Immediate calls – a badly written chapter of my book

A reader, David Monath, sent me an email about my book Reading Poker Tells yesterday, pointing out some inconsistencies in the “Speed of calling” chapter, specifically what I say about immediate calls and what they mean. I wanted to address the inconsistencies here for the benefit of people who read the book. 

He wrote:

Most of the book was making a lot of sense, but I ran into some questions in the ‘Speed of Calling’ section under “During-Action Tells.”  The second sentence of the second paragraph says:    “An immediate call will usually eliminate hands like 2-pair or top pair, good kicker from their range.”

However, the next paragraph says, “In my experience, an immediate call is … something where the value is obviously apparent. Or else it’s a hand like top pair, good kicker…”  While I understand there are no absolutes, the two statements appear to be in complete opposition. Does an immediate call “eliminate hands like 2-pair or top pair, good kicker,” or instead /indicate/ that “it’s a hand like top pair, good kicker?”

It’s fitting that he picked out this section as being bad. Out of the entire book, this chapter was the one that I struggled with the most. I even rewrote this section a few months after publishing and republished the book, because I wasn’t happy with it. I think I must have introduced some errors in it when I rewrote it. It’s obviously still got problems and I should have spent more time on it. 

Keep in mind in this section I’m talking about calls that happen immediately, as in a second or less. Very fast. If I could rewrite this section now, after having time to think about it more, I would rephrase it to sound more like the following paragraph:

When someone calls a bet immediately, it tells you that they have ruled out raising or folding almost immediately. This is the main thing to be considered. When most people have a hand that could be worth a raise they are going to spend time thinking about whether they should raise it, even if it’s a close decision. While occasionally a player (usually a good one) will just call immediately with a very strong hand, it is not a very common occurrence. So when someone calls a bet immediately, I usually think that it is likely the player has a medium-to-decent strength hand or he’s got a draw that has obvious strength.

The example pointed out in the email, regarding when a player might have top pair, good kicker, was badly mis-stated. What I was trying to say, but didn’t do, was that a strong hand or a weak hand varies based on what’s on the board. In some cases, depending on the board, top pair good kicker could be considered a very strong hand that deserves at least some consideration for a raise. In other cases, top pair good kicker is of medium strength and not worth thinking about a raise.

For example, if the flop comes AT2 rainbow and your opponent holds AK, he would be unlikely to call immediately, because his hand is very strong for the situation. Or at least it is imaginable that most players would think about a raise in that spot. 

On the other hand, if the flop comes 259 rainbow, and your opponent has A9, that could very well be a hand that someone would immediately call with, because it’s easily imaginable that’d be a hand they’d auto-call with but not consider raising with. 

Main point, though, is that if the opponent had a set or 2-pair on either of those boards, it’s unlikely they’d call immediately.

As I’ve said in earlier blogs and I think I talked a bit about in the book, this behavior will be influenced by a few things:

  • How quickly the player’s call is to when the new card(s) came out 
  • How significant the bet is (for example, an immediate call on a significant turn bet lets you narrow a range down more substantially than an immediate bet on a small flop bet) 
  • The texture of the board (for example, on a wet suited flop, there are more drawing hands that could be considered worthy of an obvious, immediate call but not a raise)
  • How aggressive the bettor is perceived by the player (for instance, a player is more likely to call immediately with a wider range if he is playing against someone who he perceives as loose and aggressive) 

For my blog post that goes into more detail on these topics, click here.

Thanks, David, for pointing this out. I very much appreciate hearing criticisms because it makes me think more critically about the subject.

  • Dan

    You seems like your a down to earth guy. I even hear it in your tone reading your book stating I’m not sure this is the best way etc being modest. Good thing. Makes reading your book that much more enjoyable. I am curious though as to why you think A9 on a 952 flop is more of a insta call vs Ak on A102 flop – seems like the same situation to me.

    • Zachary Elwood

      I say that because the top pair with the A9 situation is not nearly as strong as the AK with top pair situation. Someone with AK on an AT2 board is more likely to think about raising because it’s a hand with more obvious value than the pair of 9’s. With A9 on a 962 board, there are many overpairs which an opponent could have, making a raise less likely to be considered. At the same time, the top pair w/ 9s hand has obvious strong value and is unlikely to be folded.

      Of course, I’m not saying that snap calls in these situations are common or likely. They are very uncommon, especially on the turn, when bets are bigger. I’m just saying that comparing those two specific situations mentioned, you’d be more likely to see a snap call with the A9 hand than with the AK. In my humble opinion and in my experience. It was just an example to demonstrate that when someone snap calls a bet, there will be many factors that play into that snap call, and the board quality is one of them.

  • Zachary Elwood

    Played last night and was looking for bet-timing and immediate calls. Saw so many snap-calls once I started looking for them.

    One guy in particular had the tendency to make a lot of immediate calls. The exact scenario talked about in this post played itself out. A mostly-tight, nitty player limped in. I raise it from the SB with KQs and its heads-up. The flop came 9 high, rainbow. I bet out and he snap-called. When he did that, I narrowed down his range to pretty much just A9, 89s or 9Ts. With what I know of this guy, there is basically no way he wouldn’t at least consider a raise for a second or two with an overpair or a set, and I think that holds true for most people. His hand is definitely worth a call and he also knows he’s not raising me in that spot. Also factoring into this is history; the guy perceives me as aggressive and wild and his snap-call is a (mostly-unconscious) method to communicate to me “I’m not scared of you and will call you without thinking so you better think twice about messing with me.” (He did tell me after the hand he had A9.)

    I was seeing a lot of this stuff last night, which reminded me how much information there is at the poker table that we’re not aware of. It usually happens that when I start to pay specific attention to some tendency, I notice there’s a lot of information there. But of course we can only pay attention to so much information at the same time. And the downside of paying too much attention to physical/behavioral-type stuff is that it takes away from studying players’ basic playing strategies and the logic behind their play. But I do believe the more we study peoples’ behavior the better we get at it.

  • YH

    I noticed this with players who make immediate calls on significant bets (where their baseline play does NOT include many immediate calls).

    Primarily, they do not have a strong or made hand. e.g. They might have AQ on a QT3r board in a 3bet pot in position when bet into. If its a tight player they might just call.

    Similarly, I have seen this happen when players call with 89s on a TJ4 board with an open ended and a flush draw. (There is definitely a case for raising but assuming deep stacked and they do not want to get to the river in a large pot with a busted draw).

    Such hands I find are easy to play against, as the strategy is to continue barreling on the turn and river on a blank. By the time they reach the river (assuming deep stack, at there still is fold equity), they will normally tank-fold.

    There is a caveat to these situations, and its also what the perceived image the villan has of you. If they are in the “do not believe” category, they will call even the river bet fairly quickly. Thus from the first immediate call they make (either from the flop or turn), we need to watch their mannerisms and align it to their hand strength.

    I have used immediate calls as a trap as well, e.g. flopping the nut flush or nut straight, and immediately calling a significant flop bet. Assuming the villain is a semi-competent player, they might read you for weak, and continue firing with thier 2-pair or set if the turn blanks… This creates a very good opportunity to raise and will be much harder for villian to get away from both because they had initially read you for weak, and also due to the larger pot size.


    • Zachary Elwood

      I agree with a lot of what you’re saying. Did you happen to read the three posts a while back I made regarding immediate calls? I said a lot of what you’re saying here, so wanted to make sure you saw that. Including how the bettor is perceived by the caller; someone perceived as loose is more likely to get snap-called than someone perceived as tight. Good stuff, sir! Thanks for the comments and feedback!

  • YH

    Will need to clarify. This
    “Primarily, they do not have a strong or made hand. e.g. They might have AQ on a QT3r board in a 3bet pot”.

    In some situations, AQ would be a strong made hand, however in most of the cash games I play, a large flop bet in a 3 bet pot, the relative strength of AQ on QT3 board, is reduced mostly to calling. (mostly because you dont want to get 3 bet deepstacked on the flop)

  • Nico

    Kudos for publishing this post. It shows how serious you take mails from your readers. Cheers, Nico

  • YH

    Zach, thanks. Did read the posts, and was agreeing with them based on very similar situations I experienced myself. It’s especially telling when the villian does not usually have the “immediate call” in his/her baseline behavior.

    Another interesting point to note, is when a villain immediate overcalls in a 3 way pot. (e.g. bettor fires 3/4 pot on the flop, gets called in 1 spot and the 3rd person immediately overcalls the significant bet.) In such a situation, many times the overcaller has a draw. However, I’ve seen particularly loose aggressive players immediately overcall when the 2nd caller is super tight. In this scenario, you’re up against Top pair, bottom 2, drawing type hands (any flush draw, open-ended draws). Hands they would have raised heads up but are now looking to improve before putting it in.

    • Zachary Elwood

      Good stuff. Yeah, you’re right about the “baseline” measurement. Some players are definitely more prone to this than others and it’s a good point that I didn’t really go into.

      Who are you? Have we talked before? You sound like an observant fellow. Where do you play?

  • YH

    We’ve not met, but am an avid fan of poker tells and recently read your book. It’s a great progression from the mike caro era (really a great read in terms of introduction), through to Navarro chiming in every WSOP with snippets of tell information. But your book fills in many of the little gaps and questions many have but have never discussed or asked.

    Not related to this thread but one thing I did wonder was why the illustrations of players in the book were a majority of the more mature players (no disrepect to the models used). But might be good to have a mix, e.g. Players with hoodies / sunglasses, etc. and the dwan/ivey type, where they are confident to play without hoodies/glasses and not give off significant tells. This is really where everything else becomes so much more important… How they blink at the flop, how fast they bet (sometimes micro seconds and so subtly different), how they act post flop, posture, breathing (are they trying hard to control their breathing?), where they look, how loud they talk (if they happen to), how they swallow (mini glup vs natural swallow). Etc etc

    • Zachary Elwood

      I wasn’t too impressed with my photographs, to be honest. I almost felt like I had to include them for visual pleasantness, but really I don’t think photographs are a great way to get across this stuff, seeing as it’s so time-based. Which is why I’m working on a video project now.

      Thanks a lot for writing and for your feedback sir!