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StrategyFixed Limit

Pre-flop: When can you cold-call or over-limp?


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Introduction

In this Article we will discuss...
  • Cold-calling before the flop
  • How everything depends on the pot odds
  • When you can over-limp
 

When a player raises more than one bet another player calls without re-raising, it is called a cold-call.

Example: MP3 raises, CO calls, button calls, SB calls, BB calls

In this situation, both the CO and the button have made a cold-call. The small blind's call is also more than the SB itself, and therefore a cold-call, as well. The BB, however, is only calling one bet, which is not a cold-call according to the definition.

When a player calls after other players have already called, it is called an over-limp. Completing the small blind does not count as over-limping.

Example: MP3 calls, CO Calls, Button calls

In this situation MP3 open-limps, while the CO and button over-limp.

Cold-calling and over-limping a limper, along with open-limping before the flop, are usually reserved for the fish at the table and despised by experienced players. In general you should stick to the pre-flop principle of fold-or-raise against a limper; or fold-or 3-bet against a pre-flop raise. 

In some situations, however, it can be wise to over-limp before the flop, or cold-call a raise instead of 3-betting. You can do this with hands that aren't strong enough to 3-bet with, but have potential to win big pots after the flop. This article will teach you the basic rules used to effectively cold-call and over-limp at the poker table.

When and with which hand can you cold-call?

Most cold-calls are made by weak opponents. As a TAG you generally prefer to go for it before the flop. Either your hand is good enough for a 3-bet, in which case you will try to isolate your opponents and generate dead money by pushing out the blinds, or your hand is too weak and you fold. Since, however, more money will be changing hands after the flop, it can be profitable to cold-call in the right situation. The key aspects involved in this decision are "implied odds" and "equity after the flop".

As a general rule, you should only cold-call when at least one other opponent will be  involved after the flop. There are exceptions, which will be covered at the end of this chapter. 

This decisive factors for cold-calling are:

  • With which hands can you potentially make a cold-call?
  • Under which conditions can you actually cold-call with these hands?

Cold-calling usually leads to multi-way pots, as you will almost never cold call with less than two other opponents involved after the flop. Cold-calling also leaves the blinds with good pot odds, making it likely that they will stay in the pot, as well. It is not unlikely for four or five players to contend for such a pot after the flop.

In this type of situation you want a hand that is very playable in a multi-way pot, such as pocket pairs, suited connectors, or suited one-gappers. There are almost no exceptions to the following rule:

Pocket pairs, suited connectors, and suited one-gappers are the only hands suitable for cold-calling. Cold-calling with off-suited hands will almost always be a mistake.
What are your pot odds?

The deciding factor: What pot odds are you getting with a call? In order to calculate the pot odds, you have to know how many players will see the flop and how large the pot will then be. In order to estimate the amount of opponents at the flop it does not matter whether an opponent limps and someone behind him raises or whether the opponent cold calls a raise.

A limper will call a raise 99,9% of the time, and if he doesn't you can thank him for the dead money in the pot. As a general rule of thumb, the larger the pot odds, the looser your cold-calls should be. You are speculating that you might end up with a monster hand, otherwise you wouldn't be cold-calling to begin with. You also want as many opponents as possible to be involved in the hand, as this increases your implied odds. Furthermore, good pot odds reduce your relative costs.

EXAMPLE
  • MP3 limps, CO raises, Hero on the Button???
  • MP3 raises, CO cold-calls, Hero on the Button???

In both cases you are certain to have more than one opponent involved in the hand after the flop. In the first case the limper will almost always call the raise. The BB will usually call in this situation, as well.

Let's take a look at your pot odds when calling: You pay 2 SB and can expect a pot of   7.5 - 8.5 SBs (depending on whether or not the BB calls) after the flop in a 1/2 SB structured game. If we assume the pot will be 8 SBs, 1/4 of the pot will be your chips, giving you 3:1 pot odds.

If, on the other hand, you are on the small blind, you will have to put 1.5 SB of the 8 expected SBs into the pot. This would give you 4.3:1 pot odds, but will leave you playing out of position.

Don't assume the SB will call when calculating the pot odds; in many cases he will fold. You may be able to get a good read on a opponent, for example, if he has a VP$IP of 70 and hasn't passed on the opportunity to be involved in a large pot. In this case you could make an exception and assume a call will be made when calculating the pot odds.

Use caution. Don't be too optimistic and end up artificially inflating the pot odds.

Cold-calling with pocket pairs: The 3-to-1-rule

You can generally call with small pocket pairs for set value. You want to hit the set and win a large pot. The chance of making a set, though, is only 7.5:1. Since you won't get these odds, you will need implied odds to compensate for the missing pot odds before you can cold-call with a small pocket pair.

You used to find a general recognized 5-to-1 rule in many forums stating that 5:1 pot odds justify cold-calling any pocket pair for set value, because you assume at least 2.5 BBs in implied odds, if you do make a set.

Putting this rule to practice has shown that it leads to too tight of play. According to the rule you can only call with a pocket pair when at least 5 players will see the flop (or 4 if you are the SB). This, however, neglects the fact that you are not necessarily behind after the flop if you don't make a set. In many such cases you can continue to play the hand.

EXAMPLE

Preflop: Hero SB with 55
CO raises, Button cold calls, Hero cold calls, BB folds

Flop: 972 rainbow

Assumed Ranges

  • CO: 55+, A2s+, K7s+, Q9s+, JTs, A5o+, K9o+, QTo+
  • Bu: 33-66, A7s-A2s, K9s-K2s, Q3s+, J7s+, T8s+, A9o-A2o, KJo-K3o, Q7o+, J8o+, T9o

In this example you would have 45% equity after the flop, despite not having made a set. This gives you a considerable edge against your two opponents. It would be disastrous to play only according to set value and fold when you don't make a set. This is why you can cold-call with a pocket pair without needing 5:1 pot odds.

THE 3-TO-1-RULE

The 3-to-1 rule is based on data gathered by many experienced players. This rule states that you can consider a cold-call with pocket pairs as long as you are getting 3:1 pot odds (at least one other opponent must call).

If you are getting exactly 3:1 odds it is best to fold 22 and 33. Pocket 3s would only give you 40% equity in the example above. 22 and 33 are generally weaker, because they have poor straight potential and because they have no chance at dominating an opponent's hand. 55 would at least dominate A2-A5, whereas 22 would not.

These rules have been simplified, as it can be difficult to quickly calculate the pot odds, especially when sitting in the SB.

RULES FOR COLD-CALLING WITH POCKET PAIRS
  • You can cold-call with any pocket pair when at least 2 opponents have already called the raise.
  • You can cold-call with 55+ (44+ if you're the SB) when at least one opponent has already called the raise.
  • If no one else has called, play 3-bet or fold.

Since you always have SD value with pocket pairs, you want to increase your chances at winning even if you don't improve. This means trying to force other opponents out to generate dead money.

Keep in mind that the blinds are not taken into calculation.

Example: Hero is SB with 33

  • MP2 calls, MP3 calls, CO raises, Hero calls

    You have two additional opponents MP2 und MP3 aside from the raiser and can call with any pocket pair.

  • MP2 raises, CO calls, Hero folds

    In this case you only have one additional opponent and therefore fold  pocket 3s. You could call with pocket 4s or 5s.

Cold-calling with suited connectors and gappers

Suited connectors, as well as suited one-gapper (and in special situations 2 or 3 gappers), like pocket pairs, can win big pots. Your bet is on a straight or a flush.

You can cold-call with suited connectors similarly to pocket pairs. The decisive difference between suited connectors and pocket pairs is the showdown value, which you only have with pocket pairs. Whereas pocket pairs can win even if unimproved, a hand like T9s will need help from the board. This will influence your play against solid opponents and will be commented upon at the end of the chapter.

WHAT KIND OF HAND DO YOU NEED TO COLD-CALL?

You need a hand that is too weak to 3-bet, but has potential to win a large multi-way pot after the flop. Don't forget that "only" making top-pair won't necessarily put you behind the other opponents. JTs is much stronger than 56s on a rainbow T62 board, despite the unlikelihood of ending up with a straight or a flush. A "Flush-over-flush" is also less likely with JTs than 56s.

As with pocket pairs, the number of opponents and the pot odds play a key role. The more opponents involved the more you can cold-call.

RULES FOR COLD-CALLING WITH SUITED HANDS
  • Against a raiser and at least two other opponents: 98s-QJs, KJs, KTs, T8s, J9s, QTs and Q9s. If you're the SB you can add J8s, 87s, 76s, 65s and 97s.
  • Against a raiser and at least one other opponent: T9s-QJs, QTs, KJs, KTs. If you're the SB you can add 98s, 87s and J9s.
KQS; THE SPECIAL CASE

KQs are a special case. This hand is usually strong enough for a 3-bet. Your decision should depend on whether or not you think the original raiser has an edge on you.

Example: Hero is SB with KQs

  • MP2 (22/15/1.9/42) (VP$IP / PFR / AF / WTS) raises, MP3 calls, Hero coldcalls…

    With this hand you will rarely have an edge against a tight player like MP2 and should only cold-call. It is also uncertain if you will be able to make him fold the best hand after the flop.

  • MP3 (36/25/2.0/39) raises, CO calls, Hero 3-bets

    With this hand you probably have an edge against MP3 and are the favorite going into the flop. Play your equity and try to generate dead money.

Cold-calling when all other opponents fold

If one player has raised and no one else has called, it's best to either 3-bet or fold. There are, however, a few exceptional cases, in which it can be sensible to cold-call against a single opponent.

  • The raiser is extremely aggressive with maniacal tendencies and might end up paying you off big time.
  • You have no equity against his open-raising range.
  • The raiser likes to see the showdown and you have poor chances of getting him off of a better hand after the flop.

Let's take a look at the following example: MP3 (59/41/1.9/42) raises, Hero is the CO with T 9

Against a 40% open-raising range you have 41% equity in this example. This isn't enough for a 3-bet, even if you bring dead money into your calculation. Assuming you have better than average implied odds you should hit the flop, a 3-bet might even be profitable; however, your variance will increase.

On the other hand, you don't want to fold a hand like T9s against such an opponent right off the bat. This is why a cold-call is the best decision in this situation. Your hand is very playable and you're giving the players behind you a good pot odds, which can lead them to stay in the pot.

Your equity will soar after the flop. Getting a slight equity edge before the flop is not your goal when facing a maniac. Your goal is to get information from him after the flop and exploit him, if possible. In this case, you will be better able to use the information than he will have the highest EV. Being in the middle gives you the highest EV; forget about showdown value and take a look at the flop, before you decide to start pumping money into the pot.

You can make this kind of play with hands like T9s, JTs, QTs and QJs. But remember: A 3-bet may make more sense against opponents with a 25/19/2.2/38 TAG, because you have good chances of getting this opponent to fold after the flop.

Try to isolate the maniac when your hand gives you showdown value, but has poor playability. In this situation it is much easier to play hand with initiative. Keep in mind that these exceptions to rules, and that "3-bet or fold" is the best rule to follow in most of the situations you will encounter.

Cold-calling in the Small Blind in a 2/3 SB structured game

Cold-calling in a 2/3 SB structured game only costs 2/3 BBs. This means that defending only costs 1/6 BBs more than defending a regular BB, which would cost 1/2 BBs. In such games it can be very sensible to cold-call with hands that have no showdown value when playing aggressive, showdown bound opponents. In this case you are left out of position and will find yourself in uncomfortable situations after the flop, should you fail to hit.

Example

CO (38/26/2,0/43) raises, Hero in the SB with 9 8

You don't necessarily want to isolate the showdown bound LAG playing 9 high after the flop in a worst case scenario. Here you can make a cold-call and take a look at the flop, since the costs for cold-calling are barely higher than they would be when defending the BB in a 1/2 SB structured game. 

You can generally cold-call with 98s+, T8s, J9s, JTs as well as QTs+ in such situations, especially when you doubt that you will be able to get your opponent to fold an ace high after the flop.

Balancing your cold-calling hands

Your range of hands that you can cold-call with is rarely perfectly balanced. In other words, as a cold-caller you can't represent a wide range of hands. An attentive opponent will soon know that you only cold-call with pocket pairs or suited connectors, and that you don't have an ace, as you would 3-bet or fold with such a hand. This, however, is more or less the only disadvantage you will be facing.

Boards like T 8 3 or J T 5 or Q 9 3 give you the opportunity to represent two-pair, top-pair, middle-pair, flush draws and straight draws. Aggressive play after the flop will leave your opponent desperately if you have a pair, a draw or a monster hand.

Keep in mind that a board like A K 9 won't allow you to represent top-pair or a set. You shouldn't be surprised when a thinking player calls you down with Q high when you try semi-bluffing with 8 7.

If you're playing against maniacs (as in the T 9 example above), you shouldn't worry too much about balancing, as your opponent will certainly not be doing so, either.

 

That's not the entire article...

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Comments (4)

#1 OnkelHotte, 24 Feb 09 09:43

No Questions?:)

#2 DarthBobo, 21 Jul 09 07:16

"You can make this kind of play with hands like T9s, JTs, QTs and QJs. But remember: A 3-bet may make more sense against opponents with a 25/19/2.2/38 TAG"<br /> <br /> Can you really 3bet a TAG with T9s? According to the silver chart the absolute minimum is QTs and that's only when you're in the BU vs a CO steal. (chart: aktionen gegen 1 raiser (und 1 caller)).

#3 datsmahname, 08 Jun 11 05:24

With KJo... in which situations is it more appropriate to isoraise vs overlimp? <br /> <br /> Generally speaking, I tend to isoraise this hand in position a whole lot and complete the small blind OOP... and against tighter ranges I won't tend to isolate. Any other things I should consider here?

#4 datsmahname, 08 Jun 11 05:24

^^ I mean specifically when there are 2 players who've already limped in.