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A Leveraged Call

by Andrew Brokos |  Published: Feb 22, 2012


Andrew BrokosLeverage, the ability to threaten much or all of an opponent’s stack while risking relatively few of your own chips, is an important factor in all big-bet poker games. It is especially critical in tournament play, where chips can not be replenished. Thus, players who can squeeze the most value from each of their limited chips gain the largest edge, and they can use leverage quite effectively because their opponents must value survival in the tournament and protect the last of their own chips.

A simple example of leverage occurs late in a tournament, when many players are short stacked. These players are unlikely to call a raise of any size, preferring either to reraise all-in or fold. Players who understand leverage make very small raises, sometimes just two times the big blind, at this stage. This is because, although they risk only two big blinds with their raise, they put their short-stacked opponents to a decision for all of their chips. These opponents must either put their whole stack, often fifteen to twenty big blinds, at risk, or fold.

Traditionally, a player achieves leverage with a bet or raise. Opponents must consider not only the current bet but also the threat of a future bet or raise, resulting in folds disproportionate to the size of the bet. This is why flop and turn bets tend to produce more folds than equivalently-sized river bets.

Early in the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, however, I had the opportunity to leverage an opponent’s stack in a much more unconventional way: with a call.

The Hand

Players began with 30,000 chips, and this hand occurred during the third level, with blinds of 100/200. The first player to act limped into the pot for 200. He was generally loose-passive and had been limping a lot from early position. The action folded to a loose-aggressive player on my right, who limped behind. I was next to act, sitting one off the button with A-4 offsuit. I raised to 1000.

Although my objective was to win the pot either immediately or with a flop continuation bet, this wasn’t even technically a bluff, since my ace-high had a good chance of being the current best hand. The player on my right in particular would have raised with anything decent.

The blinds folded, and the first limper called, joking that, “you internet guys don’t allow limping.” The second limper called as well.

They both checked a K-8-3 rainbow flop, and I bet 1600. The first player folded, but the second quickly raised to 5100. Everything about his timing and demeanor screamed that he was making a move, besides which it was hard to think of hands with which he would take this line for value.

I considered my options. He had about 8500 behind, so shoving was a realistic option. The problem was that I’d probably be drawing dead if my read was off. I didn’t like the idea of risking so many chips, so I tried to find a lower-risk option.

If I called, there would be 13,500 in the pot, considerably more than my opponent had in his stack. His next bet would likely be all-in, which I expected would give him pause. There was no obvious draw on the board, so my call would look strong. Aggressive though he was, my opponent didn’t seem likely to risk the last of his chips on a hopeless bluff so early in the the tournament.

Calling, then, would enable me to get more information about whether he was bluffing at a cost of just 3500 chips, rather than the 12,000 that an all-in bet would risk. If he bet again, I could give him credit for a real hand and fold, saving 8500 chips. If he checked, I’d have a green light to bluff with a higher probability of success.

He quickly checked a 6 on the turn, and I bet just 2500. This, again, is leverage: I don’t expect him to check-call for nearly one-third of his remaining stack when the pot is so large, so I can effectively put him to a decision for 8500 while risking only 2500 of my own chips.

Why Bluff?

It’s important to note that this play has nothing to do my hand. In fact, ace-high was probably ahead of most of his bluffs, so there’s more of a case for checking the turn and trying to get to showdown than if I had something like T-9 with virtually no chance of winning unimproved.

Essentially, by betting the turn, I’m taking a likely best hand and turning it into a bluff. I think this is the correct play because the pot is large and my hand is extremely vulnerable. Even if it was currently the best hand, and there was a non-trivial chance that my opponent was bluffing with a small pair or better ace. He likely had at least six outs on the river. That may not sound like much, but with 8500 chips in the pot, turning an 88 percent chance of winning into a 100 percent chance is worth more than 1000 chips.

I also like betting because a check opens me up to bluffs on the river. As I explained, I was pretty confident that my opponent’s stack size and the strength of my call would deter him from bluffing the turn. If I checked the turn, however, I didn’t know what that would prompt him to do on the river. Having no clue how often he’d bluff or how thinly he’d value bet would open the door to a potentially expensive mistake, which gave me extra incentive to bet and take the pot on the turn.


My opponent quickly folded to my 2500 turn bet. I showed my hand to the table, which I expected to produce informational advantages. Anyone paying attention probably realized that my opponent had nothing, so the significant thing I wanted to broadcast was that even if I had a weak hand myself, it would not be easy to make me fold. I hoped that this would discourage opponents from playing back at me and consequently make them easier to play against.

That’s yet another bit of value squeezed from the 2500 it cost me to call the flop check-raise. This, too, is leverage: squeezing every bit of value from every chip. ♠

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 Andrew is also interested in education reform and founded an after-school debate program for urban youth.