Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was originally published (2007) in Casino Player.
Let’s examine a hand I played last year. Oddly, it’s not a hand I played amazingly well or even one where today’s concept made extra money. But I played it with my best long-term profit in mind. It was in a $400/$800 limit hold ’em game, but the concept applies to no-limit games as well. The action went like this…
I held 8♣ 7♣ in the big blind. Everyone folded up to John, in the dealer position (button). John an aggressive player, raised to $800. This was an almost expected raise, since he almost always attacked the blinds when given the opportunity.
Carl, in the small blind, called. Carl was also a very liberal player. I called, which is usually the correct move, considering the big blind’s half price, against these types of opponents. The pot was now $2,400.
The flop came K♣ Q♣ 2♦. Carl checked. I checked, although an occasional bet could have been justified by my four clubs. Since I was in the middle of two aggressive players, though, I decided not to tempt fate. John bet $400 and Carl and I both called.
The turn card was 2♥. Check, check, check.
The final (river) card was 10♣, making the board K♣ Q♣ 2♦ 2♥ 10♣, and giving me my flush. Carl bet $800. I called. Notice that I didn’t raise. But John did raise.
Carl folded, and was probably bluffing. I decided to just call John’s raise. He showed down Q♠ 10♠ — two pair.
Yes, I might have raised once more, but I thought there was too significant a chance that John had made a bigger flush — or, much less likely, even a full house.
I figured that, assuming John wasn’t bluffing, which would render my raise meaningless, I was only slightly more likely to have the better hand, which isn’t enough of a motive to raise. (When you make an extra raise on the last round with only a small edge, you risk having to pay off a reraise.) Despite that, I often would reraise in that situation, but this time I didn’t. Whether that was the best choice is worthy of analysis, but it isn’t what we’re discussing. It’s my decision to just call Carl’s original bet that we’re examining.
Every poker session
On the final betting round, you’ll often end up between the bettor and other opponents waiting to act. Let’s say you’ve made a very strong hand, but not an unbeatable one. That happens at least once — and sometimes several times — during almost every poker session you’ll ever play.
Making the wrong choice can be costly. Most players, even experienced ones, make their decisions by whim when placed in this uncomfortable position. But there’s actually very powerful advice that can keep you from making mistakes.
The advice is to usually just call. In fact, if you decide that you will almost always just call with quality hands, and almost never raise, you’re hardly ever going to make a serious blunder. On the other hand, if you raise, you’ll sometimes cost yourself money needlessly.
Let’s say the bettor is bluffing, as Carl was. If that’s the case, your raise is likely to extinguish any chance you have of getting overcalled with a weaker hand by players waiting to act. At the same time, you won’t get any more money from the bluffer than you would have by merely calling.
Or what if the bettor has a truly powerful hand, one that can beat you? Then you certainly don’t want to raise. Not only will that raise itself cost you more money, but you’ll likely end up calling another bet in addition.
And sometimes, as was the case here, your call can make the player waiting to act too confident about his strength and that can bring you extra profit. In this case, I probably would have made the same amount of money by raising as by calling. But that isn’t the point.
The point is, I probably didn’t cost myself any extra profit by just calling and I might have cost myself extra profit by raising. Sure, there are cases where a call works against you — times when raising might have earned more. But when you analyze the most likely scenarios and simulate millions of hands by computer, it’s clear that you need an fairly certain winner to justify a value raise from the middle position on the last betting round.
Notice that I said “value raise.” That’s a raise where you’re trying to earn extra money with a superior hand. You can raise for other reasons, too. That’s why the main exception to this just-call advice comes when your hand is fairly weak and you think there’s an excellent chance that the bettor is bluffing. Then you can raise hoping to scare away players waiting to act. If you just call, you’re inviting an overcall that beats you.
But overall, when you have a reasonably strong hand, but not a certain winner, your best profit comes from just calling.— MC