Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2011) in Poker Player newspaper.
Now comes the era of extra-aggressive poker, when everyday players act recklessly in front of imaginary TV cameras. Games are lively.
And one of the most profitable and misunderstood facets of poker is disrespected, unglamorous, underestimated, and infrequently analyzed. I’m talking about the art of the call. That’s today’s self-interview topic.
Question 1: You termed it “the art of the call.” What kind of art or skill does it take to just agree to someone else’s wager?
I believe that kind of question is too hostile for a fair interviewer. It incorporates your opinion, just by the way you phrased it and your tone of voice. Readers don’t want to know what you think. They want to know what I think.
But I see your pitiful point, anyway. You’re suggesting that, by calling, you reduce yourself to the level of responding to another player’s aggression. It’s much more fashionable to be the pummeler than the pummelee. That’s actually a brilliant observation, and I’m surprised you stumbled upon it.
The thing is, whatever is fashionable changes and strategic truth doesn’t. You hear those popular terms “old-school poker” and “new-school poker.” But I hate that, because there’s really no such thing as either. There is only “right-school poker.”
The majority of players may mimic each other and adapt new tactics, but what wins today is still what won yesterday. Yes, many players are increasingly aggressive today. But the right way to play against these attack-focused foes is no different than the right way you played against them a hundred years ago. There are just more of them surrounding us now.
And as a group, they’re easy to destroy. You just need to use the right weapon. And that weapon is calling. Using it against the correct opponents at the proper times is, indeed, an art.
Question 2: Why does calling win money against “new-school” poker players?
You’re an idiot. I just told you I hate that term – “new school.” You must be one of the “new-school” journalists. Fine.
The reason calling works against overly aggressive players is because they bet more frequently, and raise more frequently, than logical analysis suggests they should. You see, there’s an exact percentage of times you should bet for each situation. Nobody will be accompanying you to the table to do the calculations, and you won’t have time to do them yourself.
So, mostly, you’ll just be guessing. That’s fine. I do that, too. But you need your guesses about how often to bet and raise to be reasonably aligned with the reality of winning strategy. Bet and raise too often and you risk being exploited.
Question 3: Exploited how?
Exploited by players who understand the art of calling.
If your opponents bet too often or raise too often, they’re always making it profitable for you to call with a reasonably strong hand. Always. Of course, it can sometimes be someone else in the pot who is in a better situation to take advantage.
The point is that over-aggressive betting and raising only works when opponents allow it to work. It can be easily defeated simply by calling.
Question 4: I get it. But shouldn’t calling be reserved for special situations in today’s poker? Isn’t it usually better to either raise or fold?
I keep hearing that, but it’s a major misconception. Calling isn’t a special-case tactic. It’s among the most natural things in poker.
Once you’ve already entered a pot, you should call more often than you either fold or raise, assuming you’re facing a normal-size bet.
No matter the betting round, most of your hands won’t be strong enough to justify a raise. And they won’t be weak enough to justify a fold. Because of the reward provided by the pot size versus the bet size, calling is usually your most profitable option.
I understand that runs contrary to some modern poker thought. Oh, well. It’s the truth.
Question 5: So, are you personally a timid player?
Of course not! I’m one of the original architects of what has become known as “power poker.” I was the guy who branded that name to Doyle Brunson’s Super / System – A Course in Power Poker. It had originally been titled: How I Made Over $1,000,000 Playing Poker.
But it became clear to me that everyone who Doyle had chosen as an “expert collaborator” for that book played the same aggressive style. So, I coined the new term. I’m an advocate of power poker.
I don’t believe in playing tight, in sitting and waiting. That conservative strategy can beat many games for small money, but it isn’t nearly as profitable as taking charge.
However, taking charge through excessive wagering only makes sense against inferior opponents who allow it to succeed. You don’t need to let others destroy you in that same way.
If they’re making too many wagers, just call. That’s the answer. — MC