Being able to play real money poker anytime you like is great – that’s what Ignition Poker is here for. Once you download our poker client or use our mobile web app to get your seat at the table, the world is your oyster. You can bet, raise, call, check or fold as often as you like. But if you want to play like a champ and win more money, you’ll need to employ some online poker strategy. It takes a little time and effort to learn which moves to make at the table, but the rewards are obvious: Look at how well the top players in poker are doing.

Granted, some of these people are really, really good at math. But you don’t need a brain like a computer to play poker well. These wizards have already done the math for us; we just need to pick up the tools they’ve created and get to work building a solid strategy for online poker. And as you’ll see in this helpful guide, one of the most valuable tournament tools we’ve been given comes from two of the greatest minds the world has ever seen.

Push/Fold Strategy Explained

When John von Neumann came up with the principles of game theory, starting in 1928 with the minimax theorem, he loved using poker to analyze the way people behave in zero-sum situations. John Nash (the protagonist in the 2001 movie A Beautiful Mind) developed these principles further when he introduced the Nash equilibrium in 1951. Thanks to their work, and the advent of computers, we have something concrete to use when we play poker tournaments: push/fold strategy.

Again, you don’t need to be a mathematical savant to use these Nash push/fold strategies when you play poker for real money – you just need to download the charts and follow the instructions. But you’ll do a better job if you understand why they work, and when you’re supposed to use them. Wrapping your head around push/fold will also help you make better decisions in other areas of the game. In many ways, everything the top pros are doing today is built on push/fold.

The Nash push/fold strategies you’ll see in this poker strategy guide are used in Texas Hold’em games where it’s just you and one other player at the table. You could be playing heads-up cash poker at Ignition Casino, but these strategies will come in most handy when it’s a poker tournament and you’re down to the final two – although the presence of antes will change the math somewhat. Also, the stack sizes have to be small enough to warrant shoving instead of making a smaller open-raise. These Nash ranges come into play when you’re down to 16 big blinds or less.

Why Should You Use the Push/Fold Strategy?

The idea behind push/fold is to put your opponent in a position where they cannot exploit you. It’s kind of like playing for a tie, all the while hoping your opponent will make a mistake to your benefit. Let’s say you’re holding Ten-Seven offsuit in No-Limit Hold’em and you’ve got nine big blinds left in your stack. According to the math, if you open-shove T7o every time you’re in this spot (antes notwithstanding), you will break-even in the long run – assuming your opponent also plays these Nash push/fold ranges properly.

Chances are your opponent won’t have that kind of highly-advanced online poker betting strategy. Ideally, they will fold too often and just let you pick up the blinds. Nash equilibrium says if you’re the caller in this situation, you should swallow hard and call with hands like King-Four offsuit, Queen-Eight offsuit, even Ten-Eight suited. Not every player has the guts to call with a range this wide.

You might also run into a player who calls more often than they should when you put your stack in the middle. This is still good for you – it means you’ll have the better hand at showdown more often. Think of all the times your opponent will have a worse Ten, like Ten-Six; you’ll win those hands about 80% of the time. If they call with low connectors like Seven-Six, you’ll win about 60% of the time. Once your stack gets down to 9BB in a tournament, taking a 60/40 flip is definitely worth the risk.

The Impact of Your Stack Size

If you’re just learning how to play poker, the first thing you’ll need to play Nash push/fold is a reliable set of charts. One chart will tell you what to do when you’re the one who’s pushing (or folding), and the other will tell you what to do when you’re the one facing a push. The range of hands you’ll be using will depend on how many chips you and your opponent have in your stack; the deeper you are, the tighter of a range you’ll need to use.

Remember that you need to keep track of how many chips both you and your opponent have. The effective stack size for using Nash push/fold ranges is based on whichever player has the shorter stack. For example, if you have 50 big blinds and the other player has only nine, that means the effective stack size is 9BB, since your remaining 41 big blinds won’t ever come into play during this hand.

Once you know the effective stack size for the situation at hand, find that size on the appropriate chart, then see what range of hands you’re recommended to push or call with. You can download these charts online, once you find a reliable source, and keep them handy when you’re playing online at Ignition Casino – maybe tack them to your wall where you can see them without taking too much of your attention away from the tables.

Keep Your Position in Mind

Heads-up poker can be tricky for newer players who aren’t used to playing mano a mano. If you’re playing the 6-max and full-ring games at Ignition Poker, and the action folds around to you in the small blind, you know that you’ll be out of position versus the big blind for the duration of the hand. But when you’re playing heads-up, the small blind is also the button; the big blind still gets to act last preflop, but will be out of position post-flop.

This has a significant impact on the way you’ll play poker from the blinds. At deeper-stacked 6-max or full-ring NLHE tables, it’s usually recommended these days to open a somewhat conservative range of hands from the small blind – maybe the top 40-45% of hands, compared to 50% from the button. Once you’re playing pure heads-up poker, because you’ll be in position post-flop (and because other players won’t have mucked their hole cards before you act), you can open something closer to 90-95% of your hands.

You won’t be that aggressive once you’re short-stacked, but you’ll still have a big heads-up advantage when you’re the player in the small blind. You’ll have the chance to get all your chips in the middle first, and because of this, your Nash pushing range will be considerably wider than the Nash calling range for your opponent. Let’s take another look at the above situation where the effective stack size is 9BB; the following are the recommended Nash ranges for both pushing and calling (without taking the antes into effect).

Push: 22+, Ax, Kx, Qxs, Q5o+, Jxs, J8o+, T5s+, T8o+, 95s+, 97o+, 85s+, 87o, 74s+, 64s+, 53s+

Call: 22+, Ax, Kxs, K4o+, Q4s, Q8o+, J7s+, J9o+, T8s+, T9o, 98s

As you can see, the small blind can get away with shoving a lot of junky hands in this situation – even hands with very low cards that don’t have good “hot-and-cold” equity at showdown. That’s because the big blind will have to fold those low cards rather than risk calling off. The above Nash pushing range for the small blind represents a shade below the top 60% of hands in Hold’em, while the big blind is calling with a bit less than the top 45%. Even those beautiful suited connectors like Eight-Seven suited aren’t good enough to call with.

What if you’re the player in the big blind and the small blind neither pushes nor folds, but limps in? This is an increasingly common play at heads-up NLHE tournaments when the stacks are getting low. The recommended Nash ranges only apply for an effective stack size of 16BB or less; if you find yourself at a table with a stack size near that upper limit, and your opponent in the small blind chooses to limp, you can use the Nash shoving ranges as a rough guideline for getting your chips in. The shorter the stacks, the wider you can open compared to the charts, since the small blind’s limp will represent a larger portion of the pot. Don’t forget to push or call wider than recommended to account for the antes, as well.

Using Nash Push/Fold Charts Effectively

Since you don’t have much time at the online tournament tables to make your decisions, you might find it difficult at first to follow the charts without making mistakes along the way. That’s understandable – the above Nash ranges for 9bb look a bit like alphabet soup. To get around that, try thinking of those ranges in terms of percentages, like the 60% pushing range and the 45% calling range. You can use a freeware program like Equilab to calculate these percentages for each stack size on the charts.

The goal here isn’t to memorize all these Nash ranges and be able to quote them by heart. It will be a lot more useful for your poker growth if you know which starting hands in Hold’em fall roughly in the top 45% or top 60%, then use that knowledge in every situation where it applies – not just when you’re down to 9BB. Treat the charts more like a set of training wheels, then discard them once you feel like you’ve got the general hang of it.

Increase the Value of Your Poker Chips

Keep in mind that these Nash equilibria will help you play unexploitable poker – but that’s only half the battle. To fully maximize your returns, you should exploit your opponents who aren’t playing this style, and deviate from the recommended ranges accordingly. If your opponents fold too often, you can open-shove a wider range than the Nash charts recommend. If they push or call too often, you can protect yourself by tightening your range a notch or two, waiting patiently for a better hand to exploit them with. You probably won’t have to wait too long if they’re pushing or calling too frequently.

Before Nash push/fold ranges started becoming trendy, players didn’t really do a very good job of handling small stacks. It’s not something that happens very often at the cash tables; most players will just re-buy if they fall below 20BB. But in tournaments, you’ll still run into plenty of opponents who simply give up and shove with any two cards once they’re running low on chips, while others will hold on for dear life and get wiped out as the blinds and antes go up.

Here’s another common mistake with a short stack: Open-raising. There are some situations where it’s okay to open for twice the size of the big blind, rather than go all-in, but these are rare. Don’t waste your precious chips by opening small and having to fold when someone else raises; for the most part, you need to shove all those chips in the middle if you’re going to play at all. That way, it’s your opponent who has to decide whether or not to fold, instead of you. Put the onus on them to do it correctly.

Now that you’re armed with Nash push/fold ranges, you can get the most value out of your short stack when you’re playing real money poker online at Ignition Casino. Try this strategy out the next time you’re running low on chips and see how it works for you. Be brave, trust the math, and best of luck at the tables.