Poker is a volatile game and its aggressive nature has been growing by the minute since the inception of online poker. As you increase your own aggression, you will surely end up facing more preflop all-in situations. Occasionally you’ll be facing a shove from a full-stack opponent with likely a strong holding. But more often than not, you’ll be facing a shove from a short-stack player with a much wider range. Making profitable decisions is actually quite simple, however it does require some practice off the table. The good news is you can calculate these situations with software. But before we get to that, you first need to understand how the math works and the steps to get there.
Step 1: Assign Hand Ranges
This is an absolute must. If you don’t assign hand ranges for your opponents, you might as well be driving while blind-folded. Looser and short-stack players generally go all-in with a wider range of hands. Tighter and deeper-stacked players will generally shove with a narrower range of hands. If you have a large amount of history with your opponent, the more accurate your estimated range for him should be. If you have minimal history, or the player is a complete unknown, go with average population reads. Your estimations don’t need to be perfect, and at the beginning, they won’t be. You just need to get in the habit of forming an all-in range and eventually your estimations will become all the more accurate.
Step 2: Calculate Pot Odds
Excluding the possibility of multi-way pots when facing an all-in, your only options are to call or fold. We’ve already gave our opponent a range of hands for going all-in. Now we need to figure out what price we are getting to make the call. Generally, the greater the odds, the more often you will call; the poorer the odds, the less often you will call. The important thing to remember here is that the pot odds gives us the absolute minimum amount of equity (see step 3) we need in order to call profitably. To calculate your pot odds, simply divide the amount of money in the pot by the amount you need to call. For example, you need to call $25 into a pot of $100 on the river. Divide $100 (pot) by $25 (to call) and our pot odds are 4 to 1. So in order to call profitable, our hand equity must be at least 25% versus our opponent’s range. Learn more below.
Step 3: Calculate Our Equity
There are several software options available that can calculate equities. The tools we recommend for these calculations are Equilab and All-In Expert (both are free). Performing these calculations in real-time at the table is extremely difficult. So unless you’re a math savant, you will need to practice with these tools every day so that the numbers become internalized in your brain. Treat it the same way you learned your times tables – repetition, repetition, repetition.
Step 4: Compare Odds vs Equity
If you downloaded All-In Expert, the calculation is done for you. But lets look at the logic behind the math. If you’re playing a cash game, you fold each and every time your equity is lower than your pot odds. If you’re equity is higher than the pot odds, you call. It’s really that simple. If you’re playing in a tournament, things get a little more complicated since you also need to consider the value of your chips. But again, the more you practice with assigning hand ranges, the more accurate your equity will be and therefore you’ll make a lot more money.
Step 5: Homework
Open up PokerTracker or other tracking software and find 20 hands where you faced all-in situations preflop. You can easily find these hands by going to Filters and selecting the Preflop and All-In options. Go through steps 1-4 for every hand. After you get through the 20 hands, you’ll have a good understanding of how to solve preflop all-ins. But don’t be lazy! Make sure to incorporate this exercise into your off-table study sessions. Do 1 a day, 10 per week, whatever. Just do it until you don’t even have to think about it anymore when in a hand.