‘Hero Calling’ is a term we once used a lot to describe calling a big bet with a very weak holding. If you’ve been around the poker scene for a while, you will probably remember the battles between Phil Ivey and Tom Dwan that involved many a wild bluff and even wilder call-down.
These days we understand better the idea that betting ranges on the river should usually be quite polarised. This means that when a player makes a sizeable river bet his range should consist of very weak hands which we call ‘bluffs’, and some stronger hands that are trying to get called by worse, which we call ‘value’. The bluffs should have no showdown value, or else they would be better off checking. For this reason, if you bluff the river, your opponent should not need much showdown value to consider calling your river bet. He merely needs to think that you are bluffing too often or that he holds a good hand for bluff catching. This could be because it makes it harder for you to hold a good hand via card-removal. In today’s hand, this polarisation is our main theme and explains the call I end up making on the river.
Today’s hand features one of the widest range situations in the game: blind vs. blind. At a 100NL ($0.50/$1) ZOOM game, I am in the SB with A♥J♣ and raise to $2.70. Villain is an unknown regular. I just lost my Poker Tracker database due to having to reinstall Windows on my computer, so suffice to say that until I have retrieved my hands, everyone is an unknown! Villain calls. This is the most common response we will see. In today’s game, a competent player understands the necessity to defend almost every suited hand here and a lot of off-suit stuff too. We could see hands as weak as 84s and K4o in Villain’s range here.
The flop comes 6♦6♠4♥ and we decide to begin with a check. Given the width of Villain’s pre-flop range, he will hold the monopoly over the 6x as he is calling plenty of thee hands for these pot odds in position that are too weak for us to open from out of position. Therefore, the first problem that I face on small paired flops like this one is that my opponent’s range contains more nutted combinations than mine does. The second issue with this spot is that I am out of position. On the bright side, my range contains some overpairs that Villain cannot have due to not 3-betting pre-flop, but these are a smallish part of my very wide range.
Theoretically speaking, then, I am supposed to check quite a lot here. While it is perfectly fine to make a small bet with the A♥J♣ against a passive opponent who plays fit or fold, we should control how much money we put into the pot against a good opponent.
Many players can get quite aggressive in the BB here when checked to on a board that they know is bad for our range. If Villain overdoes the bluffing here, then check/calling multiple bets looks like an attractive proposition with our hand as it is a very strong bluff catcher that has six outs against a hand like 4x. This time, Villain does not bite, and the flop goes check/check. This is good in that I am playing a small pot with a marginal hand, but bad in the sense that Villain has taken a free card with what will usually be a worse hand than mine.
The turn is the 8♣ and the pot stands at $5.40 as it did on the flop. In theory now, my hand is supposed to bet quite often. This might sound surprising, but this bet functions as a value bet because ranges are so wide here and so capped due to the flop action. It is very unlikely that my opponent has many hands better than 8x, but he certainly plays many combinations of weaker Ace-High and some King-High this way and these hands will have to call a turn bet if he is to defend often enough. Moreover, by betting my hand now I gain protection and stop a hand like Q9o from taking another free card.
I decide to check this time. The reason for this is that I think Villain might get too aggressive after a second check. This is not based on a player read, as I have no such thing, but on general population tendencies. My hand still makes a very fine bluff catcher so there is certainly no issue with playing it passively for another street. I check, Villain bets $3.39, and I have a mandatory call. Raising wouldn’t make much sense given my line so far and I have too much showdown value to want to turn my hand into a bluff in the first place.
The river is the Q♠. This card does connect with some of the hands my opponent was bluffing with on the turn but it has a very polarising effect in that it will make him less inclined to want to value-bet a weaker 8x hand. His range for betting the river then becomes mainly Qx and bluffs. He shouldn’t hold 6x too often after his flop check. If Villain is betting a lot of Qx hands on the turn, then he is likely also betting many other air hands that have missed this river. When ranges are very wide like this, Villain needs to be careful that he controls his bluffing frequency and doesn’t get too out of line. His range contains far too much air for him to just bet every time. I think the population will do a bad job of controlling this frequency.
I check again procedurally and Villain bets $7.64 into $12.18. I need just 28% equity to make this call break-even – any more than this, and I profit. How good is my hand as a bluff catcher now? Well, it beats 100% of Villain’s bluffs. It would be absurd for him to try to bluff a hand that is better than AJ. Card-removal wise, my hand is also quite suitable. Since Villain’s bluffs will not contain an Ace, my own Ace does not remove any of his air hands from the deck. Meanwhile, I do make a value hand like A8 less likely. My Jack is not the best card for removal as Villain will bluff some Jack-High hands due to their lack of showdown value.
Overall, I think I should certainly call this river bet. It is just too easy for people to lose control of their bluffing frequencies here unless they have studied this spot extensively. I make the call and Villain mucks his J♦10♥. This is a hand that he is supposed to bluff on the river only a small amount of the time (20-25% of the time or so). It is likely that he was overdoing it simply because it is so difficult for a human to hit this frequency.
When we break it down, our call seems more logical than heroic!
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