There are five basic plays in online poker: Bet, raise, call, check, and fold. Of these five plays, calling might be the one people mess up the most. Betting in poker is relatively straightforward. So is raising – both of these plays fall into the “be aggressive” plan that’s been proven effective over the years. Checking and folding are also more easily understood, since you’re not adding any more money to the pot. Calling is in between. You’re investing more chips, but you’re doing so in a passive manner, inviting others to take advantage of you.

 

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Generally speaking, beginners who play real money poker call way more often than they should. You’ll also find some players who don’t call nearly enough. It’s always nice to be at the table with these players. But you don’t want to be one of them; if you want to learn how to play poker like a boss, take a moment to read these five reasons why calling can be the right move, and make sure you have one (or more) of these reasons in mind before you do it.

 

1. To See the Next Card

Phil Gordon (author of the Little Green Book, and a former champion on the World Poker Tour) once said that the first thing he thinks about in a hand is whether he can raise. If your hand is strong enough to raise, you probably should. If it’s a good bluff candidate, you probably should. If it’s a really bad hand, maybe you should fold. It’s those hands in between that usually warrant a call.

Those hands will fall into two camps: marginal-strength made hands, and draws. There are times when a drawing hand is worth a bluff, and there are times when you want to call instead, so you can see the next card and hopefully complete your draw. Deciding between the two is the tricky part. As a very basic poker strategy for beginners, consider bluffing if you were the pre-flop aggressor, and calling if you were the one who already called pre-flop.

Here’s an example: You’re playing No-Limit Hold’em, and you’re in the big blind with Seven-Four suited, both Spades. The hijack open-raises, everyone else folds, and you call. The flop comes Ace-King-Six with two Spades. You have a flush draw. You check, and the hijack bets. You could raise your draw here and try to get your opponent to fold, but think twice – it’s quite likely that they have either the Ace or the King in their hand, and your bluff isn’t going to work.

 

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Calling, on the other hand, gives you an opportunity to complete your flush on the turn. If you miss, it’s not the end of the world; you still have a flush draw, and if the turn card is a Five, you also have an open-ended straight draw (to 87654 or 76543). An Eight or a Three would give you a gutshot. Either way, you now have additional outs to make a big hand.

One quick way to tell if you have the right “pot odds” to call is the Rule of Four and Two. Count how many outs your draw has to complete; if it’s a flush draw like this one, you have nine outs – the remaining nine Spades in the deck. Then multiply your outs by four if you’re on the flop, and two if you’re on the turn. That gives you a rough estimate of your chances (as a percentage) of completing your draw. In this case, you have about a 36% chance on the flop and 18% on the turn. If your opponent’s bet is a smaller percentage of the pot than your estimate, you have the right pot odds to make a profitable call.

 

2. To Hide the Strength of Your Hand

When you’re bluffing, you’re trying to fool your opponent into thinking you’re strong when you’re actually weak. This form of deceit is the opposite: You have a strong hand, but by calling, you’re trying to convince your opponent that you have either a marginal made hand or a draw. This is known as a slowplay, and there are definitely times when it’s the right play.

One of those times is when you have a really, really strong hand, and it’s highly unlikely that anyone else does. Let’s use the above example again, but instead of the flop being Ace-King-Five, it comes out Seven-Seven-Four. You have the almighty nuts – top boat, the best full-house and the best hand possible on this board (your opponent can’t have quad Sevens, because you have one in your hand). The hijack might continuation bet here when you check, but it’s doubtful they have a hand that would call if you raised.

So instead, you smooth call. By doing this, you give your opponent the opportunity to double-barrel bluff. You also give them the chance to catch a turn card that helps them, like one of those Aces or Kings, but doesn’t help them enough to beat your hand. Maybe then you put in a raise when they bet the turn – or, if the turn card’s a blank, maybe you smooth call again and hope they put in more money on the river. Sneaky sneaky.

 

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3. To Bluff a Later Street

It’s amazing the way poker strategy has evolved over the last 20 years – then again, when you look at all those thousands of people like you who play poker online for money, it’s no wonder the games are getting tougher. There was a time when the simple continuation bet was a license to print money; then someone clever figured out how to counter the c-bet by floating. This is a relatively simple play where you call the original raiser on the flop, then bluff on the turn, hoping to get a fold.

Floating is best done when you’re in position and you have a drawing hand that might complete when you see the turn card. There’s also the delayed float, where you call the flop, check back the turn, and bluff the river if your opponent checks again. You can even float out of position by check-calling the flop, then either leading out on the turn (a signature play by Johnny Chan, 10-time WSOP bracelet winner), or betting the river if your opponent checks back the turn. These out-of-position floats are more advanced plays that you should probably avoid for now if you’re just starting out at poker.

 

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4. To Get Others to Call Behind You

Here’s another thing to consider when you have a drawing hand pre-flop and you’re wondering whether to raise or call: Do you want to be in a multi-way pot? Some speculative hands like suited connectors (say, Seven-Six suited) and baby pairs (Fives through Deuces) may be more profitable if you can get other people to join in. When you play these hands, as a rule of thumb, you want the opportunity to make 20 times the size of your contribution to the pot, because it’s that rare that you’ll make a flush, straight or set – so it has to be worth bothering to invest in the first place. Getting that 20x will be easier with more players in the pot, so consider calling with these speculative hands instead of raising, especially when you’re in position.

 

5. To Prevent a Re-Raise

Here’s one of the problems with raising when you have a marginal made hand or a draw: Your opponent might re-raise you. Sometimes, that’s not too big an issue. If you raise with a draw and get re-raised, provided the stack-to-pot ratio (SPR) is high enough, you might be able to go ahead and call. But if the SPR is low, or if you have one of those marginal made hands, your best option at this point might be to fold.

It’s a shame to waste a decent hand like that. So instead of raising in a spot like this, consider calling. You don’t want to get paranoid and assume your opponent is always going to re-raise you – the classic “monsters under the bed” syndrome. But there will be times when your hand is better suited to call given the circumstances. Profiling your opponent and learning if they re-raise too often, or not often enough, will help you make the right decision.

Congratulations – you now have five good reasons to hit that Call button the next time you’re playing online poker at Ignition. We’ll leave you with one very bad reason to call: Because you’re curious. So much money has been lost on the river just because players feel like they “have to see” what their opponent had, and whether they got bluffed or not. Don’t let people take advantage of your Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO). Call if you have a good bluff-catcher, fold (or maybe even raise) if you don’t, and let someone else be curious.

 

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