Super Systems: Sklansky

Where we put the most rigid poker systems through their paces
in a quest for money without talent. This month: Sklansky

The System

This system could definitely get you into the money

David Sklansky’s improved ‘All-in or fold’ theory (from Tournament Poker for Advanced Players)

The Game

£50 freezeout at the Loose Cannon poker club, London

How we got on

David Sklansky is one of poker’s top theorists and responsible for classic must-reads of poker’s high-brow school library, such as Tournament Poker for Advanced Players and Hold’em Poker for Advanced Players. In the former, Sklansky details an ‘all-in or fold’ system he devised for a friend’s daughter who wanted to play in the WSOP Main Event but had never played poker.

The system took all her decisions out of the game by forcing her to move all-in with certain premium holdings thus requiring no knowledge of the game but simply the ability to remember some rules. Sklansky, out of curiosity, refined the ‘all-in-or-fold’ system to take into account limpers and relative chip stacks.

1) If someone’s raised move all-in with Aces, Kings or Ace-King suited. Otherwise fold.
2) If no one’s raised divide your chip stack by the combined total of the blinds.
3) Multiply that by the number of people yet to act, including the blinds.
4) Multiply that key number by the number of limpers plus one (if there have been any).
5) If the number matches your hand (see chart, right) then it’s time to move all-in.
6) If you do get to see a flop because no one has raised your big blind, only move all-in if you have top set or the nuts.

For example, you’ve got 3000 chips and the blinds are 50/100. There’s been two limpers (no raisers) before it’s your turn to act in the cut-off. What do you move all-in with?

3000 (your stack) divided by 150 (total of blinds) = 20

20 x 3 (the number of players left to act) = 60

60 x 3 (two limpers plus one) = 180

So in this situation you’d push your stack in with Q-Q, K-K, A-A and A-K.

Move all-in if your number is…

400 or more A-A

200 – 400 and K-K
150 – 200 and Q-Q or A-K
100 – 150 and J-J, 10-10, A-Q or K-Q
80 – 100 and any pair, any suited Ace, no-gap suited connectors down to 5-4
60 – 80 and any Ace, any suited King, any suited connector with up to one gap
40 -60 and any King
20 – 40 and any two suited cards
0 – 20 and any two cards!

Although it was highly embarrassing to push all-in with Aces and Kings in the first blind level for around 50 times the current bet, the system’s strength grew in the later stages of the tourney. I scooped blind after blind and only just missed the final table after losing two coin-flips, and another hand when I was a 70% favourite.

Admittedly the system had lucked out earlier when 5-6 hit trips against Aces but that’s the beauty of getting to see every card.

The system has room for improvement though. There are no rules dictating whether to call short-stack all-ins with very playable hands in the latter stages despite the value of doing so. The system relies on keeping enough ballast to bully people off hands and later on you’ll have to be prepared to move in with almost any two cards. As long as you can do the calculations without passing out, this system could definitely get you into the money, make you look like a complete novice or, quite likely, both.


12th out of 65
Just three places off the money Sklansky’s ‘all-in or-fold’ system went close. If it had won one of the races at the end, it would have passed. But it didn’t.

Lessons Learnt

When you drop the all-in hammer with a big stack you will get people to lay down their cards – not all the time (it’s unlikely people are going to ditch Kings and Aces) – but more than you’d think. Players may think you’re on the steal but unless they have a strong hand all they can do is toss their hand away and wait for a better spot. Once the blinds have reached a significant size you’ll see a healthy chip growth with just a couple of successful pushes. And even if you do get called you’re rarely going to be that far behind. One thing this will instil in you is to have no fear of going broke and will certainly make you grow some balls.

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