Poker Strategy With Andrew Brokos -- Calling Is Not A Compromise
Calling Should Not Be A Default Play If You're Undecided
One of the most common mistakes I see in small stakes players is a tendency to treat calling as a compromise. A player will have a concern, often justified, that his hand may not be as good as it seems, yet he believes it is too good to fold. Rather than betting or raising for value, he chooses to call or check/call. In other words, he calls not because he believes it is the best play but because he does not like his other options. His call is a compromise between two other options that make him squirm.
As the famous Rush lyrics declare, “If you choose not to decide/you still have made a choice.” Calling is not a safer version of betting for value to be employed when you aren’t as confident as you’d like to be in your hand. It can actually be less safe and less profitable than betting or raising a marginal hand, and there are many circumstances where you’d do well to make a decision about the strength of your hand and bet or fold accordingly rather than cop out with a call. This article will examine two such scenarios.
Big Pot Preflop
Though I’ve seen this error many times, the immediate impetus for this article was a question submitted by a reader of my blog:
“An older gentleman new to our $1-$2 no-limit hold ‘em table opens for $10 under the gun (with $200 behind). Position 2, a loose-aggressive player who understands position and has proven to be pretty solid at capitalizing on other players’ weakness reraises to $36 (he has about $450 behind). This is the first reraise I have seen him make all day and there are still seven players to act.
The action folds to the button, who cold calls $36. Button is an average player, fairly tight but not very creative and hasn’t shown the ability to semibluff or anything like that.
Hero is in the small blind with pocket kings ($250 in stack). I was very torn as to what to do here in what is normally an auto-raise situation due to a fairly tight player raising under the gun followed by a first reraise all day in seat 2. My read was that one of them had pocket aces and that a four-bet here would probably be faced with a shove. So I just called, but I realize now that if I am not willing to call a preflop all-in here with K-K, am I really just looking to spike another king or fold? I realize I didn’t really plan for the hand post-flop in the absence of a third king, especially being out of position.
Anyway the flop came 10 7 2. I checked, the under the gun checked, the reraiser bet $80, and the button went all in for $297 more. The action was back on me, and I still didn’t know what to do.”
As you can see, the author of this question more or less diagnoses his own problem. He couldn’t make a decision about his kings preflop, so he compromised by calling. All he really did was defer the decision to post-flop, costing himself $34 in the process. Despite getting about as safe a flop as he could ask for, he ended up folding.
Difficult as it was, he should have made his decision preflop. If he really believed that someone was guaranteed to have aces, then he should have folded. Calling off well over 10 percent of his stack in the hopes of hitting a set is a losing play. Granted it was a difficult decision, but nothing was going to happen after the flop to make it any easier unless he flopped a set, and that simply won’t happen often enough.
Should he have folded the kings? Obviously it’s a very tight fold, but if he’s truly certain that aces are out there, then it’s the correct play. If he lacks confidence in that read, then he should go all-in preflop. It’s far from a guarantee that anyone will fold queens or A-K if they have it, but even if that happens, this is a huge pot to lock up.
Anyone capable of folding queens preflop is still going to see Hero’s call as extremely strong, so he isn’t going to trick anyone into stacking off post-flop with a weaker hand that wouldn’t have stacked off preflop. He is, however, giving three players a free or cheap opportunity to outflop him. When there’s already been a raise, a reraise, and a call in front of you, there’s no way to put money into the pot without telegraphing strength. You might as well charge your opponents, by raising, for the information you’re giving away. This at least prevents them from using that information to outplay you later in the hand.
Out of Position on the River
There is one reason to check and call on the river, and that’s to induce bluffs. If you don’t expect your opponent to bluff the river, then your options are either to value bet the hand yourself or to check and fold. Checking and calling makes no sense in this situation because virtually any player’s calling range will be wider than his value betting range.
Why? It’s simple pot odds. If you bet $50 into a $100 pot, then your opponent should call with any hand that he believes can beat 25 percent or more of your betting range, because he is getting 3-to-1 from the pot. If you check, however, he can only value bet hands that will beat 50 percent of your calling range, since his other option would be to check and see the showdown for free. Not to mention that when you bet, there’s a chance you could be bluffing, but you will not call with a bluff. Thus, there will almost always exist some hands with which your opponent would call a bet but which he would not value bet if you check. Check/calling misses value from those hands.
Suppose that in a $1/$2 no-limit hold ‘em game, you open to $10 with A-Q and get called by the button. You bet $15 on an A 8 2 flop, and he calls. You bet $30 on a 10 turn, and he calls. The river is the J, and you begin to wonder whether your hand is good enough for a third value bet.
I can’t tell you the answer to that – it would depend on your opponent. I can tell you, though, that if you don’t value bet, you should check and fold. This isn’t because I think you’re already beat. In fact, I think you’re good quite often. But if you’re choosing not to value bet, it’s because you expect your opponent would be very reluctant to put a third bet into the pot with hands weaker than yours. Presumably that includes both weaker aces and maybe even pocket pairs or hands like 9-8. If your opponent wouldn’t call with those hands, it makes no sense for him to bet them when you check. So very often the action will go check-check and you will win the pot, but when it doesn’t, you’re in trouble.
Notice here that there are virtually no missed draws possible on the river. There were a few straight draws on the turn, but not even those were there on the flop, so it’s not likely that those hands would have seen the turn to pick up the draw. If your opponent called the turn, it’s because he believed he could win often enough at showdown, not because he was hoping to improve on the river. Thus, there are few if any hands with which he would need to bluff the river.
As with most things in poker, acting without thinking and planning costs you money. Calling, like any other play, makes sense only if profitable on its own merits. If you treat it as a default or compromise option to be pursued when you don’t like your other options, then you are costing yourself money. ♠
Andrew Brokos is a professional poker player, writer and coach. He’s a member of Poker Stars Team Online and blogs about poker strategy on ThinkingPoker.net. Andrew is also interested in education reform and founded an after-school debate program for urban youth.
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