Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2005) in Poker Player newspaper.
If I told you that one of the keys to poker success is to make good calls, you’d just yawn and say, “Who didn’t know that.”
Well, what if I told you that one of the keys to poker success was to make bad calls? You wouldn’t yawn then, would you? Well, that’s what I’m telling you. My column today is about how to make bad calls profitably. It’s actually a lecture that I delivered years ago on the Internet. And, by the way, I’m not just talking about making calls with hands that are likely to lose, but the pot’s so darn big you’ve just got to do it. I’m talking about something else.
I’m talking about making genuinely bad calls that figure, on average, to lose money as you make them! We’re talking about really rotten calls. Ones you think you know better than to make. Weak calls. Losing calls. I want you to make those. And I want you to prosper.
Here’s the lecture…
Calling with bad hands for extra profit
What I’m going to teach you today should only be used by players who take poker seriously. This information is dangerous in the hands of anyone who is playing poker purely to have fun.
So, before we get into today’s lecture, you’ve got to promise that you will use these tips along with proper discipline, not as a vehicle to show off, to get into action, or to gamble frivolously. If you can combine these tips with good judgment and solid discipline, you’ll be adding to your poker bankroll. If you use these tips as an excuse to call with hands whenever you shouldn’t, you’ll subtract greatly from your poker bankroll.
You’ve been warned. Now let’s examine some professional-level advice and try to add even more profit to your serious game plan.
How do you decide if it’s profitable to call a bet? Although this concept applies to no-limit poker, let’s imagine a traditional fixed-limit game. How do you determine if it’s profitable to call a bet on the final betting round when you’re last to act. Imagine the situation. It’s a $20 and $40 limit hold ’em game, meaning all the early round bets are by increments of $20 and all the late round bets are by increments of $40. Now you’re going to either call this final $40 bet or you’re going to fold. If you fold, it’s all over and somebody else will win. If you call, there’s going to be a showdown to determine the winner.
More to gain
In this situation, some players call strictly on the basis of whether they think they’re going to win. But that’s ridiculous. Because pots in poker games are always larger than what it costs to call — usually much larger in limit games — you have more to gain by calling with the best hand than you have to lose by calling with the worst hand. Because of this, you should usually expect to lose when you call.
If you don’t lose most of the time when you call, you’re actually costing yourself money. Anybody can win most of the time when they call. In fact, if they wanted to be really choosy, they could just wait until they had perfect hands to call, and then they’d always win. But think about all the money they’d be losing by not calling with hands that would win often enough to be profitable.
In poker, the final bettor should win most of the time and the final caller should lose most of the time. Sure, when the final bettor is bluffing he won’t win most of the time, but game theory dictates that he should bluff rarely enough that most of his bets are with hands he expects to win with. That’s enough poker theory right now. The point is that the pot is usually much bigger than the cost of the call, so you don’t have to win half the time to make a profit by calling.
OK, let’s move on. Today I’m talking about making profit by calling with bad hands. Here’s the key. Against most opponents, I believe you should use a carefree image that makes you seem unpredictable and appear to not care much about money. This image makes opponents back down and not press many of their hands for maximum profit. In other words, against this reckless, intimidating, but friendly image, many opponents will sit back and let you take control.
They won’t push for extra advantages, because they’re afraid of what unusual thing you might do next to punish them. Almost all of the most successful players convey this image, whether they do it consciously or unconsciously. You’re always worried about what they might do to burn your money or take advantage, so you stay out of their way. You call them more, because you’re suspicious, but you don’t go out of your way to trigger a war with them. Am I right? Of course I am.
So, that’s the type of image you yourself want to portray. However, the trick is to suggest that you’re wild and that you don’t care about money without actually playing like that. One way to do this is by making a few grandstand decisions that stick in their minds and imply that you’re making many more similar plays that they don’t see. That’s what I do. Opponents always think I’m playing much looser and wilder than I actually am.
But, here’s the point. If I’m going to make this act convincing — if I’m going to make my opponents truly believe that I don’t care about money and that they should fear me and not attack me — I can’t afford to make big laydowns that they know about.
So, sometimes I’ll make a bad call in seven-card stud with my aces showing, when I’m almost certain it’s not profitable on that hand. I’m sacrificing some immediate profit by making a bad percentage call so that I won’t spoil the mood and let opponents know that I’m willing to make big laydowns. If they think I will lay down big hands, I might inspire them to take occasional shots at me and I’ll become a target.
Now you’re thinking, well, so what if they take more shots? You can just call them. But, no, you can’t. It often works more like this. Suppose an opponent never bluffs. Then you never call without a superior hand. Now suppose that same opponent who never bluffs becomes inspired because you laid down aces and bluffs just one in 30 times. You’re still never going to call, because the pot isn’t large enough to justify it, but once in a while that opponent is taking a whole pot away from you that you otherwise would have won. And it gets worse. That same opponent is now apt to think of you as less intimidating, someone he might run over. He’ll instinctively push his hands for maximum value and that will cost you profit, too. And this all happened because you made a big laydown and he knows it. My advice? Go ahead and make laydowns, but do it mostly when you can convince your opponent that you probably didn’t have anything you could possibly call with.
The other time I think it’s profitable to make bad calls is when you’re doing it strictly for psychological impact. I’ll sometimes call in hold ’em with king, queen, or jack high when I think there’s a slight chance the hand might be a winner. I’m talking about times when I’m not getting good enough pot odds on the surface, but the slight chance of winning coupled with the future gain from the spectacular call makes it worthwhile. There’s nothing that sticks in an opponent’s mind as much as getting caught bluffing by a jack high. After that, the player is apt to back off and let you take control.
And I’m going to show this hand, even if he throws his cards away in disgust after I call. I want him to see what I called with — that’s the whole point. And if I lose, I’m also going to show the hand for the same reason. If you call with an extremely weak hand and your opponent shows a big hand, like a flush or full house, don’t be embarrassed to show yours. Often, there’s money in making your opponents think you can’t be bluffed. They’ll also call more after that, because you’re just too weird. That’s also more profit for you when you hold strong hands.
So, we’ve learned that you should try not to let your opponents know that you’re willing to fold big hands, and we’ve learned that if you occasionally make spectacular calls with very weak hands, you can increase your long-range profit whether you win or lose. Just remember to use good judgment and don’t do it too often.
This is “The Mad Genius of Poker” Mike Caro and that’s my secret today. — MC