Calling Pre-flop in No-Limits Hold 'Em: Two Perspectives
Article by Jude Harrison
In a No-Limit tournament, with five to seven players, you should look to fold your pocket cards - without even seeing the flop - at least 60 per cent of the time. This is easy when you're sitting on nothing and someone raises the blind, but can be harder with hands that you'd like to develop (such as suited connectors or a low to medium pair). In such cases the temptation is always to "see just one more card", but in purely statistical terms such a call is almost always erroneous.
Every so often you will get lucky and hit a flush or straight, but most of the time your draw will be frustrated. In its rawest form, poker is a game of probability and the odds should be respected. Over the course of a whole game, the costs of calling when it's not strictly necessary will build up; in tournament play you simply cannot afford such a drain on your precious gambling stack.
In tournament play, where your total number of chips is heavily restricted and the value of your stack is relative to everyone else's at the table, not losing money is as valuable as winning money. If the big blind is $1 in a $50 buy-in, then calling the blind unnecessarily just ten times represents the pointless sacrificing of one tenth of your starting stack.
Ask yourself: "before seeing my pocket cards, would I have been happy exchanging the value of a big blind for them?" If the answer is no, then fold and save your money for a better hand. Thus runs the traditional school of thought, its advocates typically playing a tight, cautious game that can become uber aggressive when they hit a decent hand.
While it is undoubtedly a winning strategy, why not add some variety to your play by dropping in a few loose calls? While you will rarely have the right pot odds to call, the beauty of No Limit Hold 'Em is that you can earn back the money, and more, in the long run. This is because on the occasions when you do manage to make a hand, it will be so well disguised that your opponent will be hard pressed to read it correctly. You can therefore take advantage by raising big, and their misreading of your cards will end up costing them big.
This almost worked for Erik Seidel against Gus Hansen in one famous encounter from 2009 the American making a slightly loose call with a pair of 8s, and hitting the trips on the flop. It then developed in to a 200k pot before Hansen fortuitously out-drew him at the river.
An even better version of this play is to use it as a bluffing opportunity. You will ideally have position on your opponents, and an understanding of how they play. Make a cavalier call, or (even better), take control of the round by raising double or three times the big blind. At this point, disregard your own cards; you know that your pocket cards are weak and will probably not win the hand if it goes to the river. Focus instead on working out how to knock your opponents off the pot.
There is no need, except on high level tables, to put them on an exact hand - just try to put them on a flush/straight draw or pair. Once you have a general appreciation of their cards and what they are hoping to draw, you will know how much it will take to price them out of the round (and indeed, whether that is even possible).
The vast majority of the time, your opponents will pick up nothing bigger than a pair or three of a kind; if you make a loose call, and have position, you will be able to take advantage of opportunities for stealing pots from timid players.These are two alternative approaches to calling pre-flop. Try to use both of them to keep your opponents guessing.