One of my favorite moves in tournament poker is definitely going all-in. Many people disagree with this strategy, but I've found there are times when it's profitable and times when it's downright ugly. Knowing when to use this strategy is essential to make it successful and profitable.
Before discussing the best time to go all-in, let me discuss one of the worst strategies I've seen: going all-in pre-flop during the early stages of a tournament. Many people do this in hopes of doubling-up, but the problem with this strategy is that the read is simple. When you commit all of your chips to the pot everyone knows you have a decent hand. Players frequently do this with a pair of jacks during the early rounds, which usually results in only getting calls from the hands that are better than theirs pre-flop - queens, kings or aces.
That being said, I love going all-in when the opportunity presents itself. What separates a great tournament player from a good one is that he knows when the best time to go all-in is. Here are the guidelines I use to determine if I should all-in with a hand.
Late Rounds (Tight Image)
If you've played very tight throughout the game your opponents have probably realized that you're only playing the good hands. You can use this against them by going all-in to steal the blinds. If you're on the button and everyone has folded to you, don't be afraid to push in A-x suited or any pair all-in against decent players. Always remember that it is much harder to call an all-in than to bet all-in.
Against Highly Skilled Players
The all-in strategy is great for players who know they're out-gunned. When you're up against highly skilled tournament players who can outplay you on the flop, going all-in before the flop can be a helpful move. Although this strategy can backfire on you, it can be profitable when done in a certain way.
A player once went all-in on me repeatedly during the late stages of a tournament. In chat, I asked him why he would want to risk all of his chips each and every time. His response was that he knew I was the more skilled player and would outplay him on the flop. By going all-in, he significantly cut down how many times I would've called and taken him to the flop because I would've been forced to risk all of my chips on marginal hands.
Although this also qualifies as late rounds, the situation is a little different. During multi-table tournaments, players tend to tighten their game considerably as they get closer to the money. This is when I love to build my chip stack by going all-in. I've won many big tournaments by raising tight players' blinds during this stage of the tournament.
If you're going to become a successful tournament player, you can't be afraid to put your opponents' chips to the test. The next time someone raises, you can say "I'm all-in" knowing you are in the proper situation to do so.