Betting pays in poker.
Poker 101

Poker 101: Why You Should Bet More, Call Less

It’s axiomatic that anyone who takes up poker will overuse the so-called safest play in poker at first: The call. This is common sense for a new player. When a player opts to call, they aren’t risking any more of their chips. They're simply calling the current bet, thus closing down any more betting for the round if there’s no one left to act.

Calling can feel like the safest play but in poker — as with many sports — “safe is dead.” At times, the call in poker is absolutely the best decision. Many new players tend to rely on the call a bit too much and are missing out on serious value at the tables. Often, one simple bet wins a pot when everyone else was content to just call.

Why Calling in Poker Is Often Bad

In poker, there are two ways to win a pot: 1. Having the best hand at showdown. 2. Everyone else folds to your bet.

As you can see, you don’t have any chance at scooping a pot with No. 2 if you are just calling. No one is folding to a call. By raising, you force your opponent to make a decision. 

This has to do with the signals you send to opponents: 

  • Bet = “I have a good hand.”
  • Call = “I’m unsure of my hand.”

There is obviously a lot more nuance to poker but players who have good cards usually don’t like to let their opponents see free cards and potentially improve their hand. One of the worst mistakes that beginner poker players make a huge mistake when they call in poker on most hands.

The Advantages of Raising in Poker

Meanwhile, raising gives you a variety of ways to win a pot. The obvious way is to make a bet with an inferior hand and get your opponents to fold better hands.

  • Buying Pots: Being able to win pots with sub-optimal cards is an important tool in the poker player’s arsenal.
  • Eliminate the Luck Factor: Getting your opponent to fold early also keeps them from getting lucky and hitting a better hand on later streets.
  • The Best Wars are Those Never Fought: When an opponent folds, you win the pot 100 percent of the time. You don’t have to worry about variance on further streets. Remember: even aces get cracked now and then. 
  • Betting Boosts Your Cred: Betting earns you respect at the table. Your opponents likely won’t be as keen to steal your big blind if you’ve been Sportsbook pots all night long.
  • Poker Psychology: People assume that raisers at lower stakes of poker are getting a run of good cards. Subconsciously, rookie poker players don’t want to play against that player.

What if Someone Re-Raises?

One aspect that players need to keep in mind when they make an initial bet is that it doesn’t preclude them from folding later in the hand.

  • Know When to Fold: Provided you haven’t contributed the majority of your stack to a pot, then folding can often be the best strategy.
  • Tactical Retreats: New players tend to think there is shame in folding to a re-raise after contributing chips to a pot. They think it’s like getting caught red-handed and raising the white flag. The reality is there is no shame in folding. Consider it a tactical retreat. 
  • See the Big Picture: You could bet nine hands in a row and then fold the 10th one to a raise and you’ll still come out on top if the majority of your bets have been getting through.
  • Tight Players: In fact, if someone folds 99 percent of their hands and then suddenly raises, then you can almost guarantee they have something big and you should definitely fold.
  • Once More: There’s no shame in folding!

When Calling is Actually the Right Decision

That being said, you might reach the conclusion that calling is always a terrible play and should never be considered. The truth is, a call in poker can still be an excellent strategy.

Poker pros like Daniel Negreanu are renowned for making world-class calls. It's an important tool in every poker pro’s arsenal. The issue is that new players simply rely on the call too much.

Here are some situations where calling is often the right decision:

  • Control Pot Sizes: You want to control the size of the pot.
  • See the Flop: You want to see a flop for a cheap price.
  • Setting a Trap: You have a premium hand and you’re trying to induce betting from your opponent on later streets. Also known as a trap.
  • But Not Too Much: Most new players often get enamored with the idea of “trapping” and will over-utilize the call in an attempt to trick their opponents.

The problem is trapping keeps the pot small when you have a big hand. It’s like letting opponents off the hook easily. It can still be a viable strategy but it’s important to switch things up.

The Five Player Options in Poker

The bottom line is that you generally have five choices when the action is on you in a standard game of No-Limit Hold’em.

  • Check
  • Call
  • Bet
  • Raise
  • Fold

There’s a time and a place for all five options. Last week we talked about the importance of folding the majority of your garbage hands.

Don't Be Scared to Bet

New players generally have no problem with checking, calling, or folding but they tend to struggle with finding the gumption to bet or raise.

Premium Hands vs Trash Hands: There’s a good chance a new player will defend their lack of betting on a lack of premium cards. The reality is that there’s a good chance your opponents are getting trash hands just as frequently.

Buying Pots: You might be surprised how often you take down pots with no resistance when betting instead of calling.

An Example of Raising in Poker

Think about the following hand:

  • Sample Hand: 8-7 Suited: You have 8-7 suited on the dealer button. There are three callers in front of you but you decide to make a standard bet of 3X the big blind. Everyone folds but one player (let’s say they have ace-queen) decides to call from the big blind.
  • The Flop: The flop comes K-3-2. You’ve both missed the flop. But because you bet pre-flop, you have an inherent advantage. Your opponent only has ace-high and will likely give you respect and fold his superior hand to another bet.
  • Why Betting Works: In this hand, you’ve just won with eight-high and you did it because you made a modest bet pre-flop. You took three players’ blinds and a decent amount of chips from the player with ace-queen. It’s an ideal low-risk/high-reward scenario.
  • Betting Gives You the Initiative: It’s all because you opted to bet instead of call.

Poker Call vs Check

Many new players confuse a calling with checking in poker. Because both are relatively passive moves, it's natural to confuse a poker call versus the check. The two are much different, though. 

  • Checking: A check in poker is when you're given the option to open a round of betting, but you decline. If the decision is to raise the pot or not raise it, you choose to not raise the pot. The betting decision moves to the next player at the table. If no other player sits behind you, then the next community card is upturned. 
  • Calling: A call in poker is when a player in front of you has raised the bet. At that point, the decision is to re-raise, fold, or call. A call is matching the previous bet. If an opponent raised $20, then you make the call by placing $20 in the pot, too. 

More Poker 101 Articles

Calling in Poker FAQ

How do you call someone in poker?

A call is when you match the bet that someone else made. If a player raises $100, then you make a matching $100 bet. 

When should you call in poker?

When you have a hand that's ahead of your opponent's range at the moment but won't be ahead if any significant cash goes into the pot. In a tournament, if a player bets ahead of you and everyone else folds -- and you hold cards in the range of AQ or TT -- then it's better to make a call than raise.

In tournaments, a big part of the strategy is to avoid going broke. In the situation describes, anyone who calls or re-raises is likely to have a much stronger hand than you, so pot odds suggest that it's better to make a call than re-raise.

This is why poker is as much art as science. Experts tell players to avoid calling, yet they need to know situations were a call is better than a re-raise. Blindly re-raising is a foolish move in cerain situations.  

What is the difference between checking and calling in poker?

Checking happens before a raise has happened in a new round of betting. The player foregoes the opportunity to bet and gives the next player a chance to act.

Calling in poker happens after a raise has happened. The player makes a matching bet -- but not an overbet -- to the original bet. Thus, calling involves a bet while checking does not. 

What is a check-raise in poker?

A check-raise in poker is when you check when the action first comes to you, then raise on your next action. The order is (1) you check, (2) an opponent raises, and (3) you re-raise.

A check-raise sends a mixed signal to the opponent, because you showed indecision or passivity first, then showed extreme confidence and aggression after they raised the pot. It indicates to opponents that the original check was a trap -- not indecision. If an opponent check raises, it signals that they wanted you to build the pot instead of seeing the next card for free. 

What is opening in Poker?

An Sportsbook in poker is an Sportsbook bet. The player who starts the first round of betting makes the Sportsbook bet.

What is raising in poker?

Raising is when another player has made a bet and a second player makes a bigger bet. When a player makes an Sportsbook bet, the next player (and all other players) have one of three choices: call, fold, or raise.

A call is matching the bet and staying in the hand, while a fold is declining to make a bet and dropping out of a hand. A raise is saying, "I match the bet and exceed it." Once again, all other players remaining in the hand must decide whether to call, fold, or raise.

What is re-raising in poker?

A re-raise when a player makes the second or other subsequent bets in a round of betting. Re-raising is telling the original bettor (and all other bettors) that you are very confident in your hand -- so confident that you're willing to make a huge bet.

It is a sign of strength, or at least it signals to other players that you hold a strong hand. 

What does call in poker mean?

Calling in poker is when you match a previous bet. If an opponent raises $50, then you make a call by making a matching $50 bet. 

What is folding in poker?

Folding is when you decline to continue betting during a hand. The player sits out the rest of the hand. One of the hardest skills in poker is folding in the right situation.

It's human nature to want to know what your opponent holds, but paying for that information is not always worth it. 

What's the difference between a call and raise in poker?

A call is when you match another player's bet. A raise is when you make a better higher than another player's bet. 

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