Is there anything more exciting in poker than pushing all your chips into the middle of the table and saying "all-in"? At least, that's how the movies make it seem!
But what is an all-in in poker, and how do they work in practice?
Definition of Poker All-In
In poker, going all-in means to make a bet with all your chips. You commit your entire stack to the pot and can take no further actions in the hand.
Other terms for going all-in include jamming, shoving and pushing.
All-In Rules in Poker
The first thing to remember is that no player can ever be forced out of a hand because they can't match a bet. Instead, they can always go all-in.
The second rule follows on from this to make things fair for the bigger stacks. In an all-in situation, a player with a shorter stack can never win more than the amount of their stack from each other player in the hand.
If someone bets chips that no other stack can match, then these are returned to the bigger stack right away. If there are chips that some but not all players can match, then these are put into a side pot.
A side pot can be contested only by players who paid into it, but the main pot can be won by anyone (because everyone paid into it).
Texas hold 'em all in rules can seem complicated at first - especially if there's more than one player involved. But once you have experienced a few different all-in scenarios you will soon get the hang of it.
Betting Rules for an All-In Situation
In no limit Texas hold 'em, any player can go all-in when it's their turn to bet. You can only bet the chips you have in front of you - your table stake.
All-ins are permissible in tournament and cash games. They are very common in the later stages of tournaments, when the high blinds mean it is often mathematically correct to push all-in with seemingly weak hands.
The easiest way to learn how all-in situations work in poker is to look at a few examples. It's best to look at the simplest all-in scenario first: the heads-up all-in between just two players. Then we will look at the slightly more complex multi-way pot scenario.
Heads-Up All-In Rules
Let's imagine there are two players, Andy and Barbara. Andy's chips are worth 100 big blinds (bb) and Barbara's are worth 50bb.
Even if Andy bets 100bb - twice her stack - Barbara can still call by going all-in. No other players call, and so 50bb are returned to Andy immediately. He bet 100bb, but only 50bb of that was matched so the excess is returned to him. The same is true if he bets 99bb or any amount above Barbara's stack size.
Neither Andy nor Barbara can make any further actions. Their hole cards are shown and the community cards are dealt out. Whoever wins gets the full pot, which would be 101.5bb (1.5bb from the blinds, 50bb from Andy and 50bb from Barbara).
If Barbara was to go all-in first and Andy called, the situation would be exactly the same. Having chips left over doesn't mean Andy can bet, because there would be no point!
Multiway All-In Rules
The basic principle is the same with more players, but with the addition of side pots for any chips that only some players can match.
Let's re-run the scenario but this time add a third player, Chuck. He has a stack of 75bb, so he's in between Andy's 100bb and Barbara's 50bb.
Just like Barbara, Chuck can only call Andy's 100bb bet by going all-in. However, he can match 25bb more of Andy's bet than Barbara, who can only match 50bb. This additional 25bb from each player goes into a side pot - a total of 50bb. Only Chuck and Andy are eligible to win this money, because only they paid into this side pot.
The main pot will be 151.5bb (1.5 from the blinds and 50 each from Andy, Barbara and Chuck). Nobody can take any further action. The hole cards are revealed and all the community cards are dealt.
It's best to think of the two pots as independent. We look at who has the best hand out of Andy, Barbara and Chuck to see who wins the main pot of 151.5bb. Then we look at who has the best hand out of Andy and Chuck to see who wins the side pot of 50bb.
If Chuck goes all-in first, nothing changes. Andy has chips left over, but he can't take any actions because there would be no point to it. The others have no more chips to bet and they cannot be bluffed out of the hand.
If Barbara goes all-in first, things are slightly different. Chuck and Andy can call without going all-in themselves. This means they can take further actions on the flop, turn and river. Any bets they make will go into a side-pot. In this case, no hole cards are revealed until showdown.
In this situation, either Chuck or Andy can force the other to fold by betting and raising. If either folds, then they are out of the hand - not just the side pot. So it's quite possible to bluff your way to winning the side pot, only to lose the main pot - anyone who is only in the main pot is all-in and will always see the hand out to the end.
As you add more players, the number of side-pots can increase.
How to Calculate Side Pots
If you play poker in a casino or online then you don't really need to worry too much about all-in pot calculations because it will all be worked out for you. But in a home game, you will need to be able to calculate them yourself.
First, put the smallest stack into the main pot, and match that bet size from each other player. Now you create the first side pot by taking what is left of the next smallest stack and matching it from each other player's chips. If anyone has any chips left then repeat this process to create another side pot - and so on until you are only left with the biggest stack's excess bet that can't be matched by anyone. This is returned to them.
Of course, if you have a situation where the smallest stack has gone all-in first and the others are calling, then just treat it like any other bet. It's just now any further bets will go into a side pot and not the main pot. And the smallest stack is now locked in until the end of the hand.
All-In Poker Tips
Going all-in is a powerful tool in no limit poker, especially in tournaments. It's easy to get things wrong though, with disastrous results. There are certain things you should think about when considering either calling or making an all-in bet.
Facing an all-in bet
You must have a better hand to call any bet than you would to make that bet. This is David Sklansky's Gap Concept. It is especially true for all-ins.
- If you push all-in, you can win by making your opponent fold - but if you call, you can only win by making a better hand. Even pocket aces lose some of the time!
- Never snap call an all-in. Give yourself time to think about it.
- Look at the position they are shoving all-in from and their number of chips - the earlier the position and the bigger their stack, the more likely it is they have a good hand
- In a tournament, chips are worth less the more you have - doubling up does not double your tournament equity, but getting knocked out by losing an all-in will reduce it to zero.
- Multiway all-ins are even more risky than heads-up. You gain free tournament equity every time someone is knocked out, so if somebody has already called an all-in then is it really worth getting involved as well?
- Think carefully about the pot odds you are getting before calling an all-in. It's tempting to call short-stack pre-flop all-ins with trash hands but generally speaking, you need at least 2-1 odds to do this
- You can use the stack-pot ratio (SPR) to determine whether your hand is strong enough to call an all-in
Making an all-in bet
It is almost always better to make an all-in bet than call one. When you push all-in you are making a polarized statement to the other players - either you are so strong you want to be called so you can double up, or you are afraid and you want to take down the pot uncontested.
- Making an all-in bluff to win a small number of chips relative to your stack is foolish. If you get away with it you hardly gain, but if you get called it will usually be by a better hand
- Preflop, the earlier your position the stronger your perceived range, but the more likely someone yet to act will wake up with a monster hand
- If you are up against players that will chase draws no matter what pot odds, sometimes pushing all-in is the only way to take down the pot before showdown
- With less than 10bb in a tournament, you generally want to adopt a push or fold strategy. If you're going to be pot committed anyway, then why not make an all-in instead and pick up extra fold equity?
- Mathematically optimal push/fold charts are available - but bear in mind these are designed to work against thinking opponents. Fish love calling all-ins
- Fish often think an all-in means you are bluffing, so counterintuitively they are more likely to call them than smaller bets
All-In Poker Strategies
Going all-in massively simplifies the game of poker. You will be in the hand to the end with no more decisions to make. But it's no magic bullet. You need to have a solid all-in strategy or you will burn money.
Effective Stack-To-Pot Ratio
The stack-to-pot ratio (SPR) is calculated by dividing the size of the pot by the effective stack size. The effective stack size is the size of the smallest stack in the hand - you can never win or lose more than your opponent has, so any excess chips are not important.
When the pot is very small compared to the effective stack, then the SPR will be large, and vice versa.
The SPR is a measure of how pot committed you are. You can use it to decide whether your hand is strong enough to play an all-in pot. The bigger the SPR, the more risk you are taking for less reward.
And when the SPR is small then the opposite is true. You should be willing to get it all-in with weaker holdings, because even if your equity is low, the potential reward is high enough to make up for that.
You will see various ways of categorizing SPRs, but a general rule-of-thumb is that an SPR of less than 3 is low enough to get it all in with top pair or better, whereas if it's any larger then exercise caution. The higher it is, the more cautious you need to be. If it's larger than 10 then you better have the nuts - or a great read on your opponent!
Playing Styles at the Table
It's helpful to categorize your opponents' playing styles so you can make sense of what their actions mean. An all-in from a tight player in early position is not the same as one from a maniac in late position. A fish is much more likely to call your all-in thinking it's a bluff - and a nit won't play for stacks without the nuts, so a shove can force them to fold a really good hand.
Always consider the action leading up to any all-in situation. Someone who has called a pre-flop raise only to shove the flop has likely hit the flop hard - whereas someone who was the pre-flop raiser may have wanted to get it all in with Aces pre-flop only have their plan foiled when nobody re-raised them.
Sometimes players who have missed their straight or flush draw will shove the river as a bluff. Never snap call an all-in without the stone-cold nuts. Take your time and think about what hands beat you, what story their actions up to this point have told, and how that narrows down their range.
Extremely aggressive players may even shove their drawing hands on the flop or turn, counting on the extra fold equity to make it a profitable move. Just remember that some flush/straight combo draws are actually a favorite over a made hand like top pair when there are still two cards to come.
A common mistake beginning players make is to assign a value to their hand and stick to it.
Pocket Aces are the best hand pre-flop, but post-flop they are just one pair. You definitely want to get all the money in with Aces preflop - but if you don't manage this then think twice before trying to get it all-in on the flop.
Likewise, you may have flopped two pair, but if the turn or river completes your opponent's flush draw then you are in big trouble. The worst hand in poker is the second-best hand.
All-ins are very common in tournaments compared to cash games because of the rising blind structure. Sudden all-ins when your stack is low is a recommended poker strategy.
Getting blinded out of a tournament is a serious mistake. You can't wait around for the nuts. Even letting your stack get too small means you will not have any fold equity when you do shove - the other players can call you light as losing won't hurt their stacks much. This means you can only shove for value and not as a bluff - a bad place to be.
If you are in the reverse situation, generally you should always consider calling a small stack's all-in if you are getting at least 2-1 pot odds and you are closing the action. The reason for this is that it's hard to be worse than a 2-1 underdog in a pre-flop all-in except in an overpair v underpair/two low cards situation. If you aren't closing the action you run the risk of someone yet to act re-raising.
The bubble is another spot in tournaments where the all-in becomes extremely powerful. Players are afraid of being knocked out just before the paid places, so they will be cautious about calling all-ins from reasonably sized stacks. If you have stronger nerves than them, you can really take advantage of this and push them around.
If you find yourself on the bubble with a desperate short-stack, then it makes sense to work with the other players to knock them out. Don't contest the hand at all, just check it down and hope that one of you can beat the short-stack at showdown. This is known as the cooperation play. Be careful though: it can only ever be an unspoken co-operation - explicitly encouraging other players to do this is collusion and a serious breach of the rules.
6 Best Poker All-In Situations Of All Times
All-ins are climactic and intense - they do make for great live TV! Everybody is super focused, stressed, and you can truly feel the electricity in the air. Here is a list of the best poker all-in videos of all times!
1. Craziest 4-way All-in Ever?
Early in the 2019 MILLIONS Europe tournament, four players go all-in preflop - AA (Burns) v KK (Ivey) v QQ (Bicknell) v AQ (Zhang).
Phil Ivey shoves first with KK, seemingly more interested in his breakfast omelette - and the others follow suit.
The only remaining queen comes on the flop and Kristin Bicknell's QQ takes down the pot. Ivey is eliminated but just carries on eating his omelette without a care in the world. No wonder he is one of the all-time greats.
2. Final Table at the WSOP Main Event
The previous video was rough for the losers but at least it was in the early stages of the tournament when rebuys were still possible. This example took place at the final table of the World Series of Poker main event 2018!
This was a three-way all-in with AA (Manion) v KK (Labatt) v KK (Zhu) preflop. This time the Aces held - it helps when your opponents hold each other's outs!
3. All-in without looking? Don't try this at home!
Phil Hellmuth is known for two things: having the most WSOP bracelets of all time, and for getting riled up too easily. Tony G knows how to push Hellmuth's buttons. He tells Hellmuth he'll go all in without even looking at his cards. Once Hellmuth takes the bait with his AJo, Tony admits he lied and he did look! He has Hellmuth completely dominated with AKs.
Hellmuth does not take this bit of angle-shooting well. "Totally uncool… horrible etiquette." He compares it to screaming during someone's golf backswing as well! But whatever the ethics of it all, Tony G takes the pot - and Hellmuth has to leave the table to calm down.
4. Great All-in Bluffs
During the early stages of the Triton London Millions tournament, Sam Trickett forces fellow Englishman Steven Chidwick to fold a flush on a paired board - while holding only top pair himself. Trickett knew nobody had the nut flush as he was holding the Ace of spades, and that his Jack made it less likely anyone had the best full house. But still high-risk move, and one that probably wouldn't have got through in the later stages.
Here, Emin Mislimi flops a set - only for a floor ruling to give Dominik Nitsche the right price to chase his straight draw. Nitsche hits it when the six of diamonds comes on the river - but now there are three diamonds on the board. Mislimi went all-in to represent the flush, and Nitsche folds. Mislimi then rubs it in by showing Nitsche his cards.
5. Worst All-in Bluffs of All Time?
For every great all-in bluff like the previous two examples, there are terrible ones like this. If you're second in chips on the final table with a bunch of shortstacks, why tangle with the chip leader in the first place - let alone put your tournament life on the line with a horrible all-in bluff? Joshua Thibodeaux learned this lesson the hard way.
And check out this insane all-in bluff from high-roller JR Bellande. JRB'sdoesn't stand a chance and Yu Liang's AKo wins the 750k pot. JRB looks like he could puke but somehow manages to say "Nice Hand."
6. Bonus Compilation
Losing all-ins is pretty painful. But it happens to everyone - even one of the top tournament crushers of all-time! Here's a compilation of Daniel Negreanu losing all-ins - and his cool. 2020 hasn't been the best year for DNegs, but it's still hard not to laugh at some of his outbursts - even if we do understand his pain!
All-In Situations - FAQ
Our concise answers to very common all-in poker questions.
What are the texas holdem all in rules?
In no-limit Texas hold 'em you can go all-in whenever it's your turn to bet - and you can call any bet by going all-in, even if you don't have enough chips. Any excess bet that you can't match will either be returned, or put into a side pot that you aren't entitled to win. If you go all-in then you can take no further actions and will remain in the hand until the end.
What does all in mean in poker?
To go all-in means to make a bet with all your chips. You can never bet more than you have at the table.
How does all in work in poker?
Poker all-ins are all about matching each other's bets. If your bet is too big for anyone to match, then the excess will immediately be returned to you. If one player can match it and another can only match part of it, then a side pot will be created. Players can only compete for the pots they've contributed to.
What do you win in poker when you go all in?
What you can win in poker is always limited by what you have staked and what the other players can match when they call.
If two players go all-in, then the most either can win (or lose) is determined by the smaller stack (plus whatever's already in the pot). Any excess bet that the other player can't match will be returned to them.
If three players go all-in, then the amount of the smallest stack will be taken from each and added to the main pot. All players are eligible to win this. Any excess bet that the smallest stack can't match is put into a side-pot that only the two bigger stacks are eligible to win.
Can you go all-in during a cash game?
You can go all-in in a Texas hold 'em cash game, so long as you are playing no limit and it is your turn to bet. If you don't have enough cash to cover the previous bet, then the only way you can call is by pushing all-in. The rules are just the same as in tournaments - but all-ins are a lot rarer and usually signal real strength.
What happens when someone goes all-in in poker?
A lot of the time an all-in is treated like an ordinary bet or raise - just a very large one. But if your bet is too big for anyone to match then you will receive the excess amount back. If your bet is too small to match a previous bet that others have matched, then separate pots will be created.
If everyone involved in the hand is all-in, then their hole cards are revealed and the community cards dealt. But if two or more are not all-in, then they can continue playing as normal, with any additional bets going into a side-pot only they can win. The all-in players cannot take any action but their cards are not revealed until showdown.
How do all-in situations work when players have different stacks?
If you go all-in against one bigger stack, you can only win the amount of your stack (plus whatever's already in the pot). This is often called "doubling up".
If you are the bigger stack, then you can only win the amount of the smaller stack, and your excess bet will be returned to you.
If you go all-in against two bigger stacks, then the amount of the smallest stack will be taken from everyone and added to the main pot. All players are eligible to win this. Any amount that the two bigger stacks can match - but that the smallest stack can't - is put into a side-pot that only the two bigger stacks are eligible to win.
Do professional poker players attempt to bluff by going all in?
Professional players will attempt to bluff by going all in, especially late on in tournaments when it is mathematically correct to do so. But they will do it much more rarely during tournament early stages and cash games - after all, why risk your tournament life or entire stack unless you have to?
Going all-in is the nuclear option of poker. You can never be forced out of a hand so long as you are willing to get all your chips in the middle - but you can never win more chips than you and your opponents can match.