Combating Calling Stations

While I always suggest that you work hard away from the table to develop strong, fundamentally sound strategies, in the small stakes games, most of your profit will come from exploiting the mistakes that your opponents make. This will allow you to make considerably more money compared to if you play like a robot, treating all opponents the same. For the most part, small stakes no-limit hold’em players will come in one of four varieties: calling stations, overly weak players, maniacs, and strong players. In this three part article series, we will discuss how to exploit the bad players: the calling stations, overly weak players, and maniacs.

Today, we will focus on exploiting calling stations. We will classify a calling station as someone who calls with far too many hands before the flop, on the flop, and often on the turn and river. It is important to understand that some calling stations will get to the turn with a wide range and then fold most of it to an additional bet, making their river range quite strong. Others will call the turn with a wide range, making their river range weak. It is up to you to decide which range your opponent will get to each street with.

Your bet size you use is also vitally important. Your goal versus players who will call with a wide range is to keep them in with a wide range. Many amateurs think their goal is to make their opponents fold their hands that are drawing thin, but that is simply not true. You want to size your bets such that you can extract value from your opponent’s hands that are drawing thin. If you bet so large such that they fold their junk, you are forcing your opponent to play well. In general, most calling stations will be happy calling 50% pot bets with all sorts of junk. As you bet larger, expect even the most call-happy players to start folding.

Let’s suppose that I raise from middle position in a $1/$2 cash game to $7 and only a calling station in the big blind calls. The flop comes Js-Th-4d. My opponent checks. Here is the strategy I would use with my entire range:

 

This chart, made using the FloatTheTurn.com Range Analyzer, shows how I play each portion of my range. Notice that many hands are in the “Fold” category. These hands are simply folded preflop. Yes, in most games I am folding A-9o, K-Jo, and K-9s from middle position. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that just because your opponents play marginal hands from all positions means that you should too.

Against normal players, I want to bet with my premium made hands and draws. I want to check my marginal made hands and junk. Playing in this way will make me somewhat balanced and difficult to exploit. However, against calling stations, you should adjust by value betting with your marginal made hands because they will call with hands as weak as gutshot straight draws and Ace-high.

So, my betting range includes all premium made hands, all marginal made hands, and the open-ended straight draws. I am betting my draws primarily so I can build the pot such that when I improve to a straight, I stand to win a huge pot. I am happy putting in a little bit of money bad in exchange for being able to play a large pot in the future.

I am electing to value bet A-K but not A-Q. In general, as your opponent is more inclined to call with any Ace-high, you should be more inclined to value bet A-Q.

If my opponent check-raises me on the flop, I will make an exploitable play and fold all but my best hands, perhaps Q-J (decent top pair) and better, assuming my opponent is not particularly aggressive. In my experience, most calling stations play in a blatantly straightforward manner, only raising when they love their hand. If they love their hand, it is usually at least top pair with a strong kicker or a decent draw. When a normally passive player raises, proceed with caution.

It is important to think ahead about how your opponent will continue on the turn. Will he call any bet with his entire flop calling range including all Ace-highs? Will he only call with pairs? In my experience, most calling stations will call with all pairs and all gutshot straight draws.

Let’s suppose I bet the flop and my opponent called. If I bet on a turn that does not improve my opponent’s range, he will probably use this strategy:

This range implies that the calling station check-raised made hands better than K-Js on the flop and 3-bet the best hands preflop. That is why those hands are not selected. This range has the calling station folding all unpaired Ace-high hands on the turn and calling with all pairs and draws.

So, which turn cards are bad for me? It turns out that none of them are, mainly because the opponent’s range is so incredibly wide. This should lead me to continue value betting most of my value hands on the turn. The only time I should consider checking is when I have a really bad hand like A-Q or 5-5 and the turn doesn’t connect with my hand but makes the board scarier. For example, an 8 would be bad for A-Q and an Ace would be bad for 5-5. That said, my entire range will often have about 65% equity versus my opponent’s on all turns.

Going to the river, you simply have to figure out which hands your opponent will call with and which he will fold. If he will call with any Ace-high or better, you can value bet incredibly thin, although not as wide as bottom pair because the opponent of course calls with all pairs as well. If he will only call with middle pair and better, you should tighten up considerably, only value betting top pair and better. If is up to you to assess how your specific opponent will play.

As you can see, the easiest way to take advantage of a calling station is simply to bet for value.

If you enjoyed this blog post, you will love my interactive poker training site, PokerCoaching.com. There you can test yourself with over 100 interactive quizzes and study the game with me with monthly homework questions and review webinars. If you want to take your game to the next level, PokerCoaching.com is for you.

Be sure to come back next week where we discuss how to exploit weak players. If you enjoyed this post, please share it with your friends. Thanks for reading!

7 Comments

  • Dave says:

    Is the first graphic correct? It doesn’t seem to apply to the situation.

  • Dave says:

    I assumed that’s what happened. Easy to do.

  • Jason says:

    Love your work Jonathan! Thank you for all that you do! Hope the seminar goes well today with Phil H., I am unable to attend. Take care!

  • Timo says:

    Hi Jonathan,

    I have been an avid reader and watcher of your weekly poker hand while honing my game. Recently I have been playing a bit more, but still am following your advice.

    Yesterday, I had a really interesting 2/3 live cash hand, and thanks to your advice I won like an additional 200$ (So I definitely will invite you for a beer should we ever meet).

    Anyway the hand in question was a 6 way limped pot (we have the DUCKS in the SB 500$ deep). We flop as you would call it the ‘virtual nuts’ on 424 rb
    we check a splashy guy (as you call them) leads for 12, gets two callers folded back to me, we make it 40 (I guess sizing is not perfect, should be around 50, but whatever), two folds, the second caller flats, Turn K, I bet 80, villain snap calls.
    That was the key of the hand. I remembered you saying, to get some sort of vibe of an opponent. Back then I thought, wtf is he talking about vibe (????). But I literally got the vibe, that this opponent is just not capable to fold any 4x in that spot, so I ripped 380 into 280 on a 7 river.

    Villain Snap calls and confidently turns over 64 as if it was the STONES.

    Seriously, my nitty self 18 months ago would have gone for a normal sizing like 150 $. Thanks to you I ‘plugged that leak’ in my game.

    Thanks a lot and gl

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