting all your chips on the line and risking your entire stack.
In tournaments, losing an all in usually means heading to the rail, giving up on your opportunity to compete for the coveted top spot.
Seasoned players know a lot about all in poker, but this concept often confuses those new to the game. When talking about being eliminated from a tournament, I was often asked – “were you all in?”
As frustrating as this kind of a question might be, especially if you still haven’t gotten over the latest bad beat, it clearly shows that new players don’t quite understand what it means to be all in when playing poker.
This article will aim to clear the air, remove any misconceptions, and explain the poker all in from a more strategic point of view.
Poker All In Rules
To start at the top, what does it mean to be “all in” in poker?
Simply put, it means pushing all of the poker chips you have in front of you to the pot, i.e., betting it all.
Most games these days are played with table stakes, which means that you can only bet chips that are actually in play.
You can’t reach for your pocket and add more money to your stack mid-hand.
The same applies when another player puts you all in.
For example, if you have $200 in front of you in a cash game and someone with $1,000 in chips announces they’re all in, you don’t need to add an extra $800 to match their bet.
If you make the call, the maximum you can lose is the $200 you have in your stack. Of course, you can only win $200 as well, and if you’re the only caller, the excess money will be returned to the player with the bigger stack.
In no-limit games, the poker all in move is always an option. You can move all-in whenever you like, even if there are just a few chips in the pot. Whether you should ever do it is a different matter entirely, but there is nothing in the poker rules that prevents you from doing so.
Announcing All In
In modern-day poker games, there are two common ways of declaring your desire to move all in. The first is by a verbal declaration, i.e., simply saying something to the effect of “I’m all in” or just “All in.”
Keep in mind that verbal declarations are binding, so if you announce an all in so that the dealer and the table can hear it, you won’t be able to take it back.
Another way is by pushing your entire stack towards the middle and across the betting line (if it’s there on the table).
You should be very careful about using this approach, especially if you have a big stack, as different casinos have different rules. You should do it in one motion to avoid making a string bet. Verbally declaring your intention is usually the safest route.
Calculating Side Pots: Poker All In Rules for Multiway Hands
It’s not uncommon for multiple players to get involved in a pot where one or more are all in. This is where things can get a bit dicey, and these scenarios often give new players a lot of headaches.
If more than two players are moving all-in on the same hand and having the same stacks, there is no problem. All chips will be pulled into a single pot, and whoever wins will get the whole thing. However, this is rarely the case.
Usually, if there are three or four players all in, they’ll all have different stacks, which will create a scenario with a side pot.
This is best explained using an example.
- Player A has $1,000 and moves all in.
- Player B moves all-in as well but has $500 in the stack.
- Finally, the big blind player C, who only has $120, decides he is getting good odds and puts his money in as well.
First, the main pot will be formed. For the main pot, the dealer will consider the smallest effective stack size – in this case, $120.
So, he’ll take $120 from Players A, B, and C and create the main pot of $360. This is the pot that all three players are competing for.
Since Player B had more chips to start the hand than Player C, there will be a side pot between him and Player A.
The side pot is formed from the remainder of Player B stack ($380), and that same amount is taken from Player A.
So, the side pot is now $760, and it is played only between Player A and B. The one who has a better hand, according to poker hand rankings, will win the side pot even if player C has a better holding.
- Player C ends up with a full house on the river as the best hand, and they win the main pot.
- Player A makes the flush and losses the main pot. However, their flush still beats the two pair of Player B, so player A wins the side pot.
- In this scenario, Player B losses its entire stack. Had Player B won the side pot, he would have banked $760.
While these scenarios can be slightly confusing, you usually don’t have to worry too much about them. Online, everything is calculated automatically. In a live setting, the dealer will do all the hard work.
Active Side Pots When There’s an All In
Sometimes when there is a poker allin, there will be players involved in a hand with chips still left behind.
For example, a short stack shoves for $100 and gets called by two players with stacks of $800 and $1,200 to start the hand.
In this scenario, the main pot will be formed, just like in the previous example. The dealer will take $100 from each player to form the main pot of $300.
However, since the other two players still have chips behind, they can continue to play.
So, on the flop, one player could bet. If the other player folds, they’ll be the only one competing for the main pot with the all-in player.
If the other active player calls, however, a side pot is created. The first and all subsequent bets, raises, and calls will go towards the side pot.
The all in player can never win anything from the active side pot, and if one of the active players manages to get the other one to fold, they’ll immediately win the side pot.
All In Poker Strategies and Considerations
As much as no one likes to be all in and at risk, this is simply the nature of the game. This is especially true for tournaments where increasing blind levels make stacks shorter. This dynamic often makes the all-in play the only viable and strategically sound option.
Now that you know all important Texas Holdem all in rules, it’s time to introduce another concept that was already discussed but wasn’t defined – the concept of the effective stack.
When you’re deciding whether to move all in or not, how many chips you have in your stack doesn’t have to be the determining factor.
If you had $10,000 in front of you, but the only player left to act only had $50 in front of them, you could move all in without worrying too much. The most you can lose in this hand is $50.
The effective stack is the only relevant number in all-in poker scenarios.
In heads-up pots, it is the smaller of the two stacks, and it is the player with the shorter stack who's at risk of losing all of their chips.
This is a very important variable to consider when deciding on an all in play. You don’t want to open shove 100 big blinds if there are players behind you who have you covered or who could seriously cripple you.
However, if all players left to act only have 10 to 15 big blinds in their stacks, moving all-in can be a sound strategy because the effective stack will never be more than 15 big blinds.
All In Pots: Shoving vs. Calling
Depending on the particular situation, all in can be a very powerful play if you’re the one making it, and the other player is the effective stack.
This means that you have the initiative, and they’re the ones running the risk of going bust if they lose the hand. The play works particularly well in tournaments.
Of course, committing all of your chips before the flop is only viable if you have an effective stack of around 20 big blinds or less.
You want to have the right risk-reward ratio and the right fold equity. If that is the case, you can follow this push fold chart to make mathematically correct decisions.
With the stack of 40 big blinds, for example, you have a lot of fold equity, but the risk-reward ratio is often not correct. At this stack depth, you can expect to get called only by the top of the opponent's range.
If you move all-in with a big stack and holding a monster hand yourself, you are simply losing value. You’re not giving opponents a chance to make a mistake and get involved with weaker hands.
But, of course, you’re not always the one making the all in move in poker.
Frequently, you’ll find yourself on the wrong side of an all-in and will need to decide whether you want to call or not.
The right decision depends on so many different variables that it goes well beyond the scope of this article. Are they open shoving before the flop, is it a 3-bet shove, or are they moving all in on the flop after certain preflop actions?
When it comes to all in poker, the general rule of thumb is that you want to be the aggressor much more often than the caller.
The added benefit of the fold equity makes it much more profitable to move all in yourself than to call someone else’s bet for your entire stack. There are some exceptions, of course, but this is a good base guideline.
Exceptions to the Rule: What to Do When Committed?
As mentioned, there are different ways for a poker hand to end up in an all-in situation. Perhaps you’ve tried a bold preflop 4-bet bluff that backfired. All of a sudden, you’re facing a 5-bet shove with a hand you know is behind.
Or you got to the flop in a bloated pot, fired a continuation bet, and your opponent had jammed on you.
When this happens, you need to look at your stack-to-pot ratio or SPR. This is the number that tells you how your stack relates to the pot.
For example, if you have $200 in front of you and there is already $200 in the pot, your SPR is 1. If you only had $100 behind, your SPR would be 0.5.
The lower the SPR, the more willing you should be to call off an allin bet.
For example, if you have a top pair and weak kicker and find yourself facing an all in with SPR of just 0.5, you’ll need a very good reason not to call.
In the same situation, but where your SPR is 3 or more, you can make that lay down much more easily because you are not pot committed to play the hand.
Summary: The All In Poker Play
Poker all in is just another type of bet you can make. The only thing that distinguishes it from other bets is the fact it is for your entire stack.
Losing an all in can often mean the end of a tournament or reaching to your pockets to buy more chips in a cash game.
It’s important to understand Texas Holdem all in rules, as knowing your way around these situations will be very useful throughout your poker career.
As you could see in this article, one player moving all-in doesn’t always mean it’s time for a showdown. You shouldn’t rush to turn your cards over until the dealer announces it’s time to do so.
As a part of your game strategy, all in can be a very powerful weapon when used correctly. At the same time, this play can easily backfire as you’re putting your entire stack on the line. Bad timing or wrong judgment can be quite costly.
Think before you act because once you utter those two scary words, there is no turning back! Some players will try to angle-shoot their way out of these spots, but that rarely works, and it won’t win you any popularity points, either.