If you play No Limit Texas Hold’em, particularly online, you are constantly presented with situations where it is basically a coin flip as to who will win the hand. In other words, you will win about 1/2 the time and lose about 1/2 the time. According to the percentages, no player has much of an advantage over another. Examples of these hands are usually something like pocket 7’s against A-K, or something similar. Many times you will have to decide whether or not to call an all-in bet pre-flop when these situations come up. How you handle these plays depends on what kind of player you are, and ultimately will determine your success, especially in tournament play.
First, going all-in early in a tournament is a dumb play. You will see it time and time again in online tournaments. Novice players LOVE to over-bet their hands. No matter how you slice it, A-K is just an Ace high hand if neither cards pair up on the flop. (which they do not most of the time) There is just no way that it is worth putting your tournament life on the line, simply because you have a good starting hand. This, of course, is the great equalizer in No Limit Texas Hold’em. Amateurs can even things out by making all-in plays. It eliminates all the tough decisions that have to be made post-flop, on the Turn, and on the River.
So, should you call when you have a good hand and someone goes all-in? I would say, 95% of the time, “no”. No matter what happens, you cannot win the tournament in the early stages, but you sure can lose it. There will be many better opportunities that will come up over the course of the game, for you to get all your chips into the pot. The risk does not out weigh the reward. The exception to this rule might be if you have pocket K’s or A’s, or if you are such a terrible unskilled player, that your only hope is to double up and play the big stack.
Usually these all-ins will result in a coin-flip situation. With A-K or A-Q, you have about a 50% chance of beating a lower pocket pair. Heck, you only have a 63% chance of winning with A-K over 9-T off suit! That is not nearly a good enough chance to warrant putting all your chips in.
Compare this to a post-flop scenario where you have paired up your Ace and are now an 80%+ favorite to win. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out which you would rather have.
This goes the same for cash ring games, as well as tournament play. It is a very dumb play in a tournament to put yourself in a coin-flip situation early on, and it is only slightly less dumb to do it with your chip stack in a cash game. Suck-outs do happen, and just because you are a slight favorite, doesn’t mean that you will drawn an Ace or a King. Too many things can go wrong.
If you want a good rule of thumb, it is this: See the flop when you can before committing a large percentage of your chips. If you have to call an all-in or commit 1/2 your stack, it is just not worth it. Skill largely goes right out the window at this point and you are dependent on luck. If you are a smart poker player, you want to minimize the luck and depend upon skill in situations that you enter into.
Late in a tournament it is a totally different story. There will be all kinds of reasons to put all your chips in the pot, or call all-in bets later on. Early it does not make sense. Separate yourself from the masses that make these stupid plays and you will find yourself winning a lot more money in cash games and staying around to make the money a lot more in tournaments. Do not give in to the temptation to play loose just because other players are doing so. Make a note about these players and punish them later when you have a monster hand. Just let yourself call all-ins and get into coin-flip situations.