In Defense of the Call by Gavin Smith

Most poker literature warns of the dangers of becoming a calling station. Common wisdom has it that when you’re playing a hand, you should be betting, raising or folding. Calling is usually considered the worst thing you can do.

I disagree. When I play in No-Limit Hold’em tournaments, I find a lot of situations where calling is the best available option. A strategic call might keep me from going broke in a hand where I hold a good, but second-best hand. Or, a well-timed call might allow me to pick up a pot with a hand that wouldn’t win at showdown. Take a look at the following examples. I think you’ll see that the call is a powerful and underutilized weapon.

Say you’re in the middle stages of a tournament and you have a stack that is slightly above average. A tight player opens in early position for a raise of three times the big blind. You look at your cards and see pocket Tens. You probably don’t want to fold Tens. It might be as good a hand as you’ve seen in a long while, and it may very well be the best hand at that moment. Many people would say that, in this situation, you should throw in a large re-raise.

But the re-raise can be dangerous. Depending on the size of your stack, you could end up committed to the pot and have no choice but to call if your opponent moves all-in. If that happens, you’re probably up against a higher pair or, at best, A-K. You never want to commit all your chips when you’re either a small favorite or a big underdog.

If, however, you just call the open-raise, you’ll have a far better opportunity to make a good decision after the flop. The flop might come A-Q-7, at which point, you can fold to any bet, knowing there’s essentially no chance your hand is best. Should you see a flop of 4-4-6 and your opponent bets, you can raise. Most opponents holding only A-K would fold at that point. If your opponent then moves all-in, you can be pretty sure that your Tens are no good. You can fold, having preserved a good portion of your stack.

However the hand plays out, you’re sure to have a lot more information to work with if you just call the pre-flop raise. You’ll get to see three of the five community cards before you commit the bulk of your stack. You’ll also force your opponent to react to the flop. His action – his bet or check – is sure to help you determine the strength of his hand.

Here’s another situation where calling pre-flop has great advantages. Say you’re in late position with pocket 7s and a player from middle position open-raises. For the sake of this example, assume that the opponent holds pocket Jacks. The flop comes A-K-4. It’s nearly impossible for the player with Jacks to continue with the hand. A good percentage of the time, this player will check. When that happens, you can bet representing the Ace, which will probably force a fold. You’ll have earned a pot by outplaying your opponent. There’s no better feeling in poker.

These are just a couple of simple examples, but I want to make the larger point. A lot of beginners seem eager to make all of their plays before the flop. On any decent hand, they’re raising and re-raising, doing their best to get all-in. I believe that playing after the flop opens up opportunities for tough lay downs and good bluffs that aren’t available pre-flop. Playing post-flop is actually a lot of fun. In your next tournament, try some calls in spots where you might have re-raised. I think you’ll enjoy the experience.

Gavin Smith