Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2012) in Poker Player newspaper.
In this self-interview, I’ll visit a highly profitable poker concept that we discussed years ago. We’ll examine it in a new light.
So far in this recent series of columns, which looks back on powerful tactics and tips previously presented and adds new insight, we’ve used up the words “modern,” “review,” and “reviewed.” Today, we’ll simply “visit” advice I presented eight years ago.
Don’t worry; this series will end way before I run out of title words. Let’s get started…
Question 1: In poker, your decisions are different, depending on whether you act first or your opponent does. But what if there are three players? And what if you act in the middle?
Sometimes “middle” is good, such as when getting the best view of the actors at the theater. I suppose it’s also good if you’re “in the middle of all the money,” although I’ve never been quite certain what that means.
More often, being in the middle is uncomfortable. The middle position on a bench seat in a van on a long ride isn’t good. And being caught in the middle of someone else’s argument isn’t pleasant. In poker, being in the middle of a three-way betting action is awkward.
The concepts I’m about to explain use limit poker to illustrate, but the advice is valid in no-limit games, too. Suppose it’s the final round of betting.
Question 2: What kind of poker?
Doesn’t matter. All I can say is that you hold an unusually strong hand. It definitely would be worth betting if you were last to act. But you aren’t. You would often bet if you were first to act, too – although sometimes you would sandbag, hoping someone else did your betting for you, so you could raise.
But neither of those is the case. You have a powerful hand and you’re not last to act. And you’re not first to act. There you are in the middle, and now, suddenly, the first player bets. It’s your turn. Now what?
Your first instinct is to raise. While your hand could be beat, it’s probably stronger than what the bettor holds.
Question 3: How much better?
Was that question necessary? Okay, for this example, we’ll guess that you’d have the bettor beat in a showdown four out of five times. Can we move on now?
Question 4: Sure. So, why wouldn’t you raise? There doesn’t seem to be a valid argument for just calling.
That’s wrong. There is a valid argument for just calling.
But, first, let’s look at the obvious reason to weigh on the side of raising. What if you merely call and the next player folds? Further suppose that you subsequently win the showdown against the bettor.
Okay, what then? Well, then you win the pot and just that single extra bet. Had you raised, the player acting behind you would still have folded, but the original bettor might have called the raise. By just calling, you’ve lost the opportunity to win extra money that would have resulted from your raise.
So, that’s the disadvantage to calling. But, on balance, the advantages usually outweigh the disadvantages.
Question 5: I don’t get it. Exactly what are the advantages of just calling?
Well, don’t forget, you might get an overcall by just calling. Suppose the bet is a bluff. Then, if you raise, you might chase away the player acting behind you and also see the original bettor fold. That means you only win the previous pot, plus the first bet.
But if you’re facing a bluff (or a marginal betting hand that would be folded against your raise), a call can sometimes invite another call from the third player, who may be holding a marginal hand. Then you win the previous pot, plus two bets (one from the original bettor and one from the overcaller).
Suppose again that you just call. Now, if the player waiting to act has a reasonably strong hand (but inferior to yours), he might raise. The first bettor might call. And you, playing cautiously in fear of the third player having you beat, also might call.
If all those “mights” collide, you end up with four bets extra profit – two from the original bettor who acted before you and two from the raiser who acted after you. Of course, if the bettor folds to the raise from the third player, you only win three bets – but that’s still good.
Obviously, the size of the bets and raises are only likely to be equal in a limit poker game. If it’s no-limit, the raises probably will be substantially larger than the first bet. The point is, if you raise and the player behind you reraises, followed by the original bettor folding, your call will also only win three bets – assuming you win at all. But you will have risked more money.
Keep in mind, also, that a raise is likely to cause the third player to fold a hand he might have called with. And if it’s that kind of hand – one he would have called a bet with, but not a raise – you’ve chased away a hand you would have beaten in a showdown.
Question 6: So, what’s the bottom line on this?
The bottom line is that you can dream up reasons to raise and some of them are valid sometimes. The main disadvantage of just calling is that the player behind you might fold and you’ll only win one bet. Had you raised and the bettor called, you would have won more.
But that doesn’t begin to overcome the advantages of calling. “Bottom line,” you ask! Okay, here it is. If you’re in the middle position with anything other than a cinch hand or one very close to it, you’ll almost never make a big mistake by just calling. But you can make a big mistake by raising.
So, unless it’s perfectly obvious that you should raise, calling in the middle is safe. In fact, you should do it routinely. — MC