Pros and Cons of the Push-Fold Strategy

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BetMGM Jan 01, 2024, 4:17 PM

Every tournament poker player will experience their stack getting short at some point. Such a moment might not be enjoyable, but it’s not a reason to give up. 

Tournament crushers use a strategy known as “push-fold” which entails choosing some hands to go all-in with and throwing the rest into the muck, with no in-between option. The goal is to create the best opportunities to win chips, despite having a short stack. 

This strategy will help players to survive those tricky short-stack spots and rebound in poker tournaments.

What Is the Push-Fold Poker Strategy?

Push-fold is a short-stack concept. It teaches players when to shove in poker tournaments and when to fold. Every hand you’re dealt is either a “push,” i.e. moving all in, or a “fold.” There’s nothing else to think about.

With a low number of chips, it makes no sense to limp, min-raise, or call. You’ve got to apply maximum pressure and shoot for the best possible reward. And that’s what push-fold poker is all about. 

So, the entire range of hands is divided into push hands and fold hands. Serious players build ranges for each table position, almost like guidelines for how to play a tournament. Nowadays, it would be impossible to find a winning multi-table tournament (MTT) player without a clear push-fold plan.

Why Is Push-Fold Useful?

In short, push-fold teaches you how to play effectively with a short stack. Poker players use the tactic because it delivers the maximum return on their chips. It also teaches you an optimal way to play in short-stack spots, with all of your hands, giving you the best shot at continuing. Those final big blinds could be the difference between busting or being in the money. 

No Time To Waste

Before playing, most players already have a rough idea of which hands they’ll push or fold preflop in poker tournaments. Ace-high hands and pocket pairs are ideal. But the average player is lost if those holdings from the highest poker hand rankings don’t come along. 

They’ll tend to lose blinds with each revolution, simply waiting for the right cards to come along. But hoping for a hot streak isn’t a winning strategy. 

This is a time to make moves, not play passively by limping or calling. Seeing cheap flops isn’t an option anymore, and maneuvering is risky when your chip stack is on life support.

When you play poker online, turbo and hyper-turbo events are extremely common. In these structures, ‌blinds increase much faster, so push-folding will come into play more often. Understanding this strategy will definitely help you to improve your results in such games.

That said, everyone needs to learn the art of pushing and folding correctly, even deep-stack players.

When To Use Push-Fold

When you find your stack at around 20 big blinds (abbreviated as BB), you can play more comfortably. You’ve got enough chips for some postflop play, and you’re no longer in short-stack county.

However, you should consider deploying a push-fold approach whenever your stack is 15 BB or lower. If postflop play isn’t an option, it’s probably time to switch your approach. Every tournament is different, but anything below 15 BB is when players should start thinking about push-folding. 

When you’re one of the shortest stacks in the tournament, this is a good indicator that you need to ditch complicated postflop plays and start push-folding more. You should know just how short you are compared to the rest of the field. Poker tournaments usually display that information in the lobby.   

Which Poker Hands Do You Push-Fold?

As a short stack, you’ve got to divide your range into those you’ll shove all-in with and those you’ll muck. If you’re at risk of blinding out in a few rounds, the value of mid-strength hands, Broadway cards, and suited connectors shoots up. 

This makes your range of pushing hands much wider than it would usually be. This is not a time to be picky and wait for the best cards. 

What Is a Push Range?

A typical push range may include: 

  • Most, or even all, pocket pairs.
  • All premium hands like ace-king, ace-queen, and ace-jack, whether suited or offsuit.
  • A wide selection of Broadway hands like king-10 or queen-jack.
  • More suited connectors and fewer unsuited connectors.
  • Suited one-gappers, two-gappers, and possibly even three-gappers.

Push-fold hands also change depending on your table position. You’ll choose far more poker hands to fold in the early positions and start pushing more in later positions, like from the button. 

Serious players select hands and create range charts. They also test themselves in push-fold simulations using tools like ICMIZER, for instance, which helps you project the most profitable push-fold solutions in the games you’re playing.

Three Advantages of the Push-Fold Approach

The main goal of push-fold play is to chip up and continue in the tournament. Here are a few specific ways in which it helps players to achieve this.

Make Better Hands Fold

Nobody at the table knows what hands they’ll end up with once the flop, turn, and river are dealt. When you make the first move and go all-in, you deny everyone the chance to see the flop before making their decision. 

You could force out many hands with decent equity against you simply by taking the initiative. 

If you do get called, it’s likely only to be one player. When the goal is a double-up, you want to be heads-up so your equity isn’t divided.

Steal Blinds Uncontested

By pushing, you could win the pot preflop and add at least 1.5 BB to your stack. Stealing pots like this is the bread and butter of tournament crushers. 

Plan for Each Hand and Table Position

With some self-study and running drills in ICMIZER, you can develop a plan for all possible situations. No more uncertainty or confusion about when to shove and when to fold in poker tournaments; just a clear range of push-fold hands.

Is There Anything Wrong With the Push-Fold Approach?

You should take every poker strategy with a grain of salt. Remember that while push-fold can’t factor in the player dynamics at your table, it will certainly provide you with the optimal guidelines. 

You can’t apply the same push-fold approach to every tournament you enter. Depending on the stakes and the level of competition, be ready to make some adjustments. Treat each table separately and use your push-fold ranges as a baseline, which you adjust as you see fit.

Practice at BetMGM Today

It’s time to get some practice in. Register for free at BetMGM and explore the many real-money tournaments on offer. Choose turbo or hyper turbos for a faster-paced game, or deep-stack to play more postflop poker.

Remember, if you become short-stacked in one of these MTTs, push-fold could well be your way back into the money.

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Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.