Arts & Entertainment

Daniel Negreanu on Poker

Calling is Cool

It drives me batty when I watch poker on television and hear commentators say things like, "Well, this looks like a raise or fold situation. He certainly can’t call."

I disagree with their assessment a good eight out of 10 times. 

It’s not only TV commentators that get this wrong, but many poker book authors as well. I hate to name names (because I have to work with these people!), but the truth is, there’s plenty of literature out there that incorrectly advises risky post-flop play.

Frankly, that raise or fold mentality is a little too kamikaze for my taste.

Calling is a powerful weapon when used correctly.  While it’s not as sexy as a big all-in move, it’s a safer, more controlled way to play certain situations in No Limit Hold’em tournaments.

You’ll often hear that in order to win a poker tournament you have to play aggressively. That’s true, but it’s often misunderstood as to what aggressively actually means.

Professionals play aggressively by entering many hands and taking a few more stabs at the pot than their opponents do. Pros don’t make dangerous raises in marginal situations where they’d unnecessarily risk a high percentage of their chips.
Let’s look at an example where calling is not only safer, but often the better play.

Suppose you have A-A and raise before the flop. The player in the big blind is the only caller. The flop comes Kd-4s-4c. If your opponent bets the flop, what would you do?

You have a powerful hand here, but if your opponent happens to have three 4’s you’re dead meat. The only way you’d win the pot is by catching one of the two remaining aces, and that’s not likely.

On the other hand, your opponent may hold something like K-Q, giving him two smaller pairs than yours. If that’s the case, you’d be in excellent shape. He could only beat you if he catches one of the remaining two kings.

Even better, your opponent might have nothing at all and is just trying to buy the pot.

This is definitely not a raise or fold situation. In fact, the absolute best play here is to call. I can prove it.

If your opponent is bluffing and you raise him, you’ll cost yourself any further action on the hand if he had intended to continue to bluff. Instead, he’ll probably fold.

If your opponent has you beat, raising could cost you more chips than necessary. By just calling him down to the river, you protect yourself from losing more than you should.

If your opponent has the king, chances are he’ll bet the hand for you all the way to fifth street. However, if he happens to check on the turn or river, you can then take over the betting.

One of the undeniable keys to winning a No Limit tournament is manipulating the pot size. Naturally, this is much easier to do when you have position. By calling your opponent down, you’re able to maintain position with little risk, and keep him in the dark as to the strength of your hand.

There are thousands of situations where calling on the flop is a better option than raising; let’s look at one more.

In this hand, your opponent raises before the flop, and you call with J-J. The flop comes Qd-10s-4h, and your opponent bets. If you raise here to define your opponent’s hand, it’ll be expensive. The cheaper route is to flat call on the flop. Then, on the turn, if your opponent bets again, it’s highly likely that your jacks are beat. You can now fold without wasting a raise on the flop.
Conserving your chips by losing the minimum on a hand is nearly as good as winning a pot. The chips you save by calling instead of raising will allow you to see more flops and win more pots down the road.

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