Early in tournaments, when stacks are deep, I often see players dump gasoline on their chips and light them on fire by going all in pre-flop with a hand such as ace-king. There are times when it's wise to get all your chips into the middle preflop with A-K, but not when stacks are deep and you have no reason to believe that your opponent is stealing.
I recently played a hand that demonstrated this situation well.
It was early in an online tournament. With a nine-handed table and blinds at 60-120, a player using the handle "Hair Stylist 21" opened under the gun to $360. Two players folded in front of me. I had Ac Kc. My opponent's stack was $9,300 to start the hand, covering my paltry $4,836.
Before making any decision, it's best to make a plan first. As a whitewater guide, when scouting a rapid for the first time, I work backwards. I look at the bottom of the rapid first and see where I want to be. Then, I determine where I want to be in the middle to get to the end, and then I see where I need to enter the rapid. In poker, you want to win as many chips as possible while also protecting your stack. So, consider the possibilities before choosing a preflop action.
If I raise, my opponent will either fold, call or reraise. If he folds, fine. I win 540 chips, increasing my stack by more than 10 percent. If he calls, that's also fine, because now I'm playing a bigger pot in position with a strong hand. If he reraises, I'm in a little bit of trouble.
Reraising and folding would feel wrong, but if I end up all in, rarely will my opponent show a hand like A-Q. Instead, I'll most likely face a range from A-K to a pocket pair of jacks or higher - a range I'd have a 42 percent chance against. Not bad, but not ideal.
If I call, I allow players behind me to see the flop cheaply and also let the initial raiser see the flop. But that isn't necessarily bad, because it means that I get to see a flop against hands I dominate instead of getting all in preflop against hands that dominate mine or are even against mine.
I elected to call. If I were any shallower or in later position, I would most likely reraise. A player behind me called, and three of us took a flop of As 10c 4h.
Hair Stylist bet $660. My turn - call or raise? If I call, it would allow him to continue bluffing, and he could hit a goofy straight or two pair to smoke me. If I raise, I wouldn't be called by a worse hand too often, even though he doesn't think I have A-K (because I didn't re-raise preflop). I chose to call again, and the other player folded.
The turn came 10h. The aggressor fired again, making a pot-sized bet of 2,580. No reason to slow-play any longer. I moved all in for my last $3,816, and he called with Ad 2d. The river was the Qs, and I doubled up.
Just calling preflop with a hand that most people reraise with will help prevent you from getting a lot of chips into the middle in a bad spot, and it helps disguise the strength of hands so you can play postflop against inferior hands. I don't always flat-call strong hands in spots like this, but I do sometimes, and this example shows the benefits of letting weaker hands see the flop.
Bryan Devonshire is a professional poker player from Las Vegas. Known as "Devo" on the tournament circuit, he has amassed more than $2 million in career earnings. Follow him on Twitter: @devopoker. Poker Pros runs every week.