This article will look at antes in poker: what they are, how they come together, their purpose, and ultimately how you can adjust your strategy in their presence.
What is an ante?
The ante, like the blinds, is a forced bet that is made before any cards are dealt. Where the blinds are a forced bet for two players at the table (the blinds), the antes are usually a forced bet for all players at the table, although this is not always the case. Antes are most commonly featured in tournaments, although they can be found elsewhere. Antes encourage action by increasing the size of the starting pot and thus giving the table more chips to play with. Antes usually represent part of the big blind. For example, in a 5/10 (SB/BB) game, you might expect to pay a 1-chip ante, also known as 1/10 or 10% of the BB.
How do antis stack up?
As mentioned above, antes are traditionally collected from the entire table, although there are several other popular mechanisms for posting antes. In recent years, antes have tended to be collected from one position, usually the button (BTN) or the big blind (BB). In such a game, it may be useful to think of the ante as an extra blind. The benefit of such a system is to save time (in live games) where only one player has to post an ante, as opposed to all players having to contribute.
There is much debate as to whether the BTN or BB ante is the better option. While proponents of the BB ante argue that it is an even faster option, with only two forced bets per round, those in favor of the BTN ante insist that the cost of an ante on BB is excessive and that it should rather be spread (next to BTN).
Why do antis exist?
As mentioned in the introduction, forced bets are a key element of any poker game, as their presence results in “dead money” (referring to chips that have been brought into the pot by an inactive player) which incentivizes players to enter the pot . Thus, forced bets such as antes encourage action. Antes are more prevalent in some games than others, and for good reason.
Antes are most common in tournaments. This is largely because tournaments, by their very nature, must come to an end. Antes add pressure by driving the action and forcing players to exit, helping to bring the tournament to its eventual conclusion. The tournaments are structured in a way that ensures a fairly consistent run time; antis are an important part of this structure.
Although there is no rule against antes in cash games like Hold’em and Omaha, they are less common. Having blinds leads to a fair amount of action, and without the need to bring the cash game to a predictable end (unlike MTT), there is no need to force as much action. However, antes are sometimes applied in cash games, having the same action-stimulating effect as elsewhere. Those who enjoy playing very large pots will likely find the ante tables particularly appealing.
Antes: Influence on strategy
To take an example of how antes affect our strategy, let’s look at the immediate return of an open raise from BTN, with and without the presence of an ante. The blinds are 5/10 with no antes. BTN opens to 25 (2.5BB). The BTN steal should work ~63% of the time (25/40 = 0.63 = 63%), meaning that if the blinds collectively fold above this threshold, the open raise is an immediate win. Now consider the same table, but with a 1-chip mandatory ante (adding a total of 6 chips to the pot pre-flop, assuming a 6-handed table). BTN’s 2.5BB open steal now only needs to work 54% of the time (25/46 = 0.54 = 54%) to generate an immediate win. That’s a 9% difference! You can see how the wider game is stimulated to take advantage of the extra chips in the pot.
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We hope this article has helped shed some light on ante in poker. In conclusion, the ante is simply a forced bet, no different than the blinds. Antes, most commonly found in tournaments, ultimately promote action by giving the table a larger starting pot to play for.