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One of the most exciting moments of a poker tournaments, for both fans and players, is when someone moves all-in. The tournament life of one player is at risk while the other player looks to add to his stack and march on to victory.

Knowing the importance of this move, one has to wonder about what goes on in a player’s mind when they are moving all-in. Today we look at a bit of the psychology of moving all-in and the reasons you or your opponents are doing so.

all in

Trying to Double-Up

For starters, we’ll go ahead and get the obvious out of the way. Many players when they move all-in aren’t looking to make any type of psychological play but rather are just trying to double their chip stack.

You can pick a reason why they do this. Some want more breathing room so they can open up their game while others are simply getting short and are trying to get chips to continue in the tournament.

This is as simple as it gets. They shove thinking “please call, please call….and please don’t have a better hand.” Once called, unless they have the nuts, thoughts change to “hold!”

Taking Advantage of Your Image

When you’re at the poker table, you’re constantly telling a story. We often call that the image you portray at the table. World-class poker players are experts at taking advantage of their advantage and manipulating players to either pay them off or get out the way when they are weak.

For example, if you’re sitting with middle pair on a flop with an Ace or King and Allen Kessler shoves on you, chances are you are going to give him credit for having you beat. He’s famous for playing tight and he gets away with a few more moves than the standard player.

Related: Tight Poker Player? 7 Times Where You’re Doing it Wrong

Adversely, let’s say you’ve been playing wild and crazy and flop a set with pocket fours You’re completely aware of how you’ve been playing and can take advantage of this to get players to call you. Your opponent has A-J and that flop of Jc-4d-8h looks perfect for them to punish you. Instead, you’re about to punish them thanks to your image.

phil hellmuth

Playing on Your Opponent’s Fear

Moving all-in can also be used as a tool to play on the fears of your opponent. While we all like to claim that we play fearlessly, the truth is far from that. The #1 fear of any play, where admitted or not, is busting out of the event. We don’t enter a poker tournament wanting to bust out, but we know that is the end result a high percentage of the time.

The more important a tournament is to a player, the greater that fear will be. For example, a player that usually plays in $5,000 or higher buy-ins isn’t going to be too worried about busting out of the Colossus.

However, what if that player buys into a $25,000 High Roll or even a high profile $10k event? The stakes are higher and it is now important that they play well. You can take advantage of this fear, especially later in an event.

Players also have a fear of looking bad. They don’t want to make the wrong play and have their play criticized either by analysts or by other players Sometimes this will force them into a fold in a tight situation.

Forcing Opponents to Make Tough Decision

The all-in move also puts your opponent on a tough decision regardless of your image or their level of fear in the event. Depending on what percentage of their stack your chips represents, this could be the defining moment in their tournament. This is not a decision they can take lightly.

For example, you started the hand with 225k in chips and the chip leader has 340k. Average stack is right around 100k with blinds of 4k/8k. Calling your all-in shove and being wrong will leave them with 115k, or 14.37 big blind. They suddenly go from chip leader to short stack in one hand.

One wrong decision here could make it next to impossible to win the tournament. However, simply folding preserves his chip lead and gives him the chance to find a better spot.

sweat it out

Playing for the Cameras

One final thought pertains to televised poker. How many times have you seen a player come to a featured table and completely change their game for the sake of the cameras? It is no secret that players are encouraged to mix up their game, but some go to the extreme.

There are players out there that will use the all-in move on camera as a weapon. Their reasoning is two-fold. First, they want the attention of having a potential confrontation televised where the world can watch them.

Next, they know that the other person is considered about looking bad on TV. If they have a marginal hand and make the wrong play, they look stupid on television and that footage it out there for eternity.

Combating this type of move is tough and requires either a great read or a strong holding. Yes, there are some that frankly don’t care about the cameras. However, astute players will pick up on this as well and may choose not shove just for the sake of the cameras.

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James Guill

James Guill began his poker career in 2006, spending two years traveling the US tournament circuit. Since 2008, he has covered the game extensively for some of the biggest names in the industry. When not writing about the latest poker news, he can be found hunting for antique treasures in Central Virginia.