The most-misunderstood poker rule – NLHE “incomplete raise all-in”

Today we’re going to learn about what has to be one of the most misunderstood no-limit hold-em (NLHE) poker rules: what happens when someone goes all-in for an amount that is more than the current bet, but is not enough to be a full legal raise.

Example 1: Blinds are 100/200. UTG goes all-in for 325. UTG+1 wants to raise. What is the minimum UTG can bet (as a raise)?

The answer, except possibly in some European jurisdictions, is: 525.

You don’t have to take my word for it, you can get an answer from Matt Savage – one of the founders of the TDA (Tournament Directors Association) and a well-known WPT event runner (e.g., Bay101 Shooting Star). Here’s his answer:

RT @RobertLipkin: 100-200 blinds NL utg is allin for 325. folds to cutoff n he makes it 425. Is this a valid raise? Or must it be 525?<~525

Ok so how does this work?

In NLHE a legal raise must be equal to or greater than the previous RAISE amount (except in some European card rooms, more about this later). And, of course, it must be at least equal to the big blind amount. So at blinds 100/200 if UTG makes it 450, that is a raise of 250. The next legal raise would be 250 more than the current bet. In that case the next legal raise would be 450+250 = 700.

In our all-in example the UTG all-in is not a legal raise because it is only 125. The minimum raise amount in that spot is 200 – the big blind. An all-in is the only time such an incomplete-raise is legal in NLHE. The best way to understand how this incomplete raise works is to treat it as “a call, plus extra”. The all-in of 325 in this case is a call of the 200 big blind, plus 125 “extra”. That extra amount has no effect on game-play, except that it must be included (added into) all subsequent bets. So to arrive at the correct answer first ignore the extra, then compute the legal raise amount, then add the “extra” on to that.

Back to our example: Blinds 100/200, UTG goes all-in for 325. The “call plus extra” rule tells us that this is a call of 200 plus 125 extra. We can compute the next legal raise by pretending the all-in player simply called 200 and then figuring out the next legal minimum raise – which would be a raise of 200 to a total of 400 – and then adding the extra back in. 400 + 125 = 525. That is the next legal minimum raise.

This “call plus extra” rule also helps you understand whether or not betting is reopened by an incomplete all-in raise. Here’s another example. Blinds 100/200. UTG makes it 500. That is a raise of 300. UTG+1 goes all-in for 750, which of course is only 250 more than the 500. Button calls 750. Folds back to UTG. Can UTG raise?

Use the “call plus extra” rule. The UTG+1 all-in of 750 is a call of the 500 bet with 250 extra. It’s not a legal raise because the minimum raise at that point would have been 300 over the 500 (800 total).

Therefore when it gets back to UTG, UTG is NOT facing a raise. All that has happened by the “call plus extra” rule is two calls: UTG+1 called and the button called. And there is the 250 “extra” which is ignored as far as the game-play rules but of course must always be added into the final bets. Since no one has raised UTG’s original bet, UTG cannot reraise at this point. All he can do is call the extra 250 or fold.

Anytime you are confused by an incomplete partial-raise all-in, figure out what the answer would be if the all-in player had only called. That will give you the correct answer as to how the game play rules work (i.e., can other players raise), and don’t forget to add the “extra” back in after you arrive at your “what if he just called” answer.

Note of course that anyone after UTG+1 can still raise (except for UTG). The incomplete all-in raise certainly does not take away any subsequent player’s innate right to raise. If UTG+1 simply called 500, certainly the button could raise. When UTG+1 goes all-in for 750 (still just a “call, plus 250 extra”) this doesn’t somehow magically cap the button’s inherent options (sometimes you’ll find rooms where they make this terrible mistake too). The button can still raise at that point. Homework: compute what the button’s minimum raise would be at that point. Use the “call plus extra” rule to handle the UTG+1 bet of 750.

If you remember nothing else from this note, just remember: “call plus extra” and you’ll always get the right answer.

One place that players and sometimes tournament directors get confused is the 50% rule. You’ll hear this a lot: “UTG can raise (after the 750 all in) because the incomplete raise (250) is more than half of a legal raise” (300, or half being 150). This is wrong. This is always, unconditionally, wrong. There is no “half the raise” rule in NLHE except for when people make mistakes. What does that mean? Here’s an example.

Blinds 100/200. UTG throws out three 100 chips without saying anything, attempting to raise to 300 (in this example UTG is not all-in). Perhaps the blinds just went up and UTG forgot, and so his raise to 300 is illegal now. This is the only type of situation where the 50% rule applies. UTG’s illegal bet is 50% of a legal raise.  It’s 100 more than the BB, but it needed to be at least 200 more. In this case, UTG will be forced to make a minimum raise – to 400 – because his illegal action is 50% of a legal raise.

That 50% rule only applies in this illegal raise situation. It’s how we decide what you will be forced to do (call or raise) when you make an in-between illegal action. The 50% rule has no bearing on legal all-in bets.

Loose ends: the answer to the homework question is 1050. UTG made it 500, which is a raise of 300. Without the incomplete all-in raise to 750, the next legal raise would be 800 (another 300 over the 500). But we have that pesky all-in of 750, which is a call of 500 plus 250 “extra”. So for subsequent players the next legal raise has to include that extra amount. Therefore the next legal raise is 1050: 800 plus the 250 extra.

Finally Europe. I’m told that in France (I think; I’m not sure specifically where this applies) they use different rules entirely for minimum bet sizes, forcing all bets to be at least double the previous bet. So, blinds 100/200, UTG makes it 500. The next player in those type of card rooms has to make it at least 1000 (vs 800 everywhere else on the planet). I have no idea how those card rooms treat the incomplete all-in raise situation. But any place in the US that plays by “standard” rules (and especially TDA rules) will operate as described in this note. Or should operate that way, if the Floor knows the actual rules (which, sadly, isn’t always the case).

15 thoughts on “The most-misunderstood poker rule – NLHE “incomplete raise all-in””

  1. 5 players left. Blinds 1000/2000. BB commits an all in blind which is less than double the BB.
    Correct play is? UTG treats all in as an out of turn raise therefore a call would be 2000 or a raise would be 4000.

    What happened was UTG calls the out of turn less than double raise. UTG + 1 also calls.

    Can UTG just call the out of turn less than double raise here? Shouldn’t he be forced to either just call the 2000 or raise to 4000? ( calling the 2000 being a ridiculous option, but..)

  2. Out of turn action by the BB should not be allowed to control, force, or limit the options of UTG. If I were the floor here I’m telling the BB to take his out of turn action back and forcing UTG to make a legal wager (of 2000 or 4000 in this case). I’m also scolding the dealer afterwards to not let confusing OOT action like that occur. Whether UTG is calling 2000 or raising to 4000 would depend on many details you haven’t provided (did he say “call” and then put out chips, or did he put out chips silently, and how much was UTG’s “illegally sized” bet — which would matter if the room has a half-bet rule for determining whether an illegal bet size is a call or a raise).

    It gets a little stickier because UTG+1 was also allowed to act; at some point I might have to consider making a “fairness” vs. “technically correct” ruling and allow the shenanigans to stand. But in the scenario described – UTG “calling” an OOT short (illegal) raise and UTG+1 calling that, I’m backing the action up to UTG and telling him to make a proper wager (possibly forced by his prior action based on the half-bet rule if that’s in use).

  3. I have a few questions, what if an all-in player did an all-in greater than the minimum raise?

    For example, player A is SB $1, player B is BB $2, player C raises to $6, player D all-ins for $25 then what would player E’s minimum raise be?

    Would player E’s minimum raise be $44? So the difference between Player D and C’s bet which is $19(25-6) OR would it be $29? Which is the difference between between player C and B $4(6-2)?

    My guess would be $44 because the all-in would be treated as a raise since its significantly greater than what player C’s minimum raise would be.

  4. $44 — for the reasons you give. The $25 bet was a legal raise; the fact that it’s also an all-in doesn’t change that.

  5. Thanks so much for your reply Neil.

    But I also have a few more questions and scenarios that I need some clarification with.

    Scenario 1
    Player A bets $98
    Player B calls $98
    Player C raises to $201
    Player D all in for $234
    Player E all in for $356
    Player A wants to minimum raise.

    So in this first scenario, I would say player A’s minimum raise would be $511. So, how I’m working this out is the difference between D and E’s raises ($155) and adding that only E’s all-in of $356 making $511.

    But this is the tricky part that confuses me. Player C has made a legal raise to $201 and D had all-in for $234. My processing of working is, if player D had made a legal all-in raise, it would be $253 (252.5 rounded off) because of the 50% rule. But in this case, D hadn’t made it to $253, therefore it’s just a good old all-in. Then, player E had all-in for $356, well over the minimum raise, E has basically made an ‘all-in raise’ to $356.

    So now, to figure out player A’s minimum raise, it would be the difference between player C’s raise ($201) and E’s all-in ($356) which is $155, then adding that into E’s $356 making $511.

    Scenario 2
    Player A bets $23
    Player B calls $23
    Player C raises to $110
    Player D all into $165
    Player E wants to minimum raise

    So to work this out, you would present that the all-in player had actually called with a remaining $55, so to figure out E’s minimum raise, you back track and figure out the difference between B’s call and C’s raise which is $87. So then adding that onto D’s call of $110, making $197 then adding back the $55 we had left over hence making E’s minimum raise to be $252.
    Would it be $220, because player D had made an all-in raise because its more than 50% of the previous raise (so half of 87 (43.5) plus the 110 making 154 (153.5 rounded)). Therefore, because D had all-in for $165, A’s minimum raise would be the difference between C’s 110, $55, plus D’s all in making $220.
    Which would be the correct answer?

    Scenario 3
    Player A bets $15
    Player B All in $25
    Player C All in $45
    Player D calls $45
    Player E wants to minimum raise

    So player E would need to raise to $65, the difference between B and C because their all-ins are both all-in raises because of the 50% rule right?

    This is why all this is so confusing D: I don’t understand some of these conflicting rules.

  6. So without working through all the scenarios, let’s first clarify something: The 50% rule has nothing to do with any of them.

    The 50% rule, when it is in use (all TDA tournaments, many/most cash games) answers the question of whether an ILLEGAL action is a call or a raise.

    So: Blinds are 100/200 and UTG says “300” and puts out 3 black/100 chips. This is an illegal action. Since 300 is an illegal raise of 100, and the minimum legal raise is 200, it’s “halfway there” and in most tournaments (all TDA rulesets) UTG will be forced to make a bet of 400 at that point. Had he said “250” instead (assuming 25 chips were in play) he would be forced by the 50% rule to make just a call (limp) at that point.

    This has nothing to do with all-ins, ever.

    Worth repeating: it has nothing to do with all-ins, ever. Because (assuming the action is “open”) it’s always legal to go all-in, whether or not you have enough chips.

    So, given that, the answer to your first question is $511, and we get there like this: C raised $103 (201 – 98). D’s all-in is an incomplete raise since it needs to be a raise of at least $103 (C’s raise). This has nothing to do with the 50% rule though; even if D goes all in for $300 (a raise of 99 from C) it’s still a “call plus extra” as explained in the original post. With the numbers as given, D’s all-in is a call of the $201 and an “extra” action bet of $33. At this point if player E wants to raise he has to go at least $103 more than C’s bet, and add in the $33 extra action. E’s minimum bet is therefore 201 + 103 + 33 = $337. As it turns out, E raised to $356, which is enough to be a complete raise. We can think of his raise in two different ways. The “purest” way is to go back to treating the $234 as a “call plus extra”. Work the whole problem out assuming that that $234 was really $201, and then go back and put the $33 back in. So let’s do that. E makes it $356, which is a raise of $155 over the $201. But we have to account for the “$33 extra”. So E’s raise is really just a raise of $122, plus the $33 extra he has to put in for the $234 all-in. Either way you think of it, you get to $155 as the current raise increment and the next bet would have to be $511.

    I don’t have time to work the other scenarios but to the extent that the confusion is based on misunderstanding the 50% rule, go back and think about them with no reference to the 50% rule at all. It doesn’t apply in any of these cases.

  7. I suppose another quick example might help illuminate the difference. Blinds 100/200. UTG limps (200). UTG+1 says “300”. This is an illegal raise as already discussed, and UTG+1 will be forced to make his bet be 400 (no more, no less) by the 50% rule – he was halfway to a legal raise and he has to complete the raise. In this scenario when it gets back around to UTG (assuming everyone else folds), the action will be open to him and he could re-raise if he wants to (as he is facing a bet of 400 vs his limp of 200 at that point).

    Same scenario: Blinds 100/200, UTG limps 200. But now UTG only HAS 300 chips and says “all-in”. This is legal. The only time an insufficient raise is legal is for an all-in. So, per the original posting, this will be considered a CALL, plus an additional extra “side bet” of 100. This action will NOT re-open the betting to UTG because UTG has not been raised by this all-in. Even though UTG is facing a bet of “halfway to a raise” (300 on his 200), it’s not a raise. It’s a “call plus extra” as described in the original ruling.

    The 50% rule only applies for “fixing” illegal actions, it does not apply to anything having to do with a legal, but short, all-in.

  8. Thanks for all of these scenerios but I need an answer on this specific incident to settle a bet so please help.
    SB 500 BB 1000 UTG all in for 1700 the button calls 1700. UTG argues that the button cannot call he must complete the raise to 2000 because his all in is less then the min raise amount and there were still players to act. I was running the tourney so I said that he was allowed to call and didn’t have to make it 2000 and you can’t force someone to raise to basically protect the all in player. Please explain which is right to settle this bet. Can a player call an all in that is more then the BB but less than the Min raise amount, or do they have to complete the raise even if they only intend on calling. Thank you
    P.S The person also said that this happened at the WSOPC in Cherokee. I told him the floor should have been called because the dealer was wrong.

  9. Assuming your scenario is no-limit holdem, the button can call 1700.

    The “call-plus-extra” way of thinking about partial-raise all-ins tells you this answer directly. The all-in of 1700 at 500/1000 will function as a CALL of 1000, plus “700 extra”. To get the right values for subsequent legal actions, first treat the 1700 as a call of 1000 (with 700 “extra”), figure out the answer for that case, then add 700 back in.

    So, in this case, if the all-in had only been a call 1000, the button can clearly also call 1000. Take that answer, add the “extra” back in, and the result is the button can bet (i.e., call) 1700.

    That’s the TDA rule, and the WSOP rule. “But I saw it ruled differently at …” could, of course, also be true, but is either a mistaken ruling (which happen frequently) or perhaps the casino in question has a specific/different house rule.

  10. I should add that in a LIMIT tournament, I believe the button would have to “complete” to 2000; however, I am not fully-versed in limit tournament rules.

  11. Thank you very much for your quick reply to my question. And yes it was NLHE. Hopefully, your answer will show enough proof to my buddy that he now understands the ruling. And that if he did see that happen in a WSOPC event then it was a mistake from the dealer, that unfortunately does happen at times.

  12. Yes, if it was a dealer ruling and not a floor ruling the odds of it being wrong go way up. Also because dealers (sometimes even floors) get confused because they are always going from one game type to another and the rules vary (especially limit vs. no-limit).

    I also should have added that if the button DID want to raise, the minimum raise would be 2700. Again this follows the call-plus-extra rule. Without the 700 “extra” the minimum raise is (obviously) to 2000. So the minimum raise after the 1700 all-in is the minimum raise for the “1000 call” (2000) and then put the “extra” back in (700) … 2700.

  13. Neil, thanks for taking the time to explain this; however, I have a question — what’s the authoritative source for your explanation of the rules — and also a note that, in one regard, your explanation appears to contradict the TDA Poker Rules (available here: ) which is the only authoritative source on this that I’ve found, so far.

    By your “call plus extra” interpretation, two short all-in raises amounting to at least a full raise would not actually count as a legal raise, in order to open up the action again. e.g., blinds are 100/200, UTG calls, UTG+1 goes all in for 300, UTG+2 goes all in for 400. The “call plus extra” interpretation would seem to classify this as NOT a legal raise, but rather a “call plus extra, plus extra.” So if this gets back around to UTG as 400, he may not raise.

    The TDA rules, on the other hand, explicitly state that betting is open for any player facing a full raise — in this case 200, and indicating that UTG would have an option to raise when the 400 comes back around to him. (See Rule 44, and especially the longform version which explains in detail with multiple examples.)

  14. You are correct in that multiple/layered short-all-ins can add up to (and thus become) a full raise. I could see that that’s a case where the call-plus-extra way of thinking about it could lead you to the wrong answer as you point out as you also need to realize that if the “extra” becomes large enough when it gets back to player A that it might become a full raise and re-open action.

    These write-ups were all based on TDA rules (as of 2013 when the post was written) and tweets from Matt Savage back when he used to regularly tweet about stuff like this.

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