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Calling is the Strongest Play in Poker
By Ryno of

In No Limit Holdem, aggressive play often gets rewarded. Sometimes, you don't need the best hand to win the pot. You just have to be the most aggressive player in the hand. But knowing when to call, when to raise, and when to fold is perhaps the most important skill. Anyone can bet or raise. But to call a bet - that takes some serious hand strength.

Here's the best way to illustrate the point: Let's say all the cards are out and you're facing a bet on the river. You missed your draw and it's a big pot, but you know that you're beat. However, you sense your opponent isn't too strong. Of course if you're short-stacked, you have no choice but to fold. But if you have some chips, your only way of winning the pot is to raise and hope that your opponent folds. You don't need to have any hand at all to make that raise. But if you just call, you have to have a very good hand that you think will beat your opponent's hand that was clearly strong enough for your opponent to bet with. Your hand must be much stronger to call the bet than it has to be to raise with.

And that's the case in all situations in No Limit Holdem. Before the flop, you can raise with any two cards if there are no raises before you or if you just think you can steal the pot. But if there's a large raise ahead of you, your hand must be very strong to call with. When someone raises, the pot gets bigger. On the flop, there will likely be a larger bet. The larger the pot is, the larger the bets will be. Therefore, by calling a raise pre-flop, you must be willing to commit even more chips on the flop. If you have a hand where you could make your hand and still be beat, you shouldn't call a raise before the flop. For example, with a hand like AT or AJ somebody could have raised with AQ or AK. If an ace comes out, you have top pair but you're still beat. If two aces come out, you have trips but you're still beat. But it's okay to raise with a hand like that because you could take down the pot at any time by being aggressive.

If you raised pre-flop and there was only one or two callers, you could bet on the flop even if you don't hit your hand - that's a continuation bet. But if someone else raised pre-flop you have to have a hand to call on the flop. As you can see, you must always have a better hand to call a bet than to be the one betting.

For example, let's say you decide to get cute and re-raise another player's raise before the flop with pocket 2's. One other player calls your re-raise. The flop comes out K48. The other player bets into you on the flop. Why would he do that when you re-raised before the flop? He probably had AK and hit top pair, top kicker, and he wants to see if you he's ahead or if you had AA, a hand that is very likely when someone re-raises before the flop. You decide to raise his bet on the flop. He gives you credit for AA and makes a smart lay-down. This isn't something that would happen too often, but it certainly happens. As you can see, you can play any hand like a monster if you're the aggressor. But if you were to just call on the flop, what would be the point? You would know you're behind, your opponent would know he is ahead, and you would only have two outs.

Here's another example: If your pocket pairs becomes a set on the flop and somebody bets into you, would you call or raise? Most would probably just call and slow-play the hand. But if you had a weaker hand like top pair with top kicker, you are more likely to raise.

Next time you are faced with a decision whether to call, fold or raise, think about the strength of your hand. If you don't have a very strong hand, fold it. If you think you could have the best hand, make the call. Once in a while, when you sense weakness in your opponent, play your hand like a monster and take down the pot. But don't call with a mediocre hand - only call with strong hands.

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