I’m always surprised by how many tournament players are willing to risk their tournaments by going all-in preflop with little knowledge of their chances to win.
When you’re all-in preflop, you’ve created a seven-card game. You have no ability to create a hand or use a betting strategy. I believe it’s simply their lack of knowledge and how they perceive the cards they hold. Let’s examine starting hands preflop.
PAIR VS. PAIR: A bigger pair is about an 82 percent favorite over a smaller pair (4.5-to-1). Also with the hands sharing a common suit, the bigger pair gains a little more.
PAIR VS. TWO OVERCARDS: The pair is about a 55 percent favorite, thus creating the race situation we often hear on television. I had racing for my tournament life.
PAIR VS. TWO UNDERS: The pair is a 5-1 favorite. Undercards such as 7-8 increase in value for making two pair and straight possibilities, but 5-1 usually rules the day.
PAIR VS. ONE OVER AND ONE UNDER: About 28-32 percent of the time the overcard will hit the board and win the hand. The pair is about a 5-2 favorite.
TWO OVERS VS. TWO UNDERS: Most players think the overs have a huge advantage in this situation. The overs are only a 5-3 favorite. The player who pairs usually wins the hand.
Overcard protection, while nice to have, doesn’t ensure a significant advantage. Placing a high value on big cards preflop is often a dangerous undertaking.
Now that we’ve discussed the numbers, let’s talk about the common-sense factor during play. There are only a few times you should ever think of an all-in move preflop.
Depending on where you are in relationship to the blind level and your M is a major factor in determining a preflop all-in move. The common thought is to be comfortable during tournament play you should have 20 or more big blinds; therefore you need not worry about playing preflop poker.
I’ve seen players with 15 big blinds make preflop all-in moves only to be headed to the rail when they didn’t know their A-K was only a 5-3 favorite to win, in essence creating only a small advantage preflop.
Next, when you’re on a final table or close to the final table, all-ins against smaller stacks are prudent and mandatory to eliminate these players, provided you’re heads-up and losing the hand won’t injure you significantly.
I rarely make preflop moves without knowing my opponent or having a huge chip advantage. I love seeing the flop and then creating a hand or taking advantage of my position in the hand. Making preflop moves eliminates everything I love to do, that is to say, “Play the hand.”
After the flop, your hand is 71 percent complete and playable anyway you like. With few exceptions, “Postflop is king.”
— Antonio Pinzari is the former host of Poker Wars and has been playing poker professionally since the ’70s.