Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2005) in Poker Player newspaper.
While I occasionally talk about overcalling, nothing drives home my teachings about the fundamental peril of that tactic better than an audio lecture I did years ago. It’s one of the lessons you need to master to reach the higher tiers of poker profit.
Oh, I almost forgot to remind you. Soon I’ll be making my lectures available at three web sites: Poker1.com, PokerPlayerNewspaper.com, and DoylesRoom.com. I hope you’ll get the chance to visit me there.
Anyway, you need a much stronger hand to overcall than to call. And if you don’t believe it, listen…
An important truth about overcalling
In poker, you can call a bet. And if someone else has already called that bet, you can overcall. It turns out that even many professional players lose money on this important aspect of the game – the aspect of overcalling. I’m talking specifically about overcalling on the last round of betting, when the final strength of your hand is already decided and there are no more cards to come.
Today, I’m going to tell you the secret to gaining a profitable perspective about overcalling. In just a few minutes, you’ll understand that a common mistake costs thousands of serious poker players collectively millions of dollars every year. And you’ll know how to avoid that mistake.
The concept we’re about to unravel applies to all forms of poker and to limit, pot-limit, and even no-limit games. Suppose you have a medium-strong hand on the final betting round. An opponent bets. Fine. Now you must figure out whether the amount of money currently in the pot justifies your call. Remember, you should make this decision not on the basis of whether you think you’re going to win, you will make it on whether there is enough money to justify your call. In other words, the decision is not whether you’ll probably win, but whether if you had a chance to make this call over and over again in this same situation, you’d win often enough to come out money ahead.
Serious players make serious mistakes
But, wait, that’s what you need to consider to make a call against one bettor, one on one. If the pot is five times the size of the call, then you only need to win one in six times to break even, because over five times, you’ll lose five bets, but one time you’ll win five bets. But what if you’re faced with an overcall? Here’s where many serious players make serious mistakes. They figure, hey, the pot just got bigger and I have just as good a chance of winning as the first caller. So, I should be just as willing to overcall as if he didn’t call – even more so, because the pot is a little bigger. His money is in it.
There are problems with the logic. First of all, from a game theory standpoint, the first player needs to be more cautious about making a call when you’re waiting to act behind him. So, if he’s a rational player, his call indicates his hand should average more strength than if you weren’t waiting behind him. But that’s another issue for another day. That isn’t the main focus of what I want you to learn now.
I want you to accept the fact that you have just as good a chance to win this pot as your opponent. If your opponent had folded, you would have called because you had about a one in six chance of winning, which was just about right in view of the pot odds. But now your opponent calls. Now the pot is laying even more money and you theoretically only need to win one time in seven, instead of one time in six, to break even. OK, but wait a darn minute!
You were going to beat the bettor one time in six, right? Well, that part hasn’t changed. You’re still going to beat him one time in six if you make this same call over and over through eternity. But now you’re not just calling him, you’re calling another player, too, even though you figure you have just as good a chance of beating the bettor as that opponent does.
Half the time, you lose
But think about it. If you call and beat the bettor, then only half the time will you beat the first caller, because you’ve estimated that your chances and his chances are equal. What does that mean? Well, mathematically, it means that instead of winning one in six times, you’re now going to win just one in 12 times, because half the times that you would have won, you’ll lose to that first caller.
Wow! That’s a big difference. The pot would have been laying you five to one without the first caller and now it’s laying you six to one. If you’re thinking, “If he can call, I can call,” that’s bad logic. The strange truth is, he can call, but you can’t, even if you have a slightly better chance to win than he does, and even if your call would have been profitable against the original bettor.
When you see this truth, you’ll realize that you need a much stronger hand to overcall than to call a single opponent. You will make a lot more money for your poker lifetime if you remember this and always fold hands, rather than overcall, when you would have had a small advantage calling just the original bettor. On the final betting round, overcalls require much stronger hands than calls.
This is “The Mad Genius of Poker” Mike Caro and that’s my secret today. – MC