by Barbara Connors
We all have our pet peeves about this game. One of mine happens when I’ve been getting nothing but junk hands for hours, and then I’m dealt something like 10-9 suited, or maybe a baby suited ace— something that’s just good enough to call. Full of eager anticipation at finally seeing a flop, my joy quickly turns to “Oh @#%# I have to fold again” when one of the players in front of me puts in a raise.
In a case like this, the temptation to cold-call, that is to call for two bets when one has not yet put any money in the pot, can be very strong. I’ll confess that I have succumbed to this temptation from time to time. In this I have a lot of company, because cold-calling with inferior hands preflop is one of the most common mistakes in poker. It’s also one of the most ruinous.
That’s partly because the opportunity arises so often. Unless you’re sitting at a table full of nits, preflop raises are a common occurrence. Quality hands, by contrast, are relatively few and far between. But more than that, every loose cold-call you make has the potential to snowball into a stack-busting disaster if—as so often happens—you catch just enough of the flop to make an expensive second-best hand. It’s this noxious double-whammy, the frequency of this mistake coupled with the nasty way it can blow up on you, that makes loose cold-calls so deadly.
As a general rule, whenever you’re facing a preflop raise, you should be looking to either reraise or get out. The vast majority of the time, those are your best options. But there is a range of hands, a very narrow kind of no man’s land between the clear folds and the aggressive three-bets, where cold-calling becomes a viable alternative. Like everything else in poker, this range is always shifting, depending on the exact circumstances.
For starters, always consider the preflop raiser. There’s a multiverse of difference between calling two bets cold from a tight player who raised UTG, and cold-calling the same two bets from a drunk maniac sitting in the cutoff. Before anything else you must consider the source. How much do you respect this opponent’s preflop raises? What range do you put him on? No wishful thinking allowed here, no talking yourself into believing he’s raising with the low end of his range so it probably won’t hurt to call with A-J this time. It’s rationalizations like this that can kill you in the long run.
The next crucial question is: how many players will be in this pot? If other players have already cold-called before it gets to you, or if there were limpers in front of the raise who are likely to call again for one more bet, you know you’re looking at a multiway pot. Now you can call for two bets with some drawing-type hands, starting with big suited Broadway cards. The more opponents you know are going to play this pot, the looser you can cold-call, down to the medium suited connectors or medium pocket pairs. More opponents equals better implied odds, so with multiway action you want to cold-call with hands that have the potential to hit big. The key here is being able to get away from the hand if the flop doesn’t hit you just right. If your pocket pair didn’t flop a set or if your suited connectors only hit for a middling pair, you must be able to walk away.
What you don’t want to do is cold-call with hands that are easily dominated, such as K-J or A-10. Even suited, these hands are always dangerous against a raiser. It’s far too easy to be out-kicked, or simply out-pipped, when you make a pair. Against a player who has already told you his hand is strong, cold-calling with potentially dominated hands is just pushing your luck. Never a good idea in poker.
Barbara Connors is a sucker for classic old movies, science fiction, and the St. Louis Cardinals. Her life’s ambition is to figure out the unusual behavior patterns of that unique breed of humans who call themselves poker players. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.