Don't Call If You Are in Doubt

A tendency to regard calling as a necessary compromise is a typical mistake made by small stakes players. A player might feel that his hand may not be as decent as it seems, but at the same time he thinks it is too good to be folded. He rejects the options of betting or raising and decides to call instead. To put it differently, he calls not because he is confident about his hand but because he hates other options.

In fact, calling is not a less risky option of betting for value to be used when you feel you hand isn’t good enough. Betting or raising a hand which is neither especially 'good' nor especially 'bad' might well be more reasonable than calling, and there is a lot of situations where you’d be better off if you bet or fold than call. Let’s study two of these scenarios.

Big Pot Preflop
Here is the first one. An older player new to your $1-$2 NLH table opens for $10 under the gun. Position 2, an experienced LAG who has shown his ability to take advantage of other players’ mistakes re-raises to $36 (that’s his first re-raise for the whole day). Seven players are still to act.

Then the action comes to the button, and he cold calls $36. Button is a mediocre player, pretty tight but not very imaginative and has never been seen bluffing or semi-bluffing.

Hero is in the blind with pocket kings. You are not sure what to do here in what is typically an auto-raise case due to a pretty tight player raising in the early position followed by a first re-raise by a LAG. Your read is that one of the players holds pocket aces and that a four-bet in this situation I is likely be faced with a shove. On reflection, you call, but you see that if you don’t want to call a pre-flop all-in here with two kings, are you just hoping to spike another king or fold? You realize you didn’t plan for the hand post-flop without a third king, particularly out of position.

The flop came 10 hearts 7clubs 2 spades. You checked, the player under the gun did the same, the re--raiser bet $80, and the button went all-in. Again, it was your turn to act, and you still had no idea what to do.

Thus, you failed to make a decision about your kings pre-flop, so you decided to call. In fact, all you really did was put off the decision to post-flop, which eventually cost you money. In spite of the fact that you got a safe flop, you ended up folding.
Anyway, you should have made up your mind before the flop. If you seriously thought that one of your opponents had aces, then you should have folded.

Was it right to fold the kings? No doubt, it’s an extremely tight fold, but if you are 99% sure that aces are out there, then it’s no mistake to fold the kings. If you are dubious in that read, then going all-in pre-flop would be the right move.

Any player who can fold queens pre-flop will still regard Hero’s call as very strong, so he won’t even try to deceive anyone into going all-in post-flop with a less strong hand that wouldn’t have gone all-in pre-flop. He is, however, providing three players with a free or inexpensive chance to outflop him. If you’ve seen a raise, a re-raise, and a call, you just can’t put money into the pot without revealing the strength of your hand. You could as well charge other players, by raising, for the information you’re revealing. This won’t let them use that knowledge against you later in the hand.

Out of Position on the River
Checking and calling on the river is a rational move if you have the intention to provoke bluffs. If your opponent is unlikely to bluff the river, then you’d better value bet the hand yourself or check and fold. As for checking and calling, they are not reasonable in this scenario since practically any player’s calling range will be broader than his value betting range.

Why? That’s because of pot odds. When you bet $25 into a $50 pot, then other player needs to call with any hand that he thinks can beat at least 25% your betting range, because he is gaining 3-to-1 from the pot. In case you check, he will need to value bet hands that could beat at least 50% of your calling range. Besides, when you bet, there’s a probability you are bluffing, but you won’t call with a bluff. Hence, there are hands with which your opponent will call a bet but which he won’t value bet provided you check.

Let’s assume that you open to $10 with A-Q and the button calls. You bet $15 on an A diamonds 8 clubs 2 spades flop, and he calls. You bet $30 on a 10 hearts turn, and he calls. The river is the J hearts, and you start worrying is your hand can stand a third value bet.

Surely, the answer would depend on your opponent. However, if you decide to refrain from value betting, you’d better check and fold. Why? If you have made up your mind not to value bet, it’s because you believe your opponent won’t put a third bet into the pot if his hand is not as strong as yours. Supposedly these hands include both weaker aces and perhaps even pocket pairs or hands like 9-10.

If your opponent decides not to call with those hands, he won’t bet them when you check. Thus, the action often goes check-check and you win the pot, otherwise, you will face a problem.

As with any strategy in poker, playing without thinking can cost you dearly. If you regard calling as a default option to be chosen every time all other options seem unacceptable for you, then you are making a huge mistake.