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A Look at House Rules: All In

  • Linda GeenenLinda Geenen
A Look at House Rules: All In 0001

The words “all in” became synonymous with no-limit hold’em when the World Poker Tour launched in 2002 and took the world by storm, bringing the excitement of big poker tournaments into everyone’s living room starting a year later.

Saying “all in” technically means that you are committed to seeing the hand through to the end by putting all of your chips and cash in the middle of the table. Casino poker rooms’ all-in rules may vary depending on the size of the limits played. In fact, fixed-limit games are the format in which you will find the most controversy regarding what must play when a player is going all in.

Let’s take a run through some of the general etiquette and variations in house rules you may come across in your journey through poker that involve the use of this phrase.

What happens when a player is all in?

Going “all in” allows a player to see the hand through to the end without committing any more chips or cash to the pot.

It’s possible that a number of players can go all in in the same hand. The dealer starts the main pot with the player who has the least amount of chips, taking the same amount of chips from each remaining player’s bet to build the main pot. If a second player who has more chips than the first all-in player then goes all in, the dealer takes that amount from each remaining player’s bet and builds a second pot.

The first all-in player is not entitled to win anything other than the main pot. Meanwhile the second all-in is entitled to win the main pot and the second pot. Further betting action then will create a third pot where all active players can continue to bet, with the active players able to win all pots (the main one as well as the side ones). At showdown, the winning hands are declared and pots are awarded to the best hand(s).

What plays in an all-in situation?

In games that require an ante like seven-card stud, the house rule may demand that everything in front of the player has to be committed to the pot, including any single-dollar amounts that could allow the player to be dealt in for the ante. That’s right — if you have the ante in front of you, you can be dealt into a hand and play for the ante-pot only.

In low-limit games, it’s pretty standard that everything in front of the player must go into the pot when declaring all-in. If change is used in the game to break down the rake or build a jackpot, even the change would play if it totals dollar amounts. For example, in a $3/$6 fixed-limit hold’em game, a player with $4.50 in quarters on the table would be required to put $4 quarters into the pot, but since the blinds are generally in whole dollar amounts, the extra 50 cents would not play.

In mid- to high-limit games, the lowest chip denomination used in that limit would play in an all-in situation. Thus if the blinds are $15/$30, all $5 chips would play. When you hit high-limit games where society chips ($100, $500, $1,000, $25,000) are in play, any small blind chip — or ante — would play when a player is all in.

Of course there are a few variables — we are talking high-limit here — so if a player has a rack filled with $100 chips (along with other stacks of chips) and the blinds are $500/$1,000, that rack of $100 chips would also be required to play because it totals $500. However, there are times in high-limit games when a player may put chips on the table along with his or her buy-in and state that those chips do not play.

There are also some high-limit players who will allow a new player (especially a “live one”) to keep some of his or her smaller chip denominations when they want to go all in. Isn’t high-limit fun? There are always variables and some are enforced — or not — by the size of the limit.

Table stakes and all-ins

Previously we discussed “A Look at House Rules: Buy-ins and Short Buy-ins (Chips and Cash in Play),” so by now you’re aware of how important it is to keep chips and cash in play to keep the game moving.

Once a player has moved all in, if the player wins the pot, he or she is right back in the game. However, if that player loses the pot, it’s time to rebuy or leave, and that’s why it’s important to make sure the last of the player’s chips have been committed in an all-in situation.

Keep in mind as you journey through poker that going all in gives you the protection of seeing the hand through to the end without risking any more money, but it also limits what you can earn in the hand. Turning over a winning hand with six-way action loses all of its “yippee-factor” when you win a small all-in pot instead of stacking a monster.

Home games

Home games are sure to carry their own rules regarding what constitutes an all-in play, and since most games are hosted with friends and relatives, the all-in rules may be handled in a very relaxed way. Of course if you’ve kept up with poker on TV or in the movies, you might nonchalantly toss your Rolex or keys to the BMW into the pot for a massive bluff move — if the home game allows it, of course.

Online poker

Players sometimes used to lose their connections when playing online poker, so many sites once allowed “disconnect status” to provide players with what they called “all-in protection.” That was mostly the case back in the day when staying connected to the internet was a greater issue and you could lose a big chunk of your bankroll when your ISP took a dive, but today things have changed. Now on many of the major internet sites like PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and others, if you are disconnected and can’t return to the game in time, your investment in the pot is gone.

Otherwise going all in while playing online works just like in a casino poker room, with you claiming the part of the pot you are entitled to if you hold the winning hand. Online poker removes the mystery of what will play in an all-in situation because the poker software automatically pulls your all-in bet into the pot and sets up the side pots without missing a beat or struggling with the math.

Check out the all-in situations in this “Best Of” compilation from ESPN’s coverage of the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event to get a sense of the tension and excitement that comes when big money and bragging rights are on the line:

In all venues, no-limit hold’em remains the showcase format in which to go all-in. Nothing is as exciting as knowing you are putting your opponents to the ultimate test.

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