Setting Up The Shove

Do you know why No-Limit Hold’em (NLHE) became all the rage back in the early 2000s? My completely unscientific theory is the prime demographic of new poker players (young males) loved being able to say, “All-in!” The advertisements and marketing always show somebody physically shoving all their chips into the middle of the table (proper poker etiquette be damned). It’s the meme of an entire generation of poker players.

For years, the good players paid a lot of rent courtesy of people who overused the phrase, “All-in”.

Those days are gone, and you don’t see stacks going in every other hand at most poker tables*. But every once in a while, it is correct to shove your whole stack in; you just need a plan for how you’re going to do it.

THE CHIPS TUMBLE IN ON THEIR OWN

Sometimes the game flows in such a way that the chips just make their way into the middle without any effort on your part. You’re playing a 1/2 NLHE game and are on the button with a stack of 220. Because you live a healthy lifestyle and are courteous to grocery store clerks, you wake up with pocket aces. There is a raise to 8 from early position and two callers. You make it 44 and it folds back to the original raiser. They make it 95 and, to your astonishment, one of the original cold-callers calls the entire 95. This is because you sent your parents flowers for their anniversary.

Sometimes, poker is easy; you stick the rest of your chips in, using whatever mouse clicks or verbal signals are necessary.

YOU PLAN FOR ALL THE CHIPS TO GO IN

This requires tactical thinking on your part, and it’s the area we’re concentrating on because, well, because it’s harder than just five-bet shoving aces from a 110 big-blind stack.

Let’s suppose you’re in that same 1/2 NLHE game in the cutoff position. Your stack is now 530 (the aces hand went quite well, thank you). One player limps for 2 and you make it 10 with KcQc. Sadly, the button calls, but everybody else folds back to the limper, who calls.

There’s 33 in the pot, and the flop is a delicious Jc-9h-4c. You’ve flopped what the poker technicians call, “the world.” Second nut flush draw, a gutshot to the nuts, and two overcards. As convention dictates, the limper checks to you and you bet 20 (a great sizing). The button calls and the limper folds.

There’s 73 in the pot and the turn card is the unicorn of stars. Or, more prosaically, the deuce of diamonds. Either way, we completely whiffed the turn. The villain has 180 behind. We’ve got two choices here, and this is a great time to discuss them. We can put massive pressure on right now, and then, if we miss the river, just give up. Alternatively, we can apply “substantial” (less than massive) pressure right now with the intent of bombing the river whether we get there or not.

I learned this idea from my friend Benton Blakeman, who runs a hand discussion group I frequent.

The concept here is we bash the turn so big (think “pot-size bet”—PSB) that if the villain is willing to call, he’s never folding the river. Either we make our hand on the river or we check and fold. In the alternate plan, we put out a healthy bet on the turn, with the unspoken message that the rest of it is going in on the river. Hopefully the villain will get the hint and fold their JT or whatever hand is beating us. But if they don’t, we’re jamming the rest in on the river.

And that’s where we need a plan. If we go for option 2—the option of shoving the river if they don’t fold the turn—then we need to bet an amount on the turn that will leave a nice PSB behind on the river. Let’s work out the numbers.

Warning: math ahead. But don’t panic; it’s simple algebra.

Let’s name some things:

  • S = the effective stack remaining on the turn. Since we cover the villain, they have the remaining effective stack, which is 180.
  • P = the size of the pot on the turn. For our example, it’s 73.
  • B = the amount we bet on the turn.

We want to bet an amount on the turn that will leave exactly a PSB behind. The villain may not realize what’s happening, but they will when we rip the rest of our stack in on the river.

On the river, the pot will be P + (2 x B). That is, if we bet B on the turn and the villain calls, then the total pot will be however much it was on the turn plus twice the bet size. On the river, the villain’s stack will be S (their stack on the turn) less B (the amount we bet on the turn). By setting these two values equal to each other, we ensure we leave the villain exactly a PSB on the river.

P + (2 x B) = S – B

[add B to each side of the equation]
P + (3 x B) = S

[subtract P from each side]
(3 x B) = S – P

[divide both sides by 3] 
B = (S-P)/3

And there’s our answer! We subtract the current pot size from the villain’s remaining stack and divide by 3. Betting that amount will set up the perfect PSB shove designed to blow our opponent off all of their medium-strength hands.

Let’s try it for our sample hand. The villain has 180 behind and there’s 73 in the pot. We’ll call it 75 for convenience. 180 – 75 = 105. 105 / 3 = 35. So there’s our bet: 35. We bet 35 into the 75 pot and the villain calls. Then there’s (2 x 35 = 70) + 75 = 145 in the pot on the river. The villain called 35 from a 180 stack and has – ha! – exactly 145 remaining in their stack. Math is cool.

Slightly more aware villains will see this bet on the turn and think, “They’re setting up a shove on the river, aren’t they?” “Why yes, now you mention it, that’s exactly what I’m doing. Perhaps you should fold now and save yourself a lot of angst on the river.” Less aware villains will call the seemingly reasonable turn bet. Then the river comes along and you shove your entire stack in. Only then do they realize what happened on the turn, but now they are in a miserable situation. Putting your opponents in miserable situations is how you make money at poker.

The reasons for why you might choose either of these two turn bet sizes are beyond the scope of this piece. But I will say you should pick one of these two plans and go with it. The “in-between” plan (betting half pot on the turn and then giving up on the river) is the worst of all possible options. It doesn’t use a big enough hammer on the turn to frighten off one-pair hands, and then it surrenders and loses to them at showdown.

However, if you decide to go with option 2 you know how to compute the bet size on the turn to create maximum pain for your opponent on the river.

My thanks to Benton Blakeman for the two turn bet options, and to whoever invented algebra** for the tool to figure out the right bet size.


* If you do see this, it’s a very good game. Sit down and don’t leave.

** Widely recognized to be Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi—Editor.



Lee Jones has been in the poker industry for over 30 years. He writes at the Global Poker blog, plays poker every chance he gets, and coaches poker. You can contact him at www.leejones.com.