Pro Poker Tip: Winning by Checking and Calling

Nick Schulman Professional Poker Player

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.

Nick Schulman

Look for Nick playing online at BetOnline Poker. Congratulations to Nick Schulman for winning his first WSOP bracelet in the 2009 $10K World Championship Deuce to Seven Lowball event.

Nick’s vitals stats: 1 WSOP Bracelet, 1 WPT Title and over $3.8 Million in Career Tournament Earnings

Pro Poker: Let the Maniac Hang Himself

Pro Tip on handling aggressive poker players

We’ve all played poker against those guys who are relentlessly aggressive, who’ll make moves with any two cards. The fact of the matter is that you have to make a stand against those guys sooner or later. The key is picking the right time to do it. There’s nothing more painful than being the sucker who pays him off when he finally has a monster. But it’s a gamble you have to take on occasion in order to be the guy who gets all of the maniac’s chips when he runs an ill-advised bluff.

At the 2008 Aussie Millions, I had one of those aggressive players at my table on Day One. He was an 18-year-old online guru, I think he was from Norway. It didn’t take long for me to realize that he was playing loose: involved in a lot of hands, making some big calls and making some big re-raises. He was seated two positions to my left, so I had to be careful about entering pots and prepared to make a stand against one of his re-raises eventually.

That opportunity came with blinds at 150/300. I had roughly an average stack, about 19,500, and the Norwegian was the big stack at the table with about 44,000. I was two off the button, and he was on the button. The under-the-gun player raised to 800, the next player called, I looked down at Kc-Jc and called, the cutoff called, and then it came around to the aggressive kid on the button. I’d noted that almost every time there had been five or six callers, or a raise and several callers, he had put the squeeze play on. Something in my mind was telling me he didn’t have anything most of the time and had just been making this move to pick up some dead money.

So of course he did it again on this hand, raising another 4,000 to 4,800 total. Everybody folded around to me, and I had to consider how much it was going to hurt my stack to call. I didn’t have a lot of chips and would be committing about a quarter of my stack. But something just told me that this guy had NOTHING. So I made the call.

We were heads-up, and the flop came Q-J-8, rainbow. I checked, and I made my mind up that I was calling a flop bet no matter what. But he checked behind, and the turn came another Jack, putting two spades on the board. I checked again, and he bet 4,000 chips. I tanked for a little while, making it seem like a difficult call with a marginal hand, but eventually I called. I didn’t think he had anything at all, so raising would have made absolutely no sense.

Then a King came on the river, giving me a full house. Again, I checked, and he put me all in for about 10,000 chips, and I insta-called. He didn’t even want to show his hand, but eventually he did and turned over 10-7 off-suit.

I was proud of the way I played the hand on two fronts. First, my read was dead-on that he was wanting to make a move with absolutely nothing, and I trusted that read and made a tough pre-flop call. Then, when I turned a big hand and rivered a monster, I continued to trust my read and fed him rope to hang himself. If I had bet out on any of those streets, I might have lost him. But these aggressive players often think they can bully you off of pots with all-in bets, so when I made my full house, I let him use his aggression to my advantage and I doubled up through him.

Greg Mueller

Greg has won 2 WSOP Bracelets and over $1.7 Million in Career Tournament Earnings. He is a former professional hockey player.

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