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Making the Hero Call Preflop

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You're pretty far into a no limit hold'em tournament and at a critical point. Maybe right on or near the money/final table bubble or at one of Dan Harrington's inflection points. The short stack pushes the last of his chips into the pot and it gets folded around to you in the big blind. Eliminating this player and winning this pot would really benefit you. You peek at your hole cards hoping for aces but all you see are two rags. Do you still make the call?

The official definition of a hero call is calling a big bet with a marginal hand when you think your opponent might be bluffing with a weaker hand than yours. So maybe this should be referred to as a fearless call, where you make a call with a possibly weaker hand hoping to suck out on your opponent. You know your opponent could have a monster hand pre-flop but you say "screw you, I have plenty of chips and at least a 10% chance of winning. You want the pot you have to fight for it!"

This situation comes up a lot and sometimes you have to find the guts to make the fearless call.

In one recent case, we had just passed the bubble in a turbo multi table tournament (MTT) and I was sitting on a huge stack. I was top 10 in chips with less than 100 players left. A player in second position (UTG+1) shoved his remaining 26k chips all-in, then another player on the button (BTN) called all-in with about 14k in chips. Everyone else folded around to me in the big blind (BB) and I had a very marginal hand, 45 offsuit.

It's not a horrible hand but I was pretty sure the UTG+1 raiser and definitely the BTN caller had better holdings. At this point in the tournament, the blinds and antes were large, and being in the big blind, I was getting decent odds. There was around 75k in the pot and I only needed to call an additional 10k or so. I was getting 7.5:1 pot odds. With odds that good, it's hard to justify folding much.

More importantly at this point of the tournament I had been playing fairly tight and won a lot of big pots with the best of it. I was at or near the chip lead with less than 100 players remaining. Making the call would risk less than 3% of my stack and winning would increase it by over 18%. I'd still be in great shape if I lost and still have all but one player at my table out-chipped.

The other important factor is that 2 players were all-in and nobody else called. Being in the big blind I could safely make the call and not worry about playing a flop and risking any more chips or being squeezed out by another player left to act after me. I got to close the action. If I was in the small blind and the big blind had a healthy stack that could do some damage to me and he shoved over the top of me, 45o doesn't look that good any more, even if I think he's just making a move.

This was a no-brainer call but lets try and put the players on a possible range after the fact. UTG+1 had less than 2 big blinds and would have been forced to go all in in 2 hands when in the big blind. The player on the BTN had less than one big blind remaining. Turbos can be pretty brutal!

Neither player was really getting involved, which is why their stacks had dwindled. They both have to have some sort of hand but they're both desperate. A reasonable range for UTG+1 might be any pair, any broadway hand, any ace and lets just throw in any suited king down to K8s.

Now, the BTN saw an early position shove and decided to put his tournament at risk as well. So applying the gap concept, lets assume he has a slightly tighter range than UTG+2. Having less than 1BB left, we can't give him too much credit though. Let's say any pair 88+, AT+, KQ and any suited broadway hand.

Against those ranges, 45o is an underdog, but not a huge one. Using PokerStove now I see that UTG+1 would have around 31% equity, BTN would have around 45% equity and my crummy hand isn't so bad at around 24% equity. I have almost a 1 in 5 chance of winning 7.5 times my bet pretty good odds. The range that's in the lead is only 2x as likely to win as I am.

As it turns out though, I was in much better shape than this range. Hell, I was a favorite! Both players had AQo and one player shared both my suits. In this situation, I had the highest pre-flop equity at 41.5% UTG+1 had 28.8% and BTN had 29.6%. (The reason BTN has slightly greater equity than UTG+1 is because I have 2 of his 4 card flush hands.)

This may seem odd as I clearly had the worst hand, but assuming nobody else folded a 4 or a 5 I had 6 outs to catch a pair and improve  while they only had 4, since they each had the other's outs. I needed to catch something to win though and lucky for me I paired one of my cards and they didn't and I knocked them both out. A few more hands and I was at the final table where I finished in 3rd place.

Just because someone shoves, it doesn't mean they have a great hand and it doesn't mean you can't out draw them if they do. I've cracked pocket aces with two unsuited, unconnected cards less than 7 more than once. Keep that in mind when someone shoves and calling them gives you good odds if you're in a similar situation.

Fearless Calls in Double or Nothings

You're also frequently faced with having to make a fearless call in Double or Nothing Sit-n-Gos (DoNs). This is where a lot of players fail. Even some of the multi-table regulars.

It's so pathetic and one of the reasons DoNs have become tougher. There used to be a lot more implicit collusion from what I remember. Unlike other forms of collusion, implicit collusion is not against the rules. When a short stack is all in and 2 or more players call, it makes sense for the players that still have chips to just check it down and try and knock the short stack out. This is especially true if there is no side pot and you're on the bubble.

There's no reason to value bet here. If you have pocket kings and the flop comes K34 you probably have the best hand right now, but maybe the short stack had pocket aces and can make a bigger set. Meanwhile, you bet some guy holding onto J5o out of the pot who would have made a straight when 2A came on the turn and river. So instead of busting out the short stack and winning the game, you more than tripled him up. I've even seen people bet with bottom pair no kicker, draws and even pure bluffs! This sometimes causes the idiot to lose the game, sometimes knocked out by the short stack they saved.

It's such a bad play when you're on the bubble, even with 7 players left it stinks. The point of these games is to knock out 5 other players. It doesn't matter if you have 7 chips or 7,000 chips, you still get the same prize.

One of the more annoying situations, which unfortunately happens quite frequently, is when a short stack pushes all in on the bubble, I call with a healthy stack and then some idiot that has me out-chipped decides to re-raise me all-in. It's not just the fish that do this, some regulars do it frequently as well. Probably part of the reason why a lot of the regulars profit's have flat lined.

It really sucks when the short stack pushes, you call and some idiot re-raises with something like AQ, AK or even a big pair like aces or kings, and they wind up losing and tripling up the short stack. Meanwhile, you shake your head as you watch your folded hand make the nuts, which would have knocked out the short stack and ended the game.

What's even more pathetic is when a short stack shoves when the blinds are high and their shove is barely a min raise for the big blind and the big blind folds. I've seen plenty of situations where lets say the blinds are 125/250 and a short stack shoves with less than 2BB and the big blind, who happens to be the chip leader, doesn't call. I've seen a regular fold his BB for as little as 5 extra chips. In that situation, The pot was already 780 chips and the big blind only needed to call an extra 5 chips to try and knock out the short stack. That's 156:1 odds. You could have been misdealt only one card, that card could have been a deuce, and you still have the right odds to call! Instead he folded and the short stack tripled up just by winning the blinds and antes.

When deciding to make a fearless call in a DoN you need to consider the following:
  1. How many chips do you have? If you call and lose, are you still going to be in good shape. If someone shoves and calling would leave you as the short stack, you should probably fold everything except maybe aces.
  2. Do you get to stop the action and if not how likely is it the players left behind might re-raise you? If you're pretty confident that you won't get 3-bet out pre-flop consider calling.
  3. Are the other players that called pre-flop likely to check it down to help knock out the short stack or are you going to be forced to put more chips at risk if you think you are ahead when the community cards come? 
  4. Lastly, you look at your hole cards. You can even skip this step if the previous criteria fit.
What you don't want to do, which I see a lot of players doing, is make a big call that would put a significant portion of your chips at risk, especially against a player that's been playing fairly tight. If calling and losing means you're in really bad shape, fold.

A lot of times I see a solid player shoving and being called by a player who only has them slightly covered. Something like short stack shoving 10BB and being called by a player with 12BB, short stack shows AKo, caller has A5s or is dominated in some other way. In these situations, you're pretty much putting your prize money at risk with only a 20-30% chance of winning. It's a horrible call to make.

In any situation where you're putting a significant portion of your chips at risk, lets say 40% or more especially if losing will make you the short stack, you want to be pretty certain you have them crushed, not hope for the best. A hand as strong as AQ is even a fold in many of these situations. Especially if the blinds are still left to act and have huge stacks. It's their blinds, let them defend them. You haven't invested any significant money in the pot, there's no need to put your tournament life at risk on a mediocre hand, no matter how pretty it looks. Especially if you're going to be doubling up a very good player.

Sometimes in a DoN you might have to put your tournament life at risk with a bad hand. In one DoN with 7 players left I had a decent but small stack. The short stack kept pushing all-in to steal the blinds and none of the bigger stacks were calling him. At least once an orbit he shoved. Obviously, he wasn't catching that many great hands. They just don't come around that often.

Eventually he wasn't the short stack and the next time he pushed, the new short stack called. Pusher had a crappy hand but sucked out on the short stack to knock him out, bringing us to the bubble.

The aggressive player kept stealing blinds but then the new short stack decided to fight back and this time the short stack won, making the aggressive player the short stack once again.

Unfortunately for me, I wasn't in much better shape. I was card dead and just waiting for the maniac to bust out if the big stacks ever grew a pair. By this time I only had about 2BB more than the maniac.

What was worse, the next hand I was going to be in the big blind and I knew he was going to push into me and the big stacks were playing very passive and weren't going to call him.

The hand is dealt and sure enough, everyone folds around to him and he pushes, it then folds around to me in the big blind and even more unfortunate for me, I have a horrible hand. Far from a hand I want to call an all-in bet with.

But I was left with little choice. If I folded, I'd be in the small blind next hand and if I shoved then, it would barely be a minraise. Even though the BB might continue to be passive, it's possible someone might wake up with a hand or realize they can call a min raise with whatever they had.

Right now, the only opponent I'm up against I know is likely to shove any two cards here and if I beat him, the game is over and I win. If I lose, well I'd probably lose in the next hand or two anyway.

So I called and turned over my 72s, which probably surprised and delighted him and anyone else that was paying attention. He flipped over some garbage, Q5o I think, which didn't surprise me.

Against 2 random cards, 72s is about a 3:2 dog (a 60:40 situation) which isn't horrible and the pot odds justified the call. But in that situation I wasn't too concerned about the pot odds. It was literally him or me and I wasn't going to lay down without a fight. I'd rather take a chance to knock him out than be knocked out in the next hand I'm forced to push. Had I folded, I'd be the new short stack and the three players behind me had me out chipped at least 4:1. The maniac wouldn't need to steal any more and even if he did, I couldn't depend on any of the other players to try and knock him out to save me.

I may have not had the best hand but I wasn't dominated and I had 2 live cards which is the least I was hoping for. Flop paired my 7, turn paired his 5, river blanked and I knocked him out to win the game.

Situations like that make the DoN prize structure seem unfair. Why do I get the same prize for risking 75% of my stack to win the game as a bunch lily-livered nits that would rather fold into a win than risk 10% of their stack?

If there are 7 or more players left, you have 4k chips and someone with 2k chips shoves, you don't want to call with a less than premium hand but in the late stages of a DoN, if you're in great shape and calling would still mean you're in great shape, or if you're really desperate, you have to be willing to take a stand and make a fearless call.

1 Response to "Making the Hero Call Preflop"

Anonymous Says....

This 'implicit collusion' happened to me at a DoN today. Thankfully the other large stack and I just checked the small stack that was all-in on the bubble to the river. We got him. Nice to see I did the right thing, it took me about 30 seconds, at the time, to figure out this was the best way to progress, as it hadn't come up for me before.

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