I’m on The Button(TB) at an 8-handed table holding Ac-9c (Ace Nine of Clubs). I’m deep in the tournament with antes of $120, a Small Blind of $600, and a Big Blind of $1,200. The action starts with Player 142, who is Under The Gun (UTG).
The action folds all the way around the table to me on The Button (TB). Recall that it’s important to have an awareness of all stacks at the table at all times, but don’t burn yourself out making unnecessary stack calculations. In this example, I only need to know my stack and the two remaining stacks on my left. I’ll use this formula to calculate big blinds to help make my decision:
# of big blinds = # of chips ÷ 1 big blind amount
- My Stack: # of big blinds = $9,437 ÷ $1,200 = 8 big blinds
- Player 230’s Stack: # of big blinds = $48,166 ÷ $1,200 = 40 big blinds
- Player 2’s Stack: # of big blinds = $4,334 ÷ $1,200 = 4 big blinds
* Calculations do not need to be exact
Next I must ask myself crucial questions If I move all-in and get called, what hands am I ahead of? What are all possible hands that my opponents can have? My goal when at risk is always to be ahead of the hand I’m playing against. It will not always happen, but this is my goal. In this case I’m looking at the range of hands that I will be ahead of if I happen to be called. I’ll add a quick reminder that I never want to just call here because I’m a small stack. With a small stack (<20 big blinds), I’m all-in or folding in most cases because I can’t afford to lose my call, which is a significant portion of my chips with a small stack. Sometimes in blind vs. blind scenarios I’d just call as the Small Blind if the action folds to me to cheaply see a flop with less risk of an opponent raising because the hand is one on one. This is a situation where I’m all-in or folding, however. The pros of stealing the blinds or being all-in and dominating outweigh the pros of just calling and maybe seeing a cheap flop.
I have 8 big binds, The Small Blind has 40 big blinds, and The Big Blind has 4 big blinds. It’s important to be crystal clear on the idea that I’m the one who would be going all in for 8 big blinds, while the two players on my left will be calling the all-in of 8 big blinds. It’s important to note this difference because when going all-in, there is no guarantee that you will be called. When calling an all-in, however, you are putting your chips at risk, every time. First, I’ll isolate the all-in between The Small Blind and me. If I’m going all-in for 8 big blinds from The Button, I’ll usually have a hand range of A2+ (any ace) and 66+ (pocket pairs higher than 5). This is a tight range and means I’m folding hands like K-Q, K-J, 5-5, and others that don’t fall into the range. Over decades of playing I’ve developed this range.
A player from The Small Blind who sees this 8 big blind all-in will be calling the all-in with A2+, 55+, KQ,KJ. Again, this range was developed based on experience. Also note that The Small Blind has 40 big blinds in his stack, giving him a bit more flexibility to make the call with a weaker hand. This will expand the low end of his range. He’ll still have 32 big blinds if he calls and loses.
Taking the above variables into consideration, it makes sense to move all-in here with A-9 against his potential range. A-9 dominates more hands than it is dominated by. If there are no callers, then I’ll pick up about 2 big blinds without being at risk. This rule is based on the fact that I have 8 big blinds, so I’ll go all-in here and put my tournament at risk in this spot. To review, I’m more likely to be at risk in a dominating position that behind. If no calls are made, I’ll win the blinds.
I’m pleased with the isolation from The Small blind, what about The Big Blind? The Big Blind has even less chips than I do and is more desperate. This means that she will call with an even wider range than The Small Blind. I’ve seen players call this all-in with any two cards, most will call with any pocket pair, 2 suited cards, or any two cards over 5. Also, if I’m called by the Big Blind and lose, I’ll still have 4 big blinds left which is not ideal, but keeps me in the game.
When making decisions like this, do not worry about the scenario where both players call your all-in. If you believe you have an edge against each individual player, than go all-in. If both call that would be considered unlucky, just like taking a bad beat against one opponent.
I make the all-in. The Small Blind calls with K-Q and The Big Blind folds. My thought process was correct in that K-Q was in the range of hands that The Small Blind would call my all-in with, a hand that I’m ahead of (60% in my favor). My hand holds up and I achieve a critical double up, now with 18 big blinds moving to the next hand.
In every tournament you play, there will always be a time when you are at or below the 20 big blind marker. It’s supremely important to get a handle how and when to move all-in. Players who are flat calling the blind with less than 20 big blinds are rarely profitable. Don’t be that guy.