What should you do when you’re shoved on in an MTT?

Nick Wright shows you how to turn hero-calling into an art form and what you should do when someone shoves into you in an MTT

In late tournament play, most of your decisions will concern when to shove and when to call preflop. This is particularly true in online tournaments, where you will often face a shove after making an open-raise.

Knowing how to handle such situations can be the difference between another frustrating near miss and a final-table finish. Luckily the answer is usually very simple. In fact, this strategy article shouldn’t really be so long, it should be one sentence: ‘Always have a plan.’ Or at least, this is true for the times when you were the initial raiser. If you have yet to act and there is an all-in in front of you it’s a bit trickier.

But most shove/fold decisions are black and white, while the grey ones – let’s call them marginal – are probably too close to spend a lot of time analysing them to death. So the solution is simple. Have a plan. Happy days. There’s no need to continue reading this then, right? Well, not quite…

Best laid plans

Once you get to the shove-or-fold stages of a tournament, all your decisions are simplified. If you raise, you should always know in advance whether or not you’re happy to call a shove. However, even the best-laid plans can go awry, and there are so many variables involved that sometimes your plan will, and must, change.

Poker is a massively complex game, and a small change in starting conditions can have a huge final impact. There are many factors to consider, but some of most obvious ones are: pot odds, relative hand strength, stack sizes, table image, position, HUD stats and finally payouts if you’re at a final table or deep in the money.

If you made a Venn diagram to illustrate all this then many if not all of these factors would overlap. For instance, if you’ve got J-T in the cutoff and a 30BB stack and three equal stacks behind you then you should open-raise. But if you change the scenario, giving the other stacks 15BB, it would probably be a fold given the high chance of getting shoved on. If you want to know the maths it’s because against a standard shoving range here you have about 37% equity and need 41% to break even.

Likewise, a change in the starting conditions can also change a raise into a flat-call. Let’s take the same scenario as above but this time you have A♣-A♠ and there’s been a raise from early position. In the first situation, with equal stacks behind you, you would almost always raise for value. In the second instance you can consider flat-calling to induce a 15BB stack to squeeze all-in.

Calling ranges in practise

In the later stages of MTTs, when you’re dealing with situations with effective stacks of up to 20BB, most decisions become a maths problem. But that doesn’t mean you need to be a maths whiz to work out the solution. You can use PokerStove to crunch the numbers, or if you have a Mac a program like Odds Oracle from propokertools.com.

In order to use these programs effectively, however, you need to be able to put a player on a range of hands. There are a lot of times in the late stages of tournaments where you’ll just have to call it off and chalk it up as ‘standard’. For instance, say it folds to the small blind, who shoves all-in for 12 big blinds. You’re in the big blind with A-J suited and know you’re ahead of his shoving range, so you must call. But most decisions aren’t that simple.

Sometimes it can be very easy to narrow a player’s range down, as they will vary their bet sizing according to their hand strength (betting bigger with better hands for example). But when stacks get shallower many players (good and bad alike) will simply open-shove their entire range, making it harder to pinpoint their hand. At this point we need to work out if we think we’re ahead of their range or not.

As a general rule if a player is good or competent they’ll have a wider shoving range than a so-called fish, and as such you can call wider against better players. Also, if a short stack shoves from early position you’d generally assume their hand was stronger than if they did it from late position. However, as the stacks get shorter the desperation of early-position players rises, as they know the blinds passing through them can render their fold equity almost nonexistent. As a result, they will start to shove wider.

Pay attention to your opponents and note which players shove from what positions and with what stack sizes so you can get a handle on their style of play. Take good notes, and specifically note anything unusual. For example, if a player raise-folds with a 15BB stack or flat-calls preflop with A-K suited and a 20BB stack.

Recurring dilemas

What all these decisions essentially break down to is putting a player on a range, using PokerStove to assess if your hand has enough equity against that range and either calling or folding. Now, clearly you can’t do this in the heat of battle all the time, but it doesn’t take too long to get a feel for what to do based on experience.

Although no two situations are exactly alike there are plenty of similar situations that crop up again and again. One example is when you hold a low pair such as 3-3 and are facing a shove. This is the kind of spot you will find yourself in time and again in tournaments.

If we give you a 30BB stack and you are shoved on by a 12.5BB stack with antes in play you will need around 43.5% equity to call. If you open-raised to 2.5BB before being shoved on by a 15BB stack you will need around 37.8% equity. Your decision here depends a lot on the stack sizes and your position in relation to the player who has moved all-in. Facing a short-stack shove when you are in the big blind, you will often look to fold against all but the loosest players. If you have open-raised and then been shoved on from the blinds it’s a far more frequent call.

Equities and PokerStove

Let’s say you’re at a nine-handed table with blinds at 5k/10k/a1k and the button goes all-in for 100k. You’re in the big blind with 250k and have to decide whether or not to call. PokerStove can help, but first you need to know your breakeven equity.

It’s pretty simple to work out. In this case, the pot is 124k and it’ll cost you 90k to call. To work out the equity you need to add what’s in the pot to what you need to call and divide this by how much it is to call. So, that’s 90,000 divided by 214,000 = 0.4205, meaning you need 42.05% equity to break even.

Once you have this you can put your hand into PokerStove and take a stab at estimating your opponent’s range. This is often easier said than done, but in this case you can obviously give the small blind a wide range, let’s say the top 50% of hands. Hands you can profitably call with in this situation include pocket twos (47.1%), K-8o (47%), J-To (45.6%) and T-9s (44.6%). Simple as that.

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