Some poker players think you should only 3-bet or fold and never cold-call versus a single preflop raise. Other poker players think cold-calling is worth including your strategy. Who's right?
Today we're going to go over cold-calling in cash games. We'll start with the pros and cons so you can understand the basics of the play, then we'll go over a couple of situations that almost certainly warrant cold-calling.
Note to tournament players: This debate is not for you. Cold-calling is an unquestionably good play in many tournament situations because the presence of antes drastically improve the caller’s pot odds.
Pros of a Cold-Calling Range
- You get to see cheap flops with your medium strength hands.
- When no one else calls behind, you get to play in position postflop (except when you’re in the small blind).
- You can entice weak players behind you to make losing over-calls with sub-optimal hands.
Cons of a Cold-Calling Range
- You can get squeezed out of the pot if a player behind wakes up with a 3-betting hand.
- Players left to act can call with high equity hands that would fold if you 3-bet.
- The pot will sometimes go multiway, which significantly lowers your equity in the pot.
- You can’t win the pot preflop -- you're gonna have to hit something postflop or pull off a bluff.
When Can You Definitely Get Away with Cold-Calling?
There are two situations in which a cold-calling range is appropriate, and they both have to do with the players behind.
When you have one or more weak players behind you.
Weak players are a good poker player's most important income source. Naturally you should play hands with such players as often as profitably possible.
When you cold-call, a weak player behind will often times see an opportunity to make a cheap investment to win a growing pot. The weak player is right, of course, but he probably won't be right when it comes to hand selection. More than likely he'll decide to over-call with all sorts of trashy hands that will almost certainly lose in a multiway pot in the long run.
Let’s take an example:
You are on the button with T♦ 9♦ playing a $1/$2 cash game ($200 deep). A regular player in middle position raises to $6. Seated to your direct left (in the small blind) is a weak and splashy player who has been playing more than 50% of hands dealt.
Under normal conditions, this hand is close between 3-betting and cold-calling (Educa-p0ker recommends 3-betting in his course). Considering the weak player in the small blind, however, you have a mandatory cold-call because you will invite the weak player into the pot with a bunch of weak hands, including hands he wouldn't have continued with had you 3-bet.
The second situation that warrants cold-calling is...
When the players behind you are not aggressive 3-bettors.
A lack of 3-betting behind you means that you will not be squeezed out of the pot as frequently, so you will get to see a flop and realize your equity much more often.
Take the same example as before ($1/$2, regular raises to $6 in middle position, and you're on the button with a weak player in the small blind). This time, however, you look down at KQo.
If you’ve seen any of your opponents on the left 3-bet squeezing with anything worse than a premium hand (TT+, AQo+, AJs+), you are better off just 3-betting or folding this hand. In fact, you should 3-bet or fold your entire range in this spot if your opponents are active squeezers.
A Quick Word on Live Poker
If you play live, you know that it's more common to see larger preflop raise sizes (4bb+). As the size increases, you should be less inclined to cold-call and more likely to 3-bet or fold.
However, since live poker players usually 3-bet infrequently, you are much less likely to face a 3-bet squeeze from the players behind. These two factors roughly even out and allow you to still have a cold-calling range (barring a very large size or aggressive players behind).
With all of that said, there's one big adjustment you'll need to make to your live cold-calling range:
Since multiway pots with 4+ players are so common in live games, you should adjust your cold-calling range to include more hands that make super-strong straights/flushes. Adjusting your range in this way allows you to avoid potential coolers when, say, your 7♠ 5♠ runs into Q♠ 4♠ on J♠ 8♠ 2♠. You're better off playing hands like K♠ 9♠ and A♠ 3♠ so you're the one on the winning side of the cooler.
So, who's right? Are cold-calls a play you should avoid or not?
The unsatisfying answer is that nobody really knows for sure, from a "game theory optimal" perspective at least. The MonkerSolver solver has shown that players in the small blind, on the button, and in the cutoff do get to cold-call when the raise size is small, while the earlier positions nearly never do. Solvers are far from being perfected, however, so we can't be sure even in light of Monker's solution.
In practice, cold-calling ranges definitely should have a place in your strategy when the players behind are weak and/or unlikely to 3-bet.
That’s all for this article! As usual, if you have any questions or feedback, don’t hesitate to use the comment section down below!
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Till’ next time, good luck, grinders!
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