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September 22, 2009
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Poker Lesson: Winning by Checking and Calling
Author: Nick Schulman
It’s been said many times that the weakest play in poker is calling – that it’s better to be raising or folding. In my opinion, there are situations where that statement simply isn’t true. I recently played a hand online at Full Tilt Poker that served as a perfect example of how checking and calling can win you a hand that you would have lost by folding (obviously) or raising.
The key to the situation is that I recognized I was up against an aggressive opponent and I had a marginal hand. I was playing $10/$20 6-max No-Limit Hold ’em, and the action folded around to me on the button with two red nines. I was pretty deep-stacked with $2,447 in front of me, and I made a standard raise to $60. The player in the small blind, who was even deeper with $3,356 in his stack, raised it to $210. The big blind folded.
It was an interesting spot. I obviously wasn’t going to fold there, but I feel pocket nines is the type of hand where calling is preferable to raising. Consider: If I raise there and get re-raised, I really don’t like my hand anymore. So I prefer the call.
The flop came 5d-8d-Qh, and although it wasn’t a great flop, with only one over-card to my nines, I figured I would call just about any bet. There was $437 in the pot and my opponent bet $280. I figured his range of hands could be pretty loose. He was a good player and an aggressive player, and while the Queen might have hit him, he could just as easily have a hand like A-J, J-10 suited or K-J suited. In that spot, I don’t really think you can fold nines, but I don’t recommend raising with them either. So I called, bringing the pot to $997.
The turn was the Jd, giving me a diamond draw and a gut-shot to go with my pair. My opponent checked, and I very strongly considered betting. But then I thought about it more carefully: What hand better than mine can I convince to fold? If he has pocket tens without the 10d, he probably folds that. But that’s about it. If he has Aces or Kings, he probably won’t fold. Other than pocket tens, the only hands I’ll get called by are hands that are ahead of me. And I could get check-raised and have to fold my hand without seeing the river. So I checked behind.
The river was the 8c, which paired the board, but was pretty much a blank. I hoped he’d check again and just let me check behind with what’s probably the best hand. Indeed, he checked, turned over Ad-Kh, and I won the pot.
Looking back at the hand, I think I was right to just check or call all the way. Pre-flop, who knows, if I’d re-raised, anything could have happened, including him shoving all in and me having to fold. On the flop, a raise probably would have worked, but that’s a really risky play. If I had bet the turn, that could have been disastrous. He had me covered, he’s shown himself to be an aggressive player, and he had the nut flush draw plus a gut-shot and two over-cards. There’s a very good chance he would have check-raised all in, which would have been an excellent play. I would’ve had to fold the best hand if he’d done that.
In that spot, I didn’t want to open myself up to getting outplayed, and I still had a lot of showdown value with my hand. Sometimes, against an aggressive player in a marginal situation, it’s best not to be aggressive back. Sometimes, aggression can cost you a pot that would have been yours if you’d been a little more cautious.
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