The very name of the No Limit Hold’em format already elicits excitement in that we’re constantly aware that, every single hand, we and everyone else at the table can put all our chips on the line. That’s not to say that the ‘old-fashioned’ Fixed Limit isn’t without interest, rather the facility to go all-in is an integral part of the No Limit game that continues to attract countless players to online poker.
Shoving all-in is, undeniably, great fun. Of course, in terms of confidence, it helps when we hold the nuts or an otherwise very strong hand but, nonetheless, it can be quite thrilling when we commit our whole stack. Some players are more likely to find a reason to shove than others, which brings us to the question: When and why should we shove?
Let’s start at the very beginning. What would happen if we were to shove every hand? There’s a tendency in tournaments – usually after losing a big pot and being left with a shortish stack – to throw caution to the wind and go all-in, even when the target pot consists only of the blinds and chips from two or three limps. This tactic almost always meets with mass folding all around. It’s not unusual for a player to be able to continue to successfully carry off this ‘trick’ of multiple shoves for a surprisingly long time. It can be a very profitable strategy.
But note the word ‘almost’ earlier… all good things come to an end, and it stands to reason that, at some point, someone is going to wake up with a hand that justifies calling the serial all-in merchant. Being realistic, it’s inevitable that a strategy based on endlessly shoving will ultimately come unstuck.
However, shoving is, of course, a powerful and potentially profitable strategy. Ideally, we want to be shoving on the River with a massive hand and getting called. Failing that, it’s also good to fully commit on an earlier street as a big favorite and see a call, knowing that being in such situations will over time prove profitable. Shoving for value in this way is exactly what we should be looking to do, but we’d be foolishly optimistic if we expected opponents to call off their stack so obligingly. This is where developing our hand-reading skills becomes important so that with the experience we can identify those spots where opponents are going to be more or less likely to call our value shoves.
A common scenario is when we shove as a form of bluff, whether that’s an outright steal attempt with absolutely nothing or our all-in is backed up to some extent by us having an actual hand. The former is clearly fraught with danger because, in the event of our pure bluff being called, we’ll almost always have to say goodbye to our stack.
But a semi-bluff shove is a different animal entirely. Typically, the semi-bluff weapon is used on the Flop when in possession of an unmade hand that has good potential to overtake our opponent’s by the River. Let’s say we raise with A♠ K♠ in middle position and are called by a Loose Aggressive (LAG) on the Button and end up heads-up with a Flop of 5 ♥ 2♠ 9♠. As it stands we have A-high but, with the nut flush draw and two overcards, we’re quite happy. We make the expected continuation bet and the LAG min-raises. How should we continue? Shoving is a perfectly natural, justifiable option here. First, we’re totally happy to take the pot there and then because, after all, we’ve got only A-high. Meanwhile, we have healthy prospects if called. If we’re up against a flopped set, then even that worst-case scenario leaves us catching our nut flush 25% of the time. Otherwise, we’re slight favorites against something like a pair of tens, for example. Overall, this classic semi-bluff shove is a play we shouldn’t be afraid to make, especially given the amount of times we’ll pick up the pot, and also the frequency that we find ourselves being challenged by the kind of player who isn’t afraid to commit decent but not good enough hands.