What is a Calling Station?
A “calling station” is a player who calls often regardless of their hand strength. These fold-averse players are most commonly found in live and low stakes online games.
Calling stations are relatively easy to beat, but they can be frustrating to play against if you catch a cold run of cards. In this article, you’ll learn 3 adjustments you can make to crush calling stations and boost your win-rate.
Featured image: CardsChat News (edited from original)
The Source of These Adjustments
These insanely profitable adjustments were tested by Ryan Fee in the Upswing Lab training course. He played 10,000 hands at $0.25/$0.50, taking a break every 2,000 hands to analyze the sample and come up with winning adjustments.
Here is his graph before he realized the player pool was full of calling stations:
And here’s his graph after adjusting:
Implement the following adjustments to improve your win-rate against calling stations.
1. Drastically Reduce Your Bluffing Frequency
You should do very little bluffing versus calling stations. This is perhaps an obvious adjustment to make, but it’s too important not to emphasize.
Put simply, if you notice that an opponent is making absurdly wide calls, then bluffing them will probably be in vain. Many players learn this lesson the hard way, though it can be easily avoided.
Fee played a hand at the $0.25/$0.50 tables that illustrates this point:
Americas Cardroom, $0.25/$0.50 6-Handed. $10.87 Effective Stacks.
Hero is dealt K♣ 9♦ in the big blind
Middle Position (MP) raises to $1. Hero calls.
Flop ($2.25): 8♥ T♠ 7♠
Hero checks. MP checks.
Turn ($2.25): 5♣
Hero bets $2. MP calls.
River ($6.25): 2♥
Hero bets $7.87. MP calls and shows K♦ 7♦.
Theoretically, this is a great overbet bluff spot for Fee. The board is heavily favors Fee’s range, he holds a blocker to the nut straight (J9), and he doesn’t block the missed spade flush draw.
But these reasons are irrelevant if his opponent still won’t fold third-pair. The silver lining is that he learned his opponent is a calling station, and so he could ease up on bluffing versus this player as a counter-strategy.
The broader lesson to be learned here is to pay close attention to how your opponents play, and in particular take note of what hands they showdown. Gathering information is key for making certain adjustments against your opponents. If you want to learn some showdown-based adjustments, read this article.
Of course, calling stations do fold sometimes, so mixing in the occasional bluff in especially prime spots is fine. This has the added benefit of maintaining your image as a potential bluffer, which makes it more likely you get paid off when you’re value betting. If you never bluff, then you are the one who become easy to exploit.
Note: When it comes to studying poker, it can be tough to know where to begin. You can study the game with step by step instructions and examples for a huge number of topics when you join the Upswing Lab training course. Learn more now!
2. Go for Razor-Thin Value as Often as Possible
You should be willing to bet for value in spots that would be too marginal against most players. This is one of the most effective adjustments to make versus calling stations. If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice that thin-value spot arise quite often—take advantage!
Here’s a good example from Fee’s 10,000 hand sample:
Americas Cardroom $0.25 / $0.50 6-Handed. $22.77 Effective Stacks.
Hero is in the cutoff with J♦ J♣
Villain (in MP) raises to $1. Hero raises to $3. Villain calls.
Flop ($6.75): 2♠ 5♥ 6♣
Villain checks. Hero bets $2.14. Villain calls.
Turn ($11.03): 6♦
Villain checks. Hero checks.
River ($11.03): 5♦
Villain bets $3.49. Hero raises to $17.63. Villain calls and mucks A♠ Q♦.
This hand demonstrates why you should think twice before making an “easy call” or “easy check” versus a calling station.
On the river, a conservative player might just call Villain’s bet fearing that a raise will only get called by better hands. However, Fee suspected there was more value to be had considering Villain’s range:
- Villain will rarely have a full house with a 6 or a 5 since he called a 3-bet preflop.
- With hands as strong as QQ–AA, Villain would likely have been shoved all-in preflop or on the flop.
- Villain’s range is mostly hands with some showdown value, like Ace-high or 77-TT.
Combine these range considerations with a player pool that’s practically allergic to folding, and you’ve got a recipe for a razor-thin value raise that will be called by worse often.
3. Size Up On Your Bets
Calling stations tend to have inelastic calling ranges. This means that they will call or fold to a bet regardless of the bet size they are up against.
You can exploit this tendency by using larger sizes when you’re value betting so you win the maximum. You can also use smaller sizes when you’re bluffing. Savvy players would pick up on sizing tells like this over time, but weaker players will rarely give it a second thought.
This final hand demonstrates how important it is to go for max value when it’s there for the taking:
Americas Cardroom $0.25 / $0.50 5-Handed. $50 Effective Stacks.
Hero is in the big blind with A♥ A♠
Villain (SB) raises to $1.50. Hero raises to $4.50. Villain calls.
Flop ($9): 8♦ T♣ J♦
Villain checks. Hero checks.
Turn ($9): 6♠
Villain checks. Hero bets $7. SB calls.
River ($23): 4♣
Villain checks. Hero bets $38.50. Villain calls and mucks Q♦ T♦.
Once Villain checks on the turn and then just calls Fee’s delayed c-bet, two pair+ hands can be heavily discounted from his range. Given how connected the board is, you can expect Villain to play those hands as leads or check-raises on the turn.
A♥ A♠ is almost certainly the best hand on the river, so Fee sizes up to exploit Villain’s tendency to over-call. The fact that the opponent calls an almost 2x pot overbet on the river with second-pair, despite blocking Fee’s most likely bluffs (AQ, KQ), is emblematic of just how punishable calling stations are.
Since you are going to be value-heavy versus calling stations, using larger bet sizes in polarized situations will be very effective. When you overbet, you are signaling to your opponent that you have either a very strong hand or complete air. As a result, players may still call down with marginal bluff-catchers despite their terrible pot odds.
To Recap, Make These 3 Adjustments to Crush Calling Stations:
- Tone down your bluffing frequency
- Go for thin value as often as possible
- Use larger bet sizes with strong hands.
That’s all for today! If you want to keep reading up on poker strategy, check out “How to Beat the Guy Who Is Always Betting — Countering an Aggressive Poker Strategy“.