Calling Preflop Allin Raises

While no limit hold 'em can be a complex game requiring sensitivity to a dozen or more factors in each decision, it can also be a frighteningly simple game. When the stacks are small compared to the big blind, the game often devolves into a "preflop all-in and call" game, where one player moves all-in, and one other player calls.

These situations are most common in tournaments where the stacks are often small compared to the size of the blinds. They can also occur in cash games, particularly for those players who intentionally seek them out by limiting their buy-ins.37

No matter how you play, or what you like to buy in for, though, you will occasionally play a "preflop all-in and call" pot. Since the strategy for playing such pots is remarkably simple (at least compared to the rest of the ideas in this book), all aspiring no limit experts should know it cold.

Yet few players do. Many players have a rough, intuitive understanding of what hands are worth playing and what hands aren't, but this understanding usually is rough indeed. Furthermore, some of the calls can be quite counterintuitive, particularly when the pot offers attractive 2-to-l pot odds, and many players flub these.

"Preflop all-in and call" situations are simple enough that the correct plays can be memorized. For anyone who plays no limit tournaments seriously, correct strategy for these situations is low hanging fruit; learn it now and you'll fix some leaks easily.

This section presents strategies for calling all-in raises. The archetypal scenario pits you in the big blind against a single all-in raiser. Other scenarios occur also. You limp, someone raises all-in,

37 For those who still haven't read it, we recommend that you read the discussion of small versus large stack no limit play in Getting Started in Hold 'em by Ed Miller.

and it's folded to you. Or you raise, someone reraises all-in, and it's folded to you. If you call, you turn your cards over, and the race is on. Should you call the raise or fold? Obviously, it depends on the quality of your hand, the size of the raise, and the range of hands your opponent will raise with.

Later in the chapter is a table listing all the hands with which you can profitably call given a raise size and range of opponent hands. The raise sizes are divided into three categories by the pot odds you see with your call: 2-to-l, 3-to-2, and 6-to-5.

Let's assume we are playing a no limit game with blinds of $10 and $10. (No limit games sometimes feature two equally-sized blinds.) A 2-to-l raise would be to $40 (since you are calling $30 to win $60). A 3-to-2 raise would be to $70 (calling $60 to win $90). A 6-to-5 raise would be to $160 (calling $150 to win $180). These represent raises of 3x, 6x, and 15x the big blind, respectively. Most preflop raises you see will fit relatively closely to one of those categories. If you are faced with an in-between raise, like, say, lOx the big blind, you can interpolate between the 6x and 15x ranges by playing tighter than the 6x range, but looser than the 15x one.

If the raise represents most, but not all, of your stack, then pretend the raise is for your entire stack. If you call a raise for most of your stack, you've almost always committed to betting the remainder of your stack on a future round. (If you have $50 remaining and call a $40 raise getting a bit better than even money, you should almost always call a future $10 bet also, getting over 8-to-l.) Since calling for most of your stack is essentially a commitment for your whole stack, you should treat it that way in the calculation.

Next, we divide the range of hands your opponent might have into six categories: Very tight, Tight, Average, Loose, Very loose, and Any two. Our "Very tight" raiser plays only 3 percent of his hands. Our "Tight" raiser plays 5 percent. Our "Average" raiser 10 percent, our "Loose" raiser 25 percent, and our "Very loose" raiser plays 50 percent. Our "Any two" raiser plays 100 percent of his hands.

The specific ranges of hands we chose to fit these percentages are listed in following table.

Table I: The Hand Range Categories

Very tight (3%)

AA-JJ and AK

Tight (5%)

AA-99 and AK-AQ

Average (10%)

AA-77, AK-AT, and KQ

Loose (25%)

AA-22, AK-A5, Any two cards T or higher (e.g., QT), and K9s-T9s

Very loose (50%)

AA-22, AK-A2, Any two cards 7 or higher (e.g., T7), K6-K4, and K3s-K2s

Any two (100%)

Everything

Obviously, some players might not adhere to these ranges exactly. They might raise 18 percent of their hands, between the "Average" and "Loose" ranges. Or, they might raise 25 percent of their hands, but choose a slightly different set of hands.

Regardless, these categories provide enough resolution that you should be able to interpolate well between them. If you familiarize yourself with these 18 hand ranges for calling, your decisions in these situations should improve significantly.

Table II: The Hand Ranges

or Calling

6-to-5 (15x)

3-to-2 (6x)

2-to-l (3x)

Very Tight (3%)

AA-QQ

AA-QQ, AKs

AA-TT, AK

Tight (5%)

AA-JJ, AK

AA-TT, AK

AA-22, AK-AQ, AJs, KJs-KTs (not KQs), QJs-JTs

Average (10%)

AA-99, AK-AQ, AJs

AA-55, AK-AJ, ATs

AA-22, AK-AT, A9s-A2s, KQ, KJs-K9s, QJs-Q9s, JTs-54s, J9s-97s, J8s

Loose (25%)

AA-44, AK-A8, A7s, KQ, KJs-KTs

AA-22, AK-A2, KQ-KT, K9s-K6s, QJ, QTs-Q9s, JTs

AA-22, AK-A2, KQ-K2, QJ-Q6, Q5s-Q2s, JT-J8, J7s-J2s, T9-T8, T7s-T3s, 98-97, 96s-93s, 87-86, 85s-84s, 76, 75s-73s, 65, 64s-63s, 54s-52s, 43s-42s

Very loose (50%)

AA-22, AK-A2, KQ-K7, K6s-K5s, QJ-QT, Q9s-Q8s, JT, J9s

AA-22, AK-A2, KQ-K2, QJ-Q7, Q6s-Q2s, JT-J8, J7s-J6s, T9, T8s-T7s, 98s

AA-22, AK-A2, KQ-K2, QJ-Q2, JT-J2, T9-T3, 98-95, 87-85, 76-75, 65-64, 54-53, Any two suited except 72s

Any two (100%)

AA-22, AK-A2, KQ-K2, QJ-Q2, JT-J4, J3s-J2s, T9-T7, T6s-T3s, 98-97, 96s-95s, 87s-86s

AA-22, AK-A2, KQ-K2, QJ-Q2, JT-J2, T9-T2, 98-93, 92s, 87-85, 84s-82s, 76-75, 74s-73s, 65s-64s, 54s

Everything except 42o-32o

While committing these ranges to memory entirely might be an overly daunting task, you should at least find the patterns in the ranges. That way, even though you don't know by rote which hands are profitable, you'll be able to figure it out from your knowledge.

The most important pattern is that, at 2-to-l, generally you should call more loosely than the range of hands you expect from the raiser, at 3-to-2, you should call slightly more tightly than the raiser, and at 6-to-5, you should call significantly more tightly.

That is, at 6-to-5 odds, you generally need at least a hand that is better than the worst hand your opponent would raise with. At 3-to-2, you need at least the worst hand your opponent would raise with (and usually one notch better than that). And at 2-to-l, you can call with some hands that are significantly worse than even the weakest hands your opponent might raise with.

The "Tight" raiser (AA-99 and AK-AQ) shows a great example of this pattern. Getting 6-to-5 odds you can call only with AA-JJ and AK. Getting 3-to-2, you can call with TT also, but still not 99 or AQ (not even AQs). But getting 2-to-l, you can profitably call with any pocket pair as well as AK-AQ, and a number of big suited hands, some of which might be dominated by either AK or AQ.38

The "Average" raiser category (AA-77, AK-AT, and KQ) also shows how loosely you can call getting 2-to-l. At 6-to-5 against the average raiser, you can play only AA-99, AK-AQ, and AJs. But at 2-to-l, you can play a wide range of hands: any pocket pair, any suited ace, and many suited connectors, including those

KQs just misses the cut here, probably because it is dominated against AA, KK, AK, and AQ. AJs is slightly better and barely makes the cut because, while it too is dominated by AA, AK, and AQ, it does better against KK. Paradoxically, against the tight raiser, KJs is better than KQs because KQs is dominated by both AK and AQ, but KJs is ok against AQ. These idiosyncrasies disappear as the raiser opens up and raises more hands. Against an "Average" or looser raiser, the bigger the hand is, the better.

as weak as 54s. Not many players would instinctively call with five-high against someone raising 3x the blind. They would especially not call against a raiser as tight as our "Average" raiser. But it's a profitable call nonetheless.

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