My question on this hand is whether I made the right play, even though I lost?

The hand took place on the first deal of the final table of a long underground, self-dealt tournament. Despite a relatively large field (four tables of 8-9 players each) for an underground game, it pays only the top four places unless a deal is struck.

Seven players have 20-30 BB, plus there are two short stacks under 10 BB. As such, I expect something of a random outcome to the tournament to the extent that we’re not going to see that many hands before people who play too tight start getting blinded down to shove/fold territory.

Antes make the starting pot slightly more than 2.5 BB. UTG guy (who came over from another table, so I have no history with him) goes all-in for just 7 bigs. I have 24 BB and look down at AQ suited.

I figure UTG’s 7BB all-in range here includes almost any pair, most Ax, maybe even some suited Broadway cards... He of course could have AA or QQ, but I partially block those. I’ve got outs against AK or KK; it's basically a coin flip against 22-JJ, and I’m 60-70% against A2-AJ depending on whether they are suited.

Overall, this struck me as a good spot to isolate him, and get some breathing room if I win. In the worst case scenario, I should still have 18 big blinds to work with—which is short, but not particularly short in comparison to the rest of the table.

Also, I generally find that people play tighter on the first orbit of a final table, so though I am early to act, I should have more fold equity against the remaining seven players than usual. They would all be all-in or only cover me at most by 5-6 BB.

So I go all in for my 25BB, UTG+1.

To my surprise, UTG+2 (who just barely covers me) also goes all in.

Everyone else folds.

UTG shows AA, UTG+2 shows KK. I am completely screwed, could only win if two queens come out, or I suppose Broadway, but UTG+2 has the KK blockers. Or the case A would let me beat the guy to my left. 8-9% chance.

Of course, the board hits no one, and I go home.

Was the all-in a mistake? I still think it was the right play, despite the results. The odds of running into this nightmare scenario seem exceedingly low; most of the time, I think I should be ahead of enough of the UTG’s range to justify it. Getting sandwiched between the top two starting hands ideally will never happen to me again...

  • 3
    My initial thoughts without thinking about it too much are that I don't like the all-in move--pretty much only hands that crush you will overcall--and it would be a good call if you were in late position or the blinds, but your position with this particular hand makes it borderline. As a thought experiment, imagine that villain had folded instead; how comfortable would you have been open shoving your stack with AQs? Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 17:48

2 Answers 2


First of all, you're likely right that your hand looks good against the range of UTG. The other factors though (mostly position) are unfavorable though, so the question is whether or not it's ultimately worth it to play this hand here.

If you are going to play it, I don't like the push. Sure, it could isolate you against a likely worse hand, but it also A) gets almost all worse hands to fold (if someone else calls, you'd be lucky if they only have JJ) and B) all better hands still call; so those factors are kind of the tell-tale sign of a bet that doesn't work.

Let's say you just call instead. This could work. If a big enough stack then comes over the top, you have room to fold since you're probably a dog to them in a dry side pot and it wouldn't be worth it to pay for your declining equity in the main pot. But if a small enough stack goes all in for say 12 big blinds, you might be stuck calling. If you had been in the big blind this would be an easy call. On the button, I still think it's pretty easy. But with 6 or 7 players left to act and no fold equity (as in, you're definitely going to showdown with UTG), AQ isn't such a monster and I think it's a very close call.

In situations like this in a tournament with a close call, I like to weigh what the possible effects of winning or losing are. By the way, only you can truly answer this because you know how the tournament was playing in general and who was there--were there a lot of crazy gamblers or a lot of really good players or a lot of scared money or what?

So, like you say, losing the hand wouldn't hurt you too much, still 18 big blinds left and you sound like you could work with that. On the other hand, how much would another 9 big blinds help you? Do you think you could run over the table with a big stack? Would it provide you a cushion to sit back and wait for the right spots? Or would it make little difference? The less of a positive impact it has, the more you should lean towards just gritting your teeth and folding. If you're type of player who thrives as a big stack and you think the rest of table can be bullied, then you could lean more toward the call. If you think you're one of the best players left, you may not want to gamble here; on the other hand, if you feel like you need all the help you can get, it could be a good time to take a gamble.

Those are at least some considerations to have when approaching close decisions in a tournament. I also avoided really answering the question, so: if pressed for an answer, I would suggest to fold (and hate doing it in real life). The size of 7 big blinds compared to your stack and the average is just so awkward that you really do almost have to either commit everything or nothing (just as it seems you viewed it as it went down), and since I'm not comfortable committing 24 BB's on AQ in an UTG+1 position, folding is the only move left. BTW, 4 or 5 big blinds and I make the call.

  • 1
    I think given my early position, just calling would have been the right move, though it would expose my hand to a squeeze play... If a later player did come over the top, I could fold—chagrined to lose 7BB, but still with enough room to maneuver, especially with the blinds passing me shortly.
    – Taghkanic
    Commented Aug 11, 2016 at 15:16
  • 1
    P.S. I didn't think I could run over the table with the extra ~10BB (7+2.5), but I did think it would give me a lot more breathing room, or flexibility to play certain cards (e.g. 10J suited) deeper into the hand, rather than just playing shove/fold.
    – Taghkanic
    Commented Aug 11, 2016 at 15:26

It doesn't sound like you were desperate for the 7BB win but were comfortable to gamble against the short stack. I agree with this.

But because there were multiple players behind, this is an easy fold in my opinion. I think you got excited and tried to scare off too many hands. The flaw being that any better hand than AQ will call and you are therefore potentially risking your entire stack of 25BB for (your estimated) 60%-70% chance to take down 7BB. Important to note: 60%-70% is assuming there will be no other callers, this obviously decreases rapidly with callers.

Lack of information about a player makes me lean toward a fold here. If I am <15BB and move to a new table then get a premium hand I will shove every time because it's easy for opponents to assume weakness here.

The odds of running into this nightmare scenario seem exceedingly low; most of the time, I think I should be ahead of enough of the UTG’s range to justify it. Getting sandwiched between the top two starting hands ideally will never happen to me again...

Your opponents' hands being AA and KK I think has helped you justify your decision to yourself. However, you could just as easily been done by a decent range of hands. The fact is you risked your tournament to take down 7BB with AQ with multiple players behind. In a heads-up scenario a call would definitely be a good decision here. But in this case you kind of hung yourself with the shove.

  • I agree that a fold would have been better, or (per the comment above) just a call. Again, my reasoning for the risky push was influenced by the sense that people would play nittier for the first orbit or two, especially given that stacks were relatively balanced around the table. Everyone was in danger of becoming very short within the next hour, if they were inactive.
    – Taghkanic
    Commented Aug 11, 2016 at 15:28
  • OTOH, if one is ever going to call or shove in this position, I am not sure that AQ suited is a bad option. (Would one only call in this spot with AA or KK or AKs?) I think it was a correct assumption to consider myself ahead of the UTG small stack's range, though of course he could (and did) have AA.I also think the odds of running into a premium pocket pair from the remaining 7 players were very low, though clearly not impossible, especially since it was quite possible UTG and I together held a lot of blockers to those hands.
    – Taghkanic
    Commented Aug 11, 2016 at 15:31

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