One of the most difficult decisions to make in poker is to risk your entire chip stack. There is so much uncertainty in poker that it is never a comfortable decision to make. You could hold pocket aces and still be uneasy because you don’t know whether your hand will survive the community cards that are revealed. Anytime you push all your chips into the middle, there will always be the chance that none of them are coming back to you. Analyzing the game and how the other players are acting will help you make correct decision when you are debating whether or not to go all-in.
The very first thing you should analyze when you are considering moving all-in is one thing that you should always be aware of: The size of your chip stack relative to the blinds. If your stack is very large compared to the blinds, you should be reluctant to go all-in unless you have already flopped a big hand and a decent pot has been built up. If your stack is small compared to the blinds you should be looking to go all-in with the first decent hand you have.
The next thing you should consider is the playing style of your opponents and the number of opponents left in the game. Say that there are three players left in a tournament and you are the short-stack. One player has a massive chip lead, holding about two-thirds of the chips in play while your other amount holds about twice the amount of chips that you do. You are sitting in the big blind and get to see a free flop with [3s][7s]. The flop falls down [As][Kh][5s], giving you a flush draw. The chip leader is in the small blind and makes a bet approximately 3/4 of the pot in size. The chip leader has been very aggressive, trying to build up his lead even further in order to improve his chances of winning the tournament. What do you do in this situation?
The chip leader has been quite aggressive, and it is quite possible that they did not hit the flop, especially given the fact that they merely called before the flop. Still, they will be holding a better hand, as it is not very hard to beat seven-high. In this situation, you might want to raise all-in, as if you figure that your opponent has nothing, you could have 15 outs to win the pot, the three remaining threes, the three remaining sevens and the nine remaining spades. Also, your opponent way fold outright, not wanting to risk doubling up an opponent at the expense of their own sizable stack.
To finish this example, say that your opponent calls your all-in raise and reveals [Jc][9c]. Your analysis of the hand has proven correct and you have 15 outs to double up. The [Qs] falls on the tur, giving you the flush and a double up. Because of accurate analysis of your opponent, you were able to take a chance on doubling up while knowing exactly where you stood.
But what if you were only approaching the money of the tournament, and not down to the final three? If this were the case you might want to fold to the bet on the flop, looking for a better opportunity to make a move than with low live cards and a flush draw, as your first priority is making the money, not building a chip stack.
Let’s change the situation again, and say that you are still in the early stages of the tournament and are the short-stack at your table due to some bad luck and a little bit of bad timing. Here you might want to make the all-in raise, as you are going to need to win a lot of chips in order to have a chance at making the money. If you sit around waiting for aces your stack may just dwindle away beneath the onslaught of the blinds.
There are many factors to consider when debating whether or not to go all-in. You must know the size of your stack in comparison to the blinds, you must know how your opponents are playing, you must consider what your goals are for the stage of the tournament you are in, and you should always be analyzing the hand to predict what hands your opponents are holding. Analyze the situation well and you will improve your chances to double up or merely take a pot without contention. Analyze poorly and you will find yourself heading to the exits wondering what exactly happened.