Crunch Time

You will be all-in and at risk more than once in most tournaments that you play. In order to survive in the long run, you’ll have to put yourself in the best possible position when vulnerable. Recall that when all-in pre-flop, any pocket pair is about 50/50 vs. any two overcards. For example, A-K is about 50% to beat 2-2, 3-3, 4-4, ect. when all-in during the pre-flop phase of the hand.

Now consider a lengthy tournament with thousands of entrants. As you move through this tournament, you will certainly be all-in a least once, but it’s more likely that you’ll need to win multiple all-ins to make the final table. Let’s say you are all-in and at risk 5 times. Even if you are 50% to win each all-in, you’ll only survive 1/32 times or about 3%.

The Poker Model is designed to avoid being all-in at less than 50% odds. This means that you will be patient, wait for spots, and work to be all-in with 60/40, 70/30, 80/20, or 90/10 odds. When you are all-in and dominating your opponent, you will raise your chances of surviving these vulnerable situations and making the final table.


I’m Under The Gun+2 holding 8d-Qs. Blinds are $40/$200/$400 and I have $1,996 chips or about 5 big blinds. According to The Poker Model, a short stack is <20 big blinds. I am short on chips within the short stack spectrum, which means it’s time to make a move. I will not just shove my chips in with any two cards, however. My goal is still to be all-in and dominating. If either of the two players that act before me call or raise into the Pot, then I’ll fold. With Queen high I would expect to be 50/50 at best against that previous action. I want a spot where I’m a 50/50 at worst. I don’t want to jam my chips in knowing that I’m behind even with a very short stack. Better spots will show themselves so I always remain patient.


Both players in front of me fold and the action is on me. With 5 big blinds and no previous action, Queen high becomes a hand that has potential to be called by hands that it beats. Recall that the more chips I have, the stronger my all-in hand will be and the less chips I have the more desperate I am. My opponents will see this and call my 5 big blind all-in with a much weaker range of hands, many of which I’m dominating.  

My hope is that none of the players to my left have a hand that they can call with. Many times in this spot the big blind will call with any two cards in hopes of knocking out the all-in player while also winning the blinds and antes. My back is against the wall and while this spot is not ideal, it may be one where I can achieve my goal of being all-in and dominating my opponent. I will not go all-in here with any two cards. Even a hand like 9-10 suited can be called by J-2 and only be 40% odds to win.  


I move all-in and action folds to the big blind. I was lucky that none of the players on my left called. If they had, then I’d almost certainly be dominated.This is because a call from a player who is not in the blinds shows strength, he didn’t have any money in the Pot and decided to call. The big blind did not call right away which implies that he’s deciding whether or not to call with a bad hand. If he folds then I’ll win the blinds and antes, allowing me to be patient and look for another all-in spot. If he calls then there may be a chance that I’m ahead and can double up.


The big blind calls and shows 10c-6s. I’ve achieved my goal in that I’m about a 60% favorite to win the hand. The Flop comes 2-2-6. The Turn is an 8. The River is a 10. Unfortunately I’ve lost the Pot and my tournament, however, I made the correct play and was ahead when we were all-in; this is the right play and I am satisfied with my action.

This hand is an example of why it’s important to remain patient with a super short stack. With under 5 big blinds, you’ll most likely be called by someone, so why not at least have Queen high? Too many players make this all-in with any two cards and find themselves dominated when the money goes in. So stay patient and realize that even when your back is against the wall, there may be a way out.


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