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Poker Strategy With Jonathan Little: Facing A Small All-In

Little Breaks Down A Tricky Spot On The Money Bubble


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I was recently told about a hand by a recreational player that demonstrates a costly mistake that many players make on a regular basis. Close to the money bubble in a $1,000 buy-in tournament, a short-stacked player pushed all-in for five big blinds from middle position. Everyone folded to Hero in the small blind who looked down at 9-9. Hero had a 40-big blind stack, as did the competent player in the big blind.

9-9 is certainly good enough to call the five-big blind all-in, even on the bubble, but it is not good enough to get all-in for 40 big blinds. In general, when the all-in is six big blinds or less, you should min-reraise with your entire playable range in order to ensure the player yet to act only continues with his best hands, perhaps A-A through J-J, A-K, and A-Q.

When the all-in is for more than six big blinds, call with your entire range. This is because when facing a 5.5-big blind or larger all-in and a call, most players only call with their best hands because they don’t want to risk a significant amount of chips without a decent edge, especially near the bubble. If three-betting small over a six-big blind or shorter all-in would put more than 30 percent of your chips in the pot, it is usually best to go all-in.

So, in this spot, Hero should three-bet to nine big blinds with the intention of folding if the player in the big blind pushes all-in. If Hero instead had 30 big blinds, the situation would be more difficult because he really doesn’t want to min-three-bet and put nine big blinds in with the intention of folding to an all-in.

Notice that if Hero puts nine big blinds in and the big blind pushes with A-A through J-J and A-K, Hero is in a marginally profitable spot due to his excellent pot odds because he will win 33 percent of the time and he only needs to win 30 percent of the time to break even. However, given that players are near the money bubble, Hero should fold and opt to sneak into the money with a medium stack.

Notice that if Hero instead decides to call the five-big blind all-in and then the big blind goes all-in, Hero now needs to win 38 percent of the time to break even (actually, a bit more due to the looming money bubble). If the big blind goes all-in with A-A through 8-8, A-K, A-Q, and A-J suited, Hero will win about 42 percent of the time, allowing him to fold (again, you want to have a decent edge when calling off on the bubble).

If the big blind will go all-in with an incredibly wide range because he assumed Hero’s five-big blind calling range is wide, Hero can easily call off, electing to play a huge pot on the bubble against a range that he crushes. In my experience, most players will call the five-big blind all-in and call with A-Q, 9-9, and 8-8, and will only go all-in with better hands, meaning when Hero faces an all-in from the big blind, he is in terrible shape.

Instead of three-betting small (the best play) or calling (the second-best play), Hero made the stereotypical amateur blunder of going all-in. Going all-in is not a good option because when the big blind wakes up with A-A through 10-10, A-K, and A-Q suited (4 percent of the time), he will call and Hero will be in bad shape, winning only 33 percent of the time. That is exactly what happened this time. The big blind found Q-Q and just like that, Hero was out on the bubble in an easily avoidable situation. ♠

Jonathan LittleJonathan Little is a two-time WPT champion with more than $6 million in tournament winnings. Each week, he posts an educational blog and podcast at, where you can get a FREE poker training video that details five things you must master if you want to win at tournament poker. You can also sign up for his FREE Excelling at No Limit Hold’em webinars by clicking here.