The following lecture was the eighth Tuesday Session, held November 17, 1998, and later appeared in Card Player magazine.
Thanks for showing up again. Today we’re going to continue our exploration of a series of lectures I’ve delivered at Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy. These lectures take place on Tuesday evenings and include one-page handouts outlining the key concepts.
“How to get called by weak hands”
Why go against the trend? In order to understand where a great deal of your poker profit comes from, you need to realize that your typical opponent came to the casino to call. Remember, we talked about this last time. Opponents don’t come to the poker table hoping to throw hands away. The thrill of poker dictates that most opponents will have a bias toward calling and against folding.
That’s important, and I’ll repeat it. Most of your opponents want to call and they do not want to fold. True, almost everyone gains when weak opponents call more than they should. But, if you go out of your way to exploit their weakness, you can potentially win much more than anyone else. Conversely, if you go against the grain, swim upstream, sail into the wind – pick one – and decide you want to condition opponents to not call, you might succeed. If so, you might launch a career as a bluffer. But that success will not bring you maximized profit. Not against typical weak opponents. Not ever.
This doesn’t mean you should not bluff. You should. But you need to know when and how. Bluffing simply isn’t the right strategy in most situations against most opponents who are eager to call. Period.
Because opponents call too much, you should take advantage of their biggest mistake by encouraging them to call even more. Occasionally, you can find an ideal situation in which a bluff is the right strategy, but overall, in limit poker, you should try to make most of your profit from your opponents’ greatest weakness – they call too much!
The great reflex. Your opponent has a calling reflex. This is an almost-automatic response to anything seen, heard, or imagined. Most opponents want to call, and if you give them a reason, they will. In fact, it’s very much like facing down a rattle snake in the dessert. If you want that critter to strike, just do almost anything to get its attention. Reach forward, clap your hands, kick up some dust, run, stick out your tongue. Anything! That rattler is predisposed to bite. If you don’t want to be bitten, freeze, or back off slowly.
Same goes for poker opponents. If you want to be called, do anything.
You can trigger their calling reflex by jittering, playing with your chips, talking, or doing anything animated. If you don’t want all call, your best bet is to do nothing.
Does this strategy always work? No. If your opponent has a very weak hand, nothing you do is likely to win the call. And if your opponent has a reasonably strong hand, doing nothing – although it won’t increase the probability of a call – isn’t likely to prevent the call. But there’s a whole herd of hands in the middle where your opponents can be easily influenced by what you do. And that’s where the profit is. When you want a call, do something. Do anything. Do it fast.
Simple words. Opponents are susceptible to simple words, such as, “I don’t think I’m bluffing this time.” Even though you’re denying that you’re probably bluffing, you’re putting doubt in their head, and they’ll call. Compose your own words to suit your personality, your opponent’s personality, and the situation.
If you just blurt, “Call me, I’m bluffing,” that’s not as good as the more subtle statement that I suggested above. It’s too blatant, and your opponent is likely to feel conned and instinctively think, “Oh, sure!” With the “I don’t think I’m bluffing this time” wording, though, he’s just likely just to feel bewildered. You’re telling him your not bluffing. But, at the same time, by adding “this time” you are subtly implying that lots of times you do bluff. It works.
Which path to the truth? What I call “either/or” talk works wonders. Just say, “I think I actually made this straight flush, but maybe I missed it,” and you’ll force your foe’s thinking into either/or mode. Either you made a great hand or you’re bluffing. This gives you the luxury of betting a medium hand for value without fearing a raise.
Being able to bet without fearing a raise is very important. I call this betting with impunity. When you can do that, you can profitably make many daring wagers where you otherwise would have had to check. I use this often in hold ’em games. Suppose I have the second highest pair and an ace kicker against an aggressive opponent. Now the river card is a third heart. “You’re not going to believe this,” I say. “I might have called all the way with nine-six. They might even have been the same suit. I’m not going to tell you what suit my cards are, either. Might be spades and I might be bluffing.” Faced with this confusing either/or talk, your opponent is not likely to risk a raise. Either you have that flush or you’re bluffing with garbage. You’ll usually just get a call without having to fear a raise.
What’s wrong with a raise? Can’t you just throw your second pair away against a raise? No! If you did that routinely, your opponents eventually would figure out that they just need to raise you on the river to win most of the time. Correct strategy dictates that you call most of the time when you’re raised on the river – even with hands that are not wonderful. You’ll usually lose with this call, but the pot is large enough that you only need to win once in a while to make these calls worthwhile. So, you usually have to call a raise, and it’s worth going to the effort to talk your opponent out of raising if he does hold the better hand.
Another amazing thing about this either/or, bluffing-or-big hand talk is that it will get very weak hands to call. After all, they can gamble that you missed the flush. The fact that you actually have the second-highest pair with an ace kicker doesn’t occur to your opponents, because you’ve made them use up their limited thinking time pondering whether you made the flush or you didn’t. Either/or.
Fun as fun can be. As we talked about previously, you need to be fun to play with. That way, you’ll earn maximum calls from opponents who won’t find calling you and losing painful. Once you establish that image, you can earn a lot of extra money betting medium hands and being called by very weak hands. You will, in fact, make money with hands other players can’t even bet profitably.
What can it cost? If you want a call and your opponent is about to pass, do anything. Remember how we talked about that snake that’s just looking for a reason to strike. Well, what if the little critter has finally decided that it isn’t going to strike. Or, more to the point, what if your opponent has finally decided that he isn’t going to call. Suppose you really want the call. Well, as I said, do anything. Knock over your chips. Jitter. Laugh. It’s a freeroll, and you might get the opponent to reevaluate, start thinking all over again, and make the call.
Finally. Despite everything I’ve said today and in the last column, some opponents simply don’t call much. Against them, bluff more often and don’t bet medium-strong hands aggressively. – MC