A Snap-Call Theory

The last post I wrote talked about immediate calls and what they might mean. (I called them “quick calls” but I should say “immediate calls” or “snap calls” because “quick” could be interpreted as someone moving their bet in with a quick motion.) I had talked in my book about quick calls for a short bit, but I’ve never felt happy with that section, because I felt there was much more to say on it. After writing that last blog post, it got me thinking long into the night and I came up with some (hopefully-logical) ideas.

In my book Reading Poker Tells, I basically say that (while there is obviously a lot of variation) snap-calls can tell us a lot because it means an opponent has ruled out raising as an option and they have done so almost immediately. This can eliminate a lot of hands from a player’s range. For instance, on a dry board, a player with a set who is facing a substantial bet is usually going to consider for a few moments how to extract max value. Some players (usually experienced ones) are capable of snap-calling with monster hands, but it is far from the norm. (Snap calls in general are just far from the norm.)

What this means in practice is that a snap-call of a substantial bet (and I usually always consider substantial bets when talking about tells) indicates vulnerability. Now this could be vulnerability for a number of reasons. In the last post, I talked about how it could indicate a strong draw (and often does). But it could also indicate a vulnerable one-pair type hand (top pair or an overpair) that is obviously strong enough for a call but not strong enough for a raise.

Also, an immediate call is more meaningful the closer it is in time to the card(s) coming out. For example, the most meaningful snap call would be one in which you are first to act, the turn comes out, you bet immediately, and your opponent snap calls immediately. This is much more meaningful than if your opponent was first to act, checked to you, you took a few seconds to bet, and he snap-called. The less time there’s been to consider how a new card changes things, the more meaningful a snap-call can be.

In the following discussion, let’s imagine that the first scenario above is the case, just so we are studying the most extreme situation. So in the following discussion about snap-calls, let’s pretend that you were first to act, the turn card came, you bet immediately, and your opponent snap-called your bet.

Let’s also imagine, for the sake of this argument, that we are talking about a significant turn-bet, because behaviors associated with insignificant bets don’t mean as much.

Finally, let’s also imagine for the sake of the following arguments, that a player isn’t snap-calling with a super-strong hand. I am quite confident a snap-call with a nut-type hand is pretty rare, so I think it’s a fair simplification.

So here’s what I came up with last night. I started thinking about how important board texture is to these spots. Board texture is obviously huge in all decisions, and this is no different. I also started thinking about how high or low the board is, and how that affects things. Here was how I broke down the likelihood of a snap-call being certain hand strengths in these different turn scenarios.

On high boards that are not draw-heavy (for example, K942), a snap-call of a significant turn bet is more likely to be a top-pair-type hand. Why is that? If a player has a hand like KJ or KQ, he is capable of snap calling this bet. Because the board is high and the pair is high, there is not much possibility of an opponent having a better pair. It is a hand that is “obviously” (at least for many players) worth a call; not weak enough to fold, not strong enough to raise. There aren’t too many hands in a player’s range that can snap-call these types of boards.

But on lower dry (non-draw-y) boards, this is no longer true. Let’s take a board like 2257 rainbow; if a player snap-calls a turn-bet on this board, what does that tell us? If he has a hand that he can play with (and again, we’re not considering sets in this discussion), it is most likely an overpair. How many of those hands will a typical player be likely to snap-call with? With most of his medium pairs he is probably likely to consider, at least for a few moments, the possibility that his opponent has a higher pair. A snap call can happen with QQ+, but for the high pair hands you could also argue that this opponent would also be thinking about raising, and probably would have raised at some point already. All of this means that snap-calls with single-pair hands on low boards is much more unlikely than on high boards. (Of course there are some looser players, especially at the lower limits, who are capable of snap-calling big bets with a medium overpair here; if you are facing such a player, you would need to take that into account. But I think most semi-decent players would not snap-call that.)

The logic thus-far goes:

On high boards, snap-calls are likely to be top-pair-type hands. Snap-calls on low, non-drawing boards are much more rare.

So let’s add to that, taking into account the board’s dryness/wetness (the likelihood of draws).

Let’s use the low 2267 board again, except this time there are two hearts on the flop. If a player is going to call a substantial turn bet here, what is his range now? It is still a lot of overpairs, but now we have to add a lot of heart draws. What in his range might a player snap-call with here? We’ve already said that snap-calls on a low board are fairly rare. I would therefore argue that the chances of him snap-calling with a good heart draw is much higher than him snap-calling with a single-pair hand. This is because almost any flush draw will also have overcards, adding a lot of value to a drawing hand. For an extreme example, a typical player who would debate for a few seconds calling a turn bet with TT in this spot would throw his chips in quickly with AK of hearts.

On a high board that is wet (draw-y), I think things are more complicated, depending on specific texture, but I will say that I think it’s still more likely that a snap-call will mean a vulnerable top-pair type hand. On a board like A936ss, a player who snap-calls will usually be snap-calling with an Ace, and not a draw. Because it is a draw without potential overcard outs, it requires at least a little deliberation for most players, in most cases. On a board like QJ56ss, this doesn’t hold as true, because we could easily imagine a player snap-calling with the A-high flush. But I still think the general concept is true, just not nearly as strong for the other categories.

So, in short, my rough theorem, when put into practical terms, (it’s a work in progress, so be gentle) comes out as:

1) On wet, low boards, a snap-call of a significant turn bet is more likely to be a strong draw. (There will still be pairs in a snap-calling range but in my opinion the likelihood of a draw goes up on this kind of board.)

2) On high boards, a snap-call of a significant turn bet is more likely to be top-pair-good-kicker-type hands.

This is a work-in-progress, so love to hear any thoughts on the subject.

P.S. – This is totally avoiding much more complicated situations at this point, like three-to-a-flush and four-to-a-straight boards. Might talk about those later.

P.P.S. – Some interesting comments and responses below.

  • http://www.readingpokertells.com Zachary Elwood

    This is an emailed comment I got regarding this post:

    One thing that I do personally (especially against weaker players): If I have
    position on the turn and am bet into with a hand that cannot handle a turn bet and a
    river bet I will make a snap call with a a fair bit of confidence. This “strong
    call” is made to discourage another bet on the river. I’m not sure how often others
    players do this, but it is possible that this could sometimes be part of what is
    going on with quick calls–especially in position where the caller is trying to get
    a free card on the next street. I think the quick calls with draws may also be a
    similar attempt to show strength and to discourage a bet on the next street.

  • Bob

    One thing I just thought regarding the emailed answer above: why is this person doing it? Most likely because it seems to work.

    So even though, as students of the game, we can take advange of that tell when seeing it, it might be good sometimes to execute an action EVEN if we consider it a tell.

    In this instance, I’m sure calling quickly can be used effectively against some weak / scared / ill-observant players.

    • http://www.readingpokertells.com Zachary Elwood

      Sure. I think a lot of tells are useful against weaker competition, and that includes a large number of people. It’s just good to know consciously what we’re doing because that kind of stuff can get you hurt in a larger stakes game with more experienced players. But yeah I do think there are useful behaviors we can do that work against a good number of people even though better players will often see through them.