The concepts of calling other players’ bets (the small and big blinds, for instance) or raising the stakes are simple on the surface. However, the strategic significances of these two moves can be quite deep, depending upon the contexts.
Raising and calling do much more than simply keeping you in the action, since doing one or the other is your contribution to writing the story of that round, if you will. This contribution, and how you do it, is a key aspect of the dramatic, psychological dimension of Hold’em in which you persuade your opponents into thinking what you want them to think.
Raising, on the bare surface, is a move of confidence. However, with Hold’em being what it is (a game of deception and strategy) the act of raising is never taken at face value, so to speak, by experienced players — especially when they know they are playing against other experienced players.
- Raise to gain valuable intelligence: your raise bet is like setting off a little series of events that can help your chances. Opponents will be triggered to raise as well, to call your raise, or fold and relinquish their investments. You will learn who thinks they have a strong enough hand to stay in the action (or who may be bluffing, if you have been observant).
- Raise to bluff: as we just said above, raising is the more confident way to bluff (as opposed to just calling). Therefore, you should use this move when you have a stronger bluff, a bluff that is as well-founded and as sound as when you know you have the strongest hand.
- Raise when you have the winner: possibly the most pleasurable time to raise (although you may not want to show your glee if you’re playing strategically) is when you have the nuts, the best possible hand. You know this for sure after analysing both your challengers as well as the round’s probability based in part on the board cards. Raise strong and win!
- Raise to shut down the dealer: this is something you can do when you are sitting next to the dealer as the last player to bet, or ‘cutoff’ position (next to the ‘button’). This is one of the most powerful places to be, so don’t squander the opportunity to play against the dealer aggressively here.
The basic reason to call is to buy yourself extra time in that game, but only if you have a decent or improvable hand. It is also a key tool in certain types of more conservative bluffs. Calling is a de facto conservative type of move, however, it is used strategically by savvy players.
- Call if you have the winner: but when don’t want to scare away players who need to bet and draw to develop their hands (thus increasing your pot) — this is like reverse psychology, or a backward bluff. Among experts, this is a kind of bread and butter move.
- Call when you have the luxury: which is to say, you can call when you have the powerful ‘cutoff’ position (just before the dealer in play action). You will have the privilege of calling because you are finishing that betting round.
- Calling in the early betting rounds: playing conservatively initially can be an excellent setup for a bluff later in that game. Roughly similar to folding and then using your off time to observe the way a round plays out (studying your opponents), calling is a way to lay low, be discreet, stay in the action and learn more about your chances that time around.
The Elements of Poker
Calling and raising in poker are the most basic inputs you will have into the action, of course, and they are focal points for other players who are sizing you up. Your tells, overall confidence and recent history in the game will give away the rest of the picture to your opponents.
But calling and raising is a level where you should not make unnecessary mistakes, and get into the habit of always using your choice for advantage, one way or another.