Call In Poker Rules. Evaluating the Profitability of a Poker Call

Many players figure themselves to be ‘feel’ players, relying solely on intuition or ‘gut feeling’ when deciding whether or not to make a call in poker.

Other players – like you and I — prefer to only make calls in poker we figure to be mathematically correct. This isn’t a matter of our being coldly rational at the expense of intuition. Indeed, our intuition drives our decision to make profitable plays; our ‘gut feeling’ is to figure out the winning line and to take it. It’s a matter of our preferring to win at poker, rather than just gamble on a whim.

So when we’re calculating whether or not we should make a call in poker — on a draw, to get to a showdown, or otherwise — we’ll want to know how to calculate the expected value of the play. Let’s take a look at how we can do that.

The Math Behind a Poker Call

There’s a simple formula we can refer to when we want to know if a poker call will be profitable. It looks remarkably similar to the straight EV formula, and the formula we’ve seen for calculating the profitability of a raise. It is thus:

EVcall = (Pwin)($win) – (Plose)($call)

Where Pwin is the probability that our hand takes the pot, $win is the pot we win, Plose is the probability that we’ll be beat, and $call is the amount we’ve got to call.

So say we’re playing 6-max $1/2 NL Holdem, and we’re heads-up on the turn against a single villain, who’s in early position. There’s $100 in the pot, and villain leads out the river by betting $50, making the pot $150. Should we call?

Let’s say we’ve got an open-ended straight draw, nothing more. We figure to win 100% of the time if we make our straight, and never if we don’t. We also figure to win no further money if our draw hits, since our hand is undisguised. We thus have 8 outs with one card left to come, giving us roughly 5:1 against making our straight; put another way, we’ve got about 17% equity in the pot. Now we just plug these numbers into our EVcall equation:

EVcall = (.17)($150) – (1-.17)($50)

EVcall = $25.5 – $41.5

EVcall = -$16

We figure to lose about $16 every time we make this call, and thus we should fold every time. The only factor that might make such a call profitable would be an increase in our implied odds; that is to say if we figured to win more money from our opponent when we hit on the river.

Estimating Poker Calling Frequencies

Say we’re not sure of the exact equity we’ve got in a hand, or we just want to make a rough estimate of how often we’d need to win when calling a certain sized bet in order for it to be profitable. We here only need to consider the pot odds we’re getting.

Say we’re on the river facing a 1/2 pot bet. How often does our hand need to hold up in order for a poker call to be profitable?

Well, our opponent gives us (.5 + 1) : .5 on a call, or about 3:1. So our hand would need to win one out of every four trials in order for this call to be profitable. We need 25% equity in the pot or greater to make the call.

Say we’re on the river facing a 3/4 pot bet. How often do we need to be good here in order to justify a call?

Our opponent gives us (.75 + 1) : .75 on a call, or about 2.33:1. We’d need to be good one out of every 3.33 trials in order to call profitably here, or about 30% of the time.

Using the above method, you can figure out the profitability of any poker call you’re up against very quickly. From there, it’s just a matter of estimating the value of your hand against villain’s; and then choosing which action is correct: a call or a fold.

Great poker rooms to practice your skills: Full Tilt Poker, PokerStars.

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