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Betting pays in poker.

It’s basically a given that anyone who takes up poker will initially overuse the “safest” play in poker: The call.

It’s easy to understand why. When a player opts to call, they aren’t risking any more of their chips. They are simply calling the current bet or raise and effectively closing down any more betting for the round if there’s no one left to act.

Calling can feel like the safest play (especially when you are still learning the relative strength of your hand) but in poker — as with many sports — “safe is dead.”

There will be times when calling is absolutely the best decision but many new players tend to rely on the call a bit too much and are missing out on serious value at the tables.

You might be surprised at the sheer number of pots that go your way with just one simple bet when everyone else is content to just call.

The Problems with Calling

There are a number of problems with calling too much but one of the most basic issues is the following one.

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. The other major issue with calling is that it’s usually regarded as the most passive play you can make.

Generally players aren’t going to give you a lot of respect for a strong hand if you just call. At the most basic level of poker, this is what the two plays mean:

  • 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 a beginner poker player can make is calling almost every hand and then folding to any pressure from their opponents. In that scenario, they are basically lighting their chips on fire.

The Many Advantages of Betting

Meanwhile, the bet can give 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. There’s almost nothing better than taking a mediocre hand and managing to win a big pot off opponents. Being able to win pots with sub-optimal cards is an important tool in the poker player’s arsenal.

Getting your opponent to fold early also keeps them from getting lucky and hitting a better hand on later streets.

When an opponent folds, you win the pot 100 percent of the time and you don’t have to worry about variance on further streets. It’s something to keep in mind because even aces get cracked every now and then.

Another advantage of betting is that it gets you respect at the table. Your opponents likely won’t be as keen to steal your big blind if you’ve been opening pots all night long.

There is a psychological phenomenon that happens at lower stakes of poker where people assume the person raising frequently is 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.

Provided you haven’t contributed the majority of your stack to a pot, then folding can often be the best strategy.

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.

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.

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.

One more time: There’s no shame in folding!

When Calling is Actually the Right Decision

With everything you’ve read above, you might reach the conclusion that calling is always a terrible play and should never be considered.

The truth is calling can still be an excellent strategy.

Poker pros like Daniel Negreanu are renowned for making world-class calls and 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:

  • You want to control the size of the pot.
  • You want to see a flop for a cheap price.
  • You have a premium hand and you’re trying to induce betting from your opponent on later streets. Also known as a trap.

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 that trapping is generally fairly transparent and keeps the pot small when you have a big hand. It’s like letting them off the hook easy. It can still be a viable strategy but it’s important to switch things up.

Don’t Be Scared of Betting

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.

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

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.

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

Think about the following hand:

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 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.

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.

It’s all because you opted to bet instead of call.

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