Better Call: 4 Spots Where You’re Better Off Calling Than Raising

Chip Stack on WSOP Main Event 2015 Day 1A

Should you call or raise?

The answer depends on the situation. And yet I seem to have the terrible habit of the 'one size fits all' mentality.

There was a time when I was quite a passive player who would call all of the time. I wanted to get to showdown without ruffling too many feathers.

Then I got some coaching. He taught me to be a lot more aggressive. I raised all of the time. I started plucking feathers out with my teeth.

It was a mess. I remember my coach telling me it was evident that I didn't have a clue but, at the same time, I was a nightmare of an opponent.

These days I understand that the 'one size fits all' mentality is a terrible idea. Each hand contains an exciting mix of variables and you have to decipher them all before making your decision on a hand-for-hand basis.

So, should you raise or call? I don’t know. Maybe these lads do.

Pascal Lefrancois

Jonathan Duhamel once told me that Pascal Lefrancois was the greatest tournament player in the world.

I wasn't surprised when Marc-Andre Ladouceur drafted him for his Global Poker League (GPL) franchise, the Montreal Nationals.

Over to you, Pascal.

Pascal LeFrancois
Pascal Lefrancois

I played a spot this week at $10-$20 NL where I think my opponent made a mistake raising all-in on the turn when he should have called -- at least most of the time (if not 100% of the time).

The villain raises the button to $45; I 3-bet Q 8 to $175 in the small blind, the big blind folds and the button calls. Flop: [As] [9s] [2x]

I bet 1/3 pot and the villain calls. Turn: [8x]

I bet $440 into $620 and the villain jams for about $1,100 more; I call. Villain is holding K T.

Clearly, this is a spot where you want to jam occasionally if you're the villain, and your jamming range should naturally contain a couple of bluffs.

But [Ks] [Ts] flush draw is a pretty bad one to jam here and instead is a very profitable call on the turn. 

1. I don't like jamming this spot with [Ks] [Ts] because this hand does extremely well against my bluffs (lower flush draws, straight draws, gutter with a spade, etc.) that you want to keep in my range.

2. Some of the villain's bluffs have less showdown value. Even if [Ks] [Ts] high does not win very often at showdown it has more showdown value than certain bluffs that have more equity vs. my bet-calling range on the turn.

Some hands like 45, 56, 67 of spades, 7-10 of spades and J10 of spades are way better hands to jam on my bet for those reasons. Finally, I like calling here instead of raising because your odds combined to your implied odds make it a very profitable call.

Jonathan Little

Jonathan Little is an author of 16 poker books, a coach and a member of the GPL Las Vegas Moneymakers. He's also a member of the World Poker Tour (WPT) Champions Club.

Over to you, Jonathan.

Jonathan Little
Jonathan Little

One of the main situations where calling is better than re-raising is when you have a hand that is likely ahead of your opponent's range at the moment but will no longer be ahead if any significant money goes into the pot.

For example, if someone raises from first position at a nine-handed table and everyone folds around to you in middle position with T-T or A-Qs, you should almost always call, assuming the stacks are relatively deep.

Even though T-T and A-Qs may be ahead of your opponent at the moment, if you re-raise and your opponent either calls or 4-bets, you will usually be against a range that has you beat.

To clarify this point: suppose your opponent raises from first position with A-A – 6-6, A-K – A-J, A-Ts, K-Q, K-Js, and a few strong suited connectors. Against that range, A-Q and T-T have roughly 52% equity.

If your opponent calls or 4-bets your re-raise with A-A – T-T and A-K and A-Q, you have approximately 40% equity. So, would you rather play a small pot with 52% equity or either steal a tiny pot pre-flop or play a large pot with 40% equity?

Especially in tournaments, where it is important to minimize the chance you go broke, calling in this situation is almost always superior -- perhaps even with hands as strong as Q-Q and A-K.

Do not fall into the habit of blindly re-raising with hands that are typically thought of as strong. Always reflect on how the hand will likely play out and take a line that leads to beneficial spots for you.

Bertrand ‘ElkY’ Grospellier

Bertrand ‘ElkY' Grospellier is one of only five players who have won the coveted Triple Crown of Poker with victories in EPT, WPT, and WSOP events.

He has won over $10.9m playing live poker tournaments and last week he won his first professional Hearthstone tournament for $1,000.

No, I am not missing a zero. Over to you ElkY.

Bertrand "ElkY" Grospellier
ElkY

It's always a difficult topic to weight the advantages of calling over raising in a specific spot, just because in poker individual spots are relative to the playing style and history of the player you are facing. And, of course, yourself.

For example, raising the turn with the nuts might be good if you're a very aggressive player who is semi-bluffing a lot. But if you are only raising the nuts, then calling is obviously better.

So keeping your ranges somewhat balanced is an important concept, although it is a little less important in tournaments.

That being said, I think a very common mistake is for people to raise just because they think they have the best hand, without even considering the opponent’s calling range

For example, let's say you make a standard raise in late position with A J and the big blind defends. Flop comes down T96cc.

He check/calls your c-bet, you decide to check back the [Tc] turn and the river comes down the [7c]. Now your opponent bets out.

While there is no doubt you crush his betting range here, because he could have any cx, possibly ten and straight for value, and bluffs, it is a spot where it's so unlikely for you to bluff that could he possibly call you with Kc or Qc?

Probably not often enough for it to be worth it for you, compared to the times where he has a full house or better.

Jeff Kimber

Jeff Kimber is a sponsored pro for Grosvenor and a former Grosvenor United Kingdom Poker Tour (GUKPT) Main Event champion.

He has over $1.6m in live tournament earnings and is one of the most respected pros on the UK live tournament scene.

Over to you, Jeff.

Jeffrey Kimber
Jeff Kimber

Every poker player can be heard categorizing opponents when discussing hands and tables, yet so few seem aware of their image.

It's hugely important to be aware of your image, how you've played previous hands, how active you've been, what holdings you've shown down and how you played them -- especially in earlier hands against the current opponent.

So when we're discussing good spots where calling is better than raising you have to make sure it fits with the way you've played, or the image you've portrayed.

If you're sticky from the blinds, then calling when hitting a monster hand - particularly flopping a set - makes perfect sense for deception, especially against opponents you expect to keep barrelling.

Your flop-raising range is going to be very narrowly polarized between monsters and bluffs, so unless there's an excellent reason to expose the strength of your hand while the pot is small, calling makes perfect sense.

Of course circumstances need to be right - you need to be against an opponent who barrels multi streets, who has seen you call flop bets and fold later in the hand or showdown weak holdings. And stacks need to be deep enough that you need to play deceptively.

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