Brunson: When calling doesn’t make sense

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in the London Telegraph in 2005.

Doyle Brunson index.

Historical note: The following explanatory note didn’t appear in the series, but was sent with each column as submitted.

Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson stands unchallenged as the most celebrated poker player who ever lived. In 2005, at age 72, he won an unprecedented 10th championship gold bracelet at the World Series of Poker. He is among the few living members of the Poker Hall of Fame, and his books  are the bibles for poker professionals.. Through and, Brunson has teamed with Mike Caro, today’s premiere poker educator, to offer a free learning experience to players worldwide. This column is founded on  those collaborative teachings.

Doyle Brunson

In poker, there are times when it makes sense to call a bet and times when it flat out doesn’t. What I’m about to tell you happened over 30 years ago, and it remains one of my favorite educational stories.

Into the Dunes casino in Las Vegas saunters this young man in Western attire, with an oversize belt buckle. He strides in exaggerated splendor up to our no-limit hold ’em table, reflecting a city slicker’s impression of a cowboy — one that nobody in Texas would take seriously. And he says, “I’m Clarence, from Florida, and I’m here to play poker.”

To this day, I can’t remember the actual name he used, because he only played that one night, but this story has two main characters. I do remember the other one’s name, but I won’t use it, because he developed a solid poker reputation over the years that followed and my intent isn’t to embarrass anyone. In today’s column, he’s Pete. Clarence and Pete – oh, it was something to watch!


Clarence may have come to play poker, but it was soon obvious that he didn’t know how. He seemed as if he were trying to portray the lead character from the then-popular TV Western series Maverick – largely about poker in the mid-1800s – because he kept saying similar things like, my pappy taught me this and my pappy told me that.

Pete made a big bet, and Clarence tried to stare him down. But Pete just looked smugly away. Perhaps too smugly. “Pappy said if a man won’t look you in the eye, he’s probably bluffing,” chimed Clarence, calling.

And Pete fumed, “It don’t mean nothin’ that I didn’t look at your eyes. I could have had a huge hand and done it the same way. But you got lucky, so you win this one.”

Showed the bluff

Shortly thereafter Clarence threw a large bet at Pete, who proudly showed that he was laying down three aces, being that there were four diamonds on the board and surely Clarence had the remaining ace – a diamond. Said, Clarence, “Pappy says if a man shows you his hand, you should be polite and show yours, too.” And he then showed the bluff.

After that, it was all downhill for Pete who seemed more and more unraveled each time he faced Clarence in a pot. But, eventually, Clarence did go broke. It was inevitable, because he didn’t really have a clue about how to play no-limit hold ’em. But, when he walked away, much less proudly than he’d strode in, all of us had won a little bit of his money – except Pete.

Later, I asked Pete why he had kept calling Clarence with such weak hands over and over and losing. He said, “I’ll be hanged before I let that idiot bluff me again and laugh about how he done it to me.”

And that’s what I meant in the beginning. There are plenty of right reasons to call in poker – times when calling makes sense, but Pete hadn’t chosen one of them.

Whenever I tell this story, I explain that there’s another bonus lesson therein. When a stranger comes to town and shows you a big bluff, it’s highly unlikely that he’s planning to bluff you again in the near future. So, don’t call.  — DB

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