Cold Calling in Poker: Do's and Dont's

Cold Calling in Poker: The Do’s and Don’ts

Cold-calling in poker is a tactic used by players with a good understanding of the game. Knowing when best to cold-call isn't easy for the newbie, and even the pro's get it wrong. In Texas Hold'em poker cold-calling only happens preflop when your hole cards have been dealt, and the small and big blinds have been placed.

Below we're going to give you a few insights into when and when not to cold-call.

Now to recap a few basics depending on the version of the game you play. The preflop is the opening part of the game before the three community cards are laid face up in the center of the table. Community cards (also known as shared or window cards), are available to all the players in the game to make their hands. The preflop is a critical part of the game because the players are only betting on the two hole cards they already have in their hands. The betting in the preflop phase, blinds, only exists because in Omaha and Texas Hold'em games are usually played without antes - where each player seeds the pot with a small amount and a player can fold without placing any further bets. Think of these blind bets as a means of payment for playing the hand.

So now all the players have their two cards and the one to the immediate left of the dealer or 'button', plays a 'small blind'. The next player to his left then plays the 'big blind'. The 'big blind' is equal to the minimum bet and the 'small blind' is half of that. The blinds not only create a payment for participation, but they also encourage players to gamble on hands that they might normally fold because now they have some money in the pot and a vested interest. It also increases the size of the pot for everyone else.

The cold call comes when the next player, who doesn't have any bets in the pot, to the left of the 'big blind', calls it. At this point, there has only been one raise, but the blinds also count as a bet. The blind players have placed bets that are forced bets - the rules for entry to the game - so they aren't able to cold call.

However, betting aggressively on those two cards can be considered a weak game. The flop, once laid, can potentially reveal a better hand than that you already have and, when the next two cards are laid (known as the 'turn' and the 'river') everything can change again. Good practice suggests that if there isn't a good reason for cold-calling, then the player should either raise or fold. If your hand is good, then play it.

However, while this might be the 'right' course of action, the game of poker demands many more subtleties, and a cold call can be played in a number of ways that can prove to be a winning move. If you've got two strong cards in your whole hand, then you're not going to want to advertise the fact by cold-calling because with the more players around the table there is then a higher likelihood that one of them will have a better hand. But checking the stacks of the other players yet to play should give you an indication of what to do. If they have short stacks, then the chances are that you'll entice them to shove - put all of their stacks in. Players with small stacks don't have many options and putting everything in is one of the few ways in a blind game that they can survive. All or bust.

Knowing how your opponents are playing will also give you a clue as to when playing a cold call. Let's say, for instance, that you are playing with two aggressive players who are doing their level best to build big pots and to put other people of the game. Poker players are often advised to take control of the pot and to play aggressively so that they have the most equity in the pot. However, playing these guys out early in a hand can be advantageous and knock their confidence.

If the stacks are big around the table and you have a good preflop hand, then it doesn't make sense to cold call. In these circumstances, you want to build the pot. The cold call should be used as an offensive measure to eke out the small stacks rather than a defensive one whereby you're cold calling in the hope of a solution to arrive when the flop is laid.

If you always play the same way then be aware that other players will see it. Let's say you pull and ace-king (often known as 'Big Slick' because of its great potential to make you money) for your hole cards - your natural move is to raise. It's a very strong hand, and it makes sense to raise in the hope that an ace gets laid at the flop. It won't take long for the others to realize your game when you start going large post-flop. Occasionally playing a cold call with a good set of hole cards is a great way to confuse your opponents and you'll be able to take advantage later in the hand.

All of the above assumes that you are playing against quality players who are reading the game and the other players. If you are not playing against such opposition then simply raise on the ace-king at every opportunity. Be aware, however, that the 'Big Slick' is also known as the 'Anna Kournikova' because it looks great but rarely wins anything.

Cold calling is a tactic to learn and to use with caution. If you want to improve your poker game, then moves like cold calling will help you to improve and to be able to take more risks in the game. Try to use it for aggressive rather than defensive reasons and never use it in hope. The preflop phase of the poker round is a very important time to assess the strength or otherwise of your opposition. It is sometimes said that you should never look at your cards until you need to make a play. When the hole cards are dealt, take the time to try to watch the reactions of the other players - especially the aggressive ones. In time you'll learn more by watching them than trying to work the odds of your hole cards. 

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