To Call or Not To Call When You Think He’s Bluffing

by Lou on December 9, 2005

This question was asked of me by a player on Poker Analysis Forum, and it’s such a good question I thought I’d post it here, for all to see. The reader asks: “This happens a lot to me in limit. You have been betting the whole way with the best hand. Your opponent bets the river when the draw comes in. By now the pot usually has at least 7-8 big bets, or more, in it and even though you suspect your beaten, should you just pay it off so that you don’t look like you can be easily bluffed, or is better to save that bet?”

This is a great question, but it’s one that doesn’t have a single answer other than the fact that you have to know your opponents. If you’re playing against someone who hasn’t bluffed since Clinton was in the White House, just fold your hand when he bets in these situations and let it go at that. But if you’re up against a habitual bluffer, you’ll have to call.

It’s the hands you play against opponents who sometimes bluff and sometimes don’t that are tough. If there are eight big bets in a pot, you only have to pick off a bluff once in every eight attempts to make calling the best play, so you should lean toward calling rather than folding.

If you call a bet and lose, it will cost one more bet than you would have lost if you simply folded. But if you fold and lose a pot you would have won, the cost is huge. It’s eight big bets, and if you win at the rate of one big bet per hour it will take you one full day of playing to recoup the loss from this decision.

So err on the side of calling, but do not call each and every time. If you were to do that, savvy players would never try to bluff you. Instead, they’d bet for value with every decent hand they held. If you can get an accurate read on how often your opponents are likely to bluff, then you’ll be able to employ a strategy that gives you the best possible edge.

Knowing your opponents and understanding how they tend to play in various situations is the key to deciding whether to call, fold, or even raise. It’s a lot better than guessing, or simply calling because that’s the side you should err on when you know nothing about an opponent and he bets into you when a draw appears to be made.

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