Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The Art of the Call

Common sense and all poker authorities say that being the aggressor in most situations is the preferred way to play. The notion being that you can win the hand by your opponent folding or you having the best hand. I can say, for the most part, that makes sense. But this really boils down to a much more basic somewhat philosophical argument outside of poker. I see it more as the classic Irresistable Force vs Immovable Object question.

Through my poker travels and trevails, no matter how much my logic tries to convince me the above idea is true, other things seem to creep in. For instance, I have found that in order to win big pots it is much more crucial to be able to make a good (?) call. Basically, what I am saying is that by being the aggressor and getting your opponent to fold the pot is relatively small, but when a good or brave call is made then the pot grows much bigger. If you can win with those calls then you can most likely be +EV because your wins will be huge. I will give you a bunch of situations where the aggressor fails due to brave or good calls. The pots are all big so by calling and becoming the immovable object, big pots are won.

First Hand: Two nights ago I am playing at the Commerce $400 game. I have a decent size stack with about $1100. The table in general has been great with lots of action and showdowns at the river aka calls. This hand, however, it was folded to me on the button where I picked up 9d9s. I standard raised to $40 and both of the blinds calls. The $120 flop came down Jd 8c 2d. Both players checked to me. As the preflop aggressor, with only one relatively non-threatening overcard (as opposed to an A for instance) and the presense of a couple of draws I bet out $75. I got called in both spots. The $345 turn card came down the 7d. Now being called by two people with a J out there, a straight draw that got there, and a flush draw that got there I can reasonably assume that I can't beat anything. The SB bets out a meek $100 and the BB folds. Now, generally i would just toss this one out and say "Shit, he got there." But, I just started looking at the SB. He is a somewhat tight player preflop but post flop I had observed that he was very weak. He was twitching and giving off a whole lot of anxiety vibe. So I just didn't think he liked his hand. But I couldn't figure out what he was trying to accomplish. Was this $100 bet which gave me 4.5:1 odds meant to be a value bet with a high flush? Or was it a blocking bet with something like Ad8h? Or was it an all out bluff? None of it added up, I couldn't put him on a credible hand based on his previous play, he was giving off nervous energy left and right, I was getting 4.5:1 with a pair, 9 high flush draw, and a gutshot, so I called. I didn't know where I was but I just instinctively felt like a call was right, either I had the best hand, I could take him off his hand on the river, or I just felt really comfortable against this guy. Well the $545 river card came down the Ad for a board of Jd 2d 8c 7d Ad. Now I am watching the SB as he watches the Ad come down. He is clenching his teeth, gulping and swallowing, maybe even trying not to sweat. Basically he is very unhappy or extremely good at giving off false tells (very unlikely based on this player). But he bets out $200 into the $545 pot. He is giving me 3.5:1 odds to call with my 4th nut flush. I don't understand. If he made his straight draw with 9 10 on the turn then he obviously wouldn't bet the river. If he had a K or Q high flush he probably wouldn't be so nervous about the bet. If he had a 10high flush, he most likely wouldn't bet it and I can't see him calling preflop with something like 10d8d in the SB based on his preflop tightness. So I am quite confused and therefore I call. He asks "Do you have a diamond?" and I confidently turn over my hand and take down the $945 pot. He later said he had JJ. I suppose it makes sense for him to be nervous on the turn and river if he had planned to slowplay his set. But the immovable object (me) made some good calls which also turned out to be quite brave in my opinon based on the situation. If he hadn't been dripping with tells I probably would have let this one go. But the ability to call down won me the nice pot.

The next set of hands came from today's session at Hawaiian Gardens. The table was fabulous with lots of money on the table and some pretty loose play. I raised in middle position to $40 with 10 10. The button called as did the BB and the 2nd position limper. I have about $1400 behind, the button has a about $1050, the BB has about $800, and the 2nd position limper also has about $800. The $160 pot comes down J 7 4 rainbow. The two in front of me check to me and in contrast to the previous hand I decided to check. I checked for two reasons, there are now 4 people in the hand instead of three as in the previous so there is a larger chance that a J is out there. Two out of the three other people in the hand came in for full price as opposed to the previous situaiton where the blinds called with a discount so there was a chance that their hand was slightly less than normal calling standards. The other reason being that i was no longer last to act on successive streets so a CB might not be as effective if I were to be called by the button as I would have to show weakness by checking on 4th street. So after i checked, the button got kind of all huffy and bet out $140 into the $160 pot. As soon as he did this I got a sneaking suspicion. With such a dry board, I couldn't understand why he was betting so aggressively to get us to fold and acting like it as well. I was positive he didn't have a set because he wouldn't be that aggressive with it. It didn't feel like he had a J, and if he did, he really wanted to end the pot there. It felt like he had either a 7 or a small pocket pair below Jacks. In fact, I had seen him do a similar move about 2 hours earlier in a big pot where he put the preflop raiser on AK and moved in on him with something like 55 on a J 22 board. The guy called with 99 and won. So I really didn't think he had a J. The BB took a long time and finally called after staring into space and what seemed like looking at the pot to count it. So I figured he had 56 for the open ended. The 2nd position limper folded. I thought I could raise here and take it but I wanted to wait for a safe card on the turn and most likely a check down to keep the pot small figuring I had the best hand. So I called. The river brough the 5d putting 4 suits on the board. Now this wasn't a good card if the button had 55 obviously and it would have improved the BB's draw to a pair and a straight draw. BB checked and I checked keeping with my plan of keeping the pot smallish. The button now bet out $375 into $580 pot. The BB reluctantly folded. Now here I had a conundrum. I still believed that I had the best hand. But if he held a small pocket pair he very well could have a straight draw now and the betting lead as well as position. If he held a J, I didn't think he could call off his remaining $550 or so with it. I always do acting when I am in the hand because you never know when it could come in handy, so when I had called on the flop I had asked how much he had left and tried to act like I would if I had JJ on a J 7 4 rainbow board. I said "I just call" and did that whole bit partly as a preparation to move on him on the turn if need be. Well, now that he had put some more money in, I wanted to end the hand because the pot was big enough and my hand was small but still good in my opinion. So I went all in. He sighed and was visibly upset saying "you have a set of Jacks, huh?" He finally called anyway. The river came a 6 and he turned over 7s 4s to win the almost $2400 pot. Now he played it well, in hindsight, all of his bets made sense because bottom two pair is very easily counterfeited ( believe me I know!) and his hand was well hidden so I couldn't give him credit for that hand. He made good plays and made a good all in call as he beats pretty much all credible hands at the moment outside of JJ. Point being that again, the immovable object (not me) bested the irresistable aggressive force (this time me). That knocked me down quite a bit and about 30 minutes later this hand came up. I was in the BB with about $300 left and the 9 10 off. 4 people limped in and the SB folded and I checked. So the $50 pot came down 10 8 5 rainbow. I checked and everyone checked to the big stack (a fairly sophisticated player) on the button who overbet the pot $75. I felt like he had a draw to play this fast, maybe 67 or J9 so I called. Everyone else folded. The turn brough a 6 putting 4 suits on board. Now the pot was $200 or so. I now had top pair, marginal kicker, but I had a gutshot straight draw to go along with it. If he had J9 he didn't improve, if he had 67 then he had a pair with an open ended but he only would have 11 outs as a 7 would make my boss straight. So I figured he either couldn't call my all in or I would be a nice favorite. So I pushed all in for $230 into the $200 pot. He thought for a while and told me "I put you on a draw, something like 97 or 86. But I am going to make a donkyish call." He called and the 4 on the river didnt improve me and his A 10 won. Again, his hand was pretty good and it wasn't too much money to him but he had put me on a range of hands which all beat him and I had shown interest in a fairly well connected board. But yet the immovable object bested the irresistable force. And again the ability to make a good, brave, or bad call won a nice sized pot. It was the call not the aggression.
This last hand came from Commerce later on that night. After losing at Hawaiian Gardens I went to Commerce on the way home. I sat down at a table and saw two very nice big pots before I played. Through table talk and another player praising me with his fear before I even played I had convinced the table that we were going to be playing loose and aggressive for big pots. Or continuning to as was the case. So I limped and folded a couple times. Then on my 6th hand or so, UTG player (what seemed like a bad player so far) raised to $40 and the guy directly to my right called. I looked down to see AcKc. As I looked at it, I thought about how I wanted to set the stage for the session. I wanted it to be really fast and loose and I didn't care so much about this hand as what I wanted the atmosphere to be and my image to be. So I went all in for $370. Everybody folded around to the UTG who was not happy. He only had about $300 more. After talking himself into calling saying "its probably a race" he called and the other player folded. I asked if he had a pair and he said no and I showed my AcKc. He turned over his Qs 10s and said it was a small race. Well the board came out 9h 5s 8s. The turn came a 2s and I was drawing dead. No bad beat bitching stories here. I was only a 3-2 favorite when all the money got in. That's not the point. The point is that again, the immovable object (the call) bested all the aggression the irresistable force could muster (moving all in for 4.5X the pot).

I think aggression is a bit overvalued. Of course, you need to protect your hand and what not but the more I look back over my big wins, the more i think they came at least 60% in part from making some big calls in big pots. Some were good like the 7s4s call and some may have been as brave as the Qs10s (though I wouldn't like to admit it). If you can perfect the art of being a calling station then you can definetly be +EV.


Reza said...

"..Aggression is overvalued.." are you kidding me? The players in your game cant do higher level thinking and of course you cant make somebody who thinks "ZOMG I has top pair, I is all in" to fold specially with those stack sizes.
There is no need to get tricky when you are sitting with bad calling station players. ABC poker is the key in these kind of games.

Rick said...

I agree with Danyul, and feel like Reza might be missing the point.
In Danyul's 99 vs JJ example, if Danyul had played it aggressively on the turn, he probably would've gotten called and would have put lots of money in when he was way behind. His opponent seemed to believe in betting when in doubt, based on that river bet, and as a result lost $200 more than he should have. In the 2nd hand (TT vs 74), Danyul was the one playing it aggressively, which backfired. On the 3rd hand (AT vs T9), I don't think you have too much choice on the turn; with your stack size, once you've called on the flop and such a harmless turn card comes, you're either going all-in on the turn or calling his all-in on the turn. Your check/call on the flop is questionable though, since his overbet is very consistent with a ten, whereas I think most people would have bet smaller with a straight draw or middle pair. Hard to fault you for calling really, but he gave you a chance to make a good laydown there. As for the last hand, he has QT and it's $300 to him, to call what will be a $720 pot, so he needs to be 42% to win for a call to be right. It's definitely a bad call by him, though not hideous. He was probably on tilt. I don't think this example serves your overall point since here, your aggressiveness was right and his call was bad. This was not a "brave" or commendable call but just a player making a mistake and getting lucky. However, I totally agree with your overall point that blind aggression is totally over-rated. It's all about the weak-tight, baby! Except pre-flop: I'm a huge believer in raising pre-flop.

Reza said...

All those hands you mentioned, Danyul played them bad, he tried to get tricky and of course backfired. I mean what can a tight player have in that 99 vs JJ hand? Dan made a good read in the end and decided his 9-high flush was winning but practically was drawing dead on the flop.
TT vs 74 hand, his opponent is clearly showing strength, why would you wanna get cute to end up losing all your money with TT on that board?
I mean why would you even try to play tricky when you have so many bad players on table that dont even pay attention to what you do? If you read all his posts, you see that he has made most of his money by just making a good hand and getting value out of it. When value betting good hands makes you money, why even bother playing the sherif trying to catch people's bluffs?
Blaming it all on aggression is a mistake in my opinion.

Danyul said...

No thats not true at all. Of course, I have made money from value betting good hands. But I have won a ton of big pots by making some tough calls as well as playing hyper aggressive. That image has gotten me action on my big hands as well and that's why when I make big hands I can win big pots. If I just played nitty hands like AA-JJ and sets then the competent players would not pay me off to the same degree. I also don't mention the pots where I clean take someone off of a better hand. In the course of a typical 5 hour session I would say I steal at least 7-8 moderate pots with the worst hand. It would be pointless to keep listing all the times where top pair weak kicker makes a feeler weak bet into a nice pot and in position I raise to isolate and he folds. So I think its a bit simplistic to play armchair analyst and say I should only bet when I have top pair or call when I have top pair beat. That's not poker.