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Do Not Call Too Often at the Poker Table

20/08/2020 by Jonathan Little

One of the most common mistakes many recreational poker players make is that they call too often with hands that have little to no chance of winning by the river. To illustrate this point, let’s take a look at a hand that a recreational player recently told me about from a $1/$2 cash game.

An unknown player raised to $6 out of his $200 stack from early position, two other players called, and our Hero called with 6-6 on the button.

So far, so good. Hero’s call with 6-6 is by far his best option. If he flops three-of-a-kind, he can easily play a large pot and if he does not flop three-of-a-kind, he can somewhat safely fold since the pot will be very multi-way.

The small blind and big blind both called. The flop came J52. The blinds checked and the initial raiser bet $20 into the $36 pot. Only Hero called.

While 6-6 is normally a reasonable hand when there is only one overcard on the flop, given the preflop raiser bet into five opponents, it is highly likely that he is betting for value with a better hand than 6-6. Even if he is bluffing, whatever he is bluffing with (like K-Q or 9s-8s) has a decent chance to outdraw Hero. So, although Hero could have the best hand at the moment, he should fold. When Hero has the best hand at the moment, he is somewhat likely to get outdrawn or bluffed on a later betting round, and when he is already behind, he only has two outs to improve.

The turn was the (J52)-2. The initial raiser bet $35 into the $76 pot. Hero again called.

As on the flop, Hero has another somewhat easy fold. While all draws failed to improve on the turn, there are still numerous made hands the opponent would value bet that Hero loses to. Especially in a small stakes game, when someone bets into five opponents on the flop and keeps betting on the turn, it is safe to assume they are value betting the vast majority of the time. Since Hero loses to all value bets (and the potential bluffs may still improve on the river), Hero should fold. The river was the (J522)-2. The opponent went all-in for $139 into the $146 pot.

The river improved Hero to a full house, but it is important to recognize that all full houses are not of equal value. Just because a hand is high on the hand ranking chart does not mean that it is unfoldable. It is always important to take your opponent’s range into consideration when deciding whether or not you should call. When someone continues firing for the third time for all his money, he almost always has a strong hand. It is also worth noting that Hero would play many better made hands in this manner, including all his Jacks, meaning there are many stronger hands in Hero’s range that he can easily call with. While a full house is normally strong, this time, it is an easy fold.

Hero decided to call and lost to A-A. He could not believe that he made a full house and still lost. Instead, he should have simply folded on the flop and lost only $6.