Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2011) in Poker Player newspaper.
Before I get started with today’s self-interview, I need to rewrite history. Last time, for my 190th column in the modern era of Poker Player newspaper, “Today’s word” was “Everyday.” What’s wrong with that?
Well, the same word was also used for my 73rd column, which was entirely different in content. Each column is supposed to have a different word. So, the sensible thing to do is to declare retroactively that the word for column 190 was actually “Daily.” And I shall revise it thusly in a few months when it makes it way to my archives at my website Poker1.com. I will also need to modify the text somewhat to conform to that change.
Okay, now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s turn to today’s word, “Hero.” It’s become vogue to use the term “hero call,” and I’m a little bit bummed out by the trend. Here’s why.
Question 1: First of all, what are you talking about? I don’t even know what a hero call is.
Don’t feel bad. Not everyone is familiar with the term. So, I’ll turn to Michael Wiesenberg’s poker dictionary at Poker1.com. Here’s the definition:
(n phrase) 1. Calling an all-in bet with a relatively light holding, possibly because the player realizes he may need to win only 1 in 3 times (if the bet to call is close to the size of the pot) to show a profit. This is not quite the same as calling a bluff (see call a bluff), because in the latter case, the calling hand can beat only a bluff. 2. Making a similar call of any bet (if less than an all-in bet) with a marginal holding.
I might extend this definition slightly, because the original meaning has recently been stretched to suggest a very daring call with an extremely weak hand. There may be psychological motivation as well as analytical reasons for such a call. The caller may be trying to embarrass the bettor or be attempting to bolster his own ego by showing flair.
Question 2: Well, that makes sense, so what’s your gripe with hero calls?
I really don’t have a gripe with them. But I don’t like the way the term has come to be used. In fact, its typically unflattering usage suggests that many players are lacking a fundamental understanding of core poker’s concepts.
Question 3: Are you just going to leave that hanging or are you planning to explain it?
Although a so-called “hero call” might be done for ego reasons, it might also be done because it’s a profitable choice. When you hear someone blurt “hero call,” more likely than not the words will be soaked in sarcasm. This usually happens after the call fails and looks ridiculous. Many onlookers seem to think that calls made with very weak hands are done to appear larger than life, to embarrass opponents, or to bolster egos.
This isn’t necessarily true. A call with a very weak hand can have a better chance of winning than a call with a very strong one. Oops! What did I just say? It sounded like I was contending that a miserable-looking hand can have better prospects than a powerful hand. And it turns out that’s exactly what I meant.
While you might occasionally call simply to send a message intended to discourage future bluffs, most calls should be based on your chances of winning. Those chances are measured by the cost of the call and the size of the pot. Nothing more. And sometimes there’s a very high probability that a weak hand will win.
Question 4: Can you provide an example?
One of my favorite examples is a call I made on television against Todd Brunson about eight years ago. It was head-to-head hold ’em blind play. Todd had taken the lead and I had just been calling. In the end, all I had was a king high, but it seemed to me that his final small-sized river bet indicated he either had great strength or had missed his hand entirely.
In fact, I thought the latter was more likely. So, I believed my chances of winning were greater than 50 percent if I called. But I hesitated to make this clearly profitable call.
Why? Because I realized that there’s a “hero call” mentality out there. Too many ill-informed viewers might think my call was ridiculous and that might harm my book sales. So, it was both an obviously correct call based on poker tactics and a clearly risky call based on real-life ramifications. I made the call, anyway, and fortunately won.
Chances of winning
Unsophisticated players simply don’t realize that rational calls are made on the basis of your chances of winning, not on the strength of your hand. If were simply the raw strength of a hand that mattered, then you could play poker like bingo and ignore your opponents.
Poker isn’t that way. It’s a comparison of strengths that dictates decisions. Sometimes you have to fold a full house, because it’s clear it has little chance of winning. Sometimes you have to call with a pair of deuces, because it’s clear that your opponent might be bluffing.
Remember, the nature of poker dictates that most calls don’t win. The pot is always offering greater rewards than the cost of the call. That means that bettors are supposed to usually win, even when called. Callers only must win often enough to make the investment worthwhile.
Sometimes “hero call” is used as a compliment or as a good-natured observation. Fine. But when you hear “hero call” used to demean players, you’re probably witnessing both faulty logic and bad manners. — MC