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Going all-in at the poker table

Here, we take you through the most famous poker move of them all, including:

Whenever you see poker on TV, chances are it’s no-limit Hold'em . No-limit means just that – there’s no ceiling on the amount you can bet. If the mood takes you, you can slide all your chips forward and go (wait for it) ‘all-in’.

This simple move changes the game completely. One false step and you’ve lost everything you've got on the table. And, although it’s the most confident play you can make, it’s often used as a semi-bluff. If you’ve got nerves of steel, it can be a stone-cold bluff.

Once you've moved all-in, your opponent’s got nowhere to hide. Either they’ve got the cards (or think they have), or they're forced to fold. On the other hand, try it against someone with better cards and more chips and you’re out of the tournament, or at the very least, out of pocket.

So when’s the right time to do it?

When to go all-in

There are a few basic situations where an all-in bet makes perfect sense:

  • You’re confident you’ve got the best hand and you know you’re going to be called
  • You’re pretty sure your opponent is one card short of a winning hand (on a draw) and moving all-in will stop him getting the card he needs
  • You haven’t got many chips left and need to go all-in just to stay in the game – but the odds say it’s the right thing to do

It’s also fair to say that if you’re ever thinking of making a bet for more than half your chips, you should just move your entire stack forward.

When not to go all in

  • You’ve got a great starting hand, but almost everyone else has folded and the pot is low (you’ll scare everyone off and scoop next to nothing)
  • You have an impressive hand that improves a bit on the flop, but isn’t outstanding (if other players are betting and raising, they probably something better)

Going all-in as a bluff

The all-in move can be the bluffer’s best friend, but only at the right time, with the right chip stacks. For example:

After the flop, your opponent makes a bet. You’re fairly sure he or she has something (they’re not the type to bluff), but they’ll probably step down if they think you have something better. Also, they haven’t got many chips left, so would probably rather fold than risk losing them.

In this situation, the all-in would probably work, but so would a confident raise (same result, less risk). So why do it at all?

Going all-in because you can

Poker’s a game of information. You’re watching your opponents, and they’re doing the same to you. If you always bet modestly on a good hand to lure people in, eventually they’ll see what you’re up to – and your perfectly good, classic tactic will stop working.

So one day, out of the blue, you slide all your chips into the middle. People assume you’re bluffing, call you and you walk away with the hand, plus a truck-load of chips. Thank you very much.

That’s the all-in for you. When it works, there’s no better feeling in the entire poker universe. But you need to use it sparingly and for very, very good reasons.

So now you know.