How to Play Poker When There is a Raise Ahead of You
When someone raises before you act in No-Limit Hold’em – also known as a pre-flop raise – you have three choices. You can re-raise, fold or choose to flat call. This page looks in-depth at the third option – calling someone’s pre-flop raise and playing poker from there.
As you’ll see below, there are a lot of factors to consider before using a flat call. These include your cards, table image, depth of your stack and position at the table. Each factor will be discussed in turn, with the maths of your different options assessed.
Here is what you will find below:
If you have a good poker hand, you’ll often (though not always) be re-raising before the flop. Since most of the time you will have a good, though not great hand, implied odds become an important factor.
This describes a spot where you might not have the best hand at the time you make the call – though you can win a lot of money on later streets if you do improve. The classic example would involve a small pair.
Let’s use an extreme example to illustrate. The tightest opponent you ever met raises under the gun. You somehow know that he has pocket aces. You are on the button with a pair of 5’s. You know you’re behind, and that raising here would result in an all-in from your opponent.
Instead you call. If the flop has a 5, and no ace, you stand to win your opponent’s entire stack.
Here you did not have the odds to call the pre-flop raise, though your future profit potential more than made up for it. Most of the time, you’ll miss the flop and fold. That one in eight times you flop a 5 make up for this – your implied odds were huge!
Of course, things will not always be this clear cut. The important point here is that when you call, the potential to make money on later streets is a key factor. You might also win the pot when your opponent checks (giving up) and you put in a timely steal. If they are ‘raising light’, you might well already have the best hand.
Improving to the best starting poker hand is only one reason you might call before the flop. Here are several other factors that come into making this decision.
Many of the situations covered above rely on position – and detecting when your opponent is weak after the flop to justify your call. There are three types of hands which are ideal candidates for a flat call. These can make monsters after the flop – and win you big pots.
You could also add suited Broadway hands and ace-jack / ace-queen off-suit to this list. Those are more dependant on the table dynamic and table image. If you are unsure of your post-flop skills, it is usually better to either take the lead in the hand by raising or ditch those hands pre-flop.
Not only your own position, but the position of the player that raised needs to be factored in before you call pre-flop.
If the raiser is in early position – and a thinking player – their raising range is likely to be strong. If you are sat on their immediate left, then there will still be a lot of players still to act. Here re-raising looks very strong, and even calling should involve a stronger hand range than from later position. Those implied odds hands covered above can’t stand a 3-bet from later position and become too risky in this setup at all but the most passive (‘call-heavy’) games.
If you are in later position, especially on the button, and the raise comes from early position – then the implied odds hands go up in value. With the raiser having a narrow / strong range, they will be more reluctant to fold to a single bet on a ‘safe’ flop. If you are in the blinds facing an early position raise, then you need to factor in the fact that you are out of position before you consider a call. It is hard to get full value when you act first on the flop, turn and river.
Raises from middle position should be with a wider range of hands. This improves your ability to take the pot on later streets, even when you miss the flop – since your opponent will not always have a hand which can withstand pressure.
If the raise comes from the button or cut-off position and you are in the blinds, a different dynamic applies. Here the raiser will often have a wide range. While this might mean you have the best hand more often, it also means you are less likely to be paid off with those implied-odds type hands. Add being out of position, and many calling hands should be ditched. With many hands, it is better to take the lead (or win the pot right there) with a 3-bet instead.
Sometimes an opponent will be the classic loose ‘calling station’. This means they will raise a lot of hands (sometimes oblivious to position), and then call too many bets post-flop with any chance of winning. While calling can win a lot of money, you will often find that re-raising is the better play. You’ll knock out the hands behind you that might have called. If you hit the flop, you can win a lot of money from these players.
Tighter opponents increase your chance of winning a big pot after the flop with the right types of hand. If you miss and they raise, you should often give them credit for a premium hand and get out of the way. If you do spike a set with a small pair (for example), expect to win multiple bets.
Your own table image also comes into play. If you are calling a lot of bets pre-flop, then folding to continuation bets – you are encouraging opponents to open a wider range against you.
If there are loose opponents still to act, you should generally play a narrower range of hands for flat-calls. An active button, that likes to 3-bet when seeing a raise and call can make your life difficult. You are denied the correct odds to call – and would have to play out of position for the rest of the hand.
When considering a call, the amount of money you can win on future streets is a primary factor. If either you or the raiser has a shallow stack – for example 20x the big blind – then you do not have the correct odds to call with your implied odds hands. In fact, calling both pre-flop and on the flop will make the pot so big that you are probably committed to call bets on later streets.
With very deep stacks of 200x the big blind or more, certain hands shoot up in value. Those suited aces and suited connectors can now win huge pots after the flop – and can be played more often. Conversely, vulnerable hands like Ace-9 or K-10 off-suited go down in value. These hands are easily dominated, making it difficult to know where you stand after the flop. This means that have ‘reverse implied odds’ – you could lose a big pot those times you do hit the flop, and someone else hits it better.
If there is a short-stack still to act, then you have another type of risk. For example, someone with 100x the big blind opens, and you call (also with 100x) with a small pocket pair. A player nursing a 10x stack then goes all-in behind you, and the original raiser folds. Here you have huge odds to make the call – though would have preferred not too, as you won’t have the best hand most of the time.
All of the factors covered above apply as much to tournaments as they do to cash games. There are also some extra considerations for tournament poker. These arise from the generally lower standard of strategy knowledge for tournament players, stack size differences and bubble dynamics.
In the early stages of poker tournaments, pots will be contested by more players than in cash games. You can call a raise before the flop, only to see 2 or 3 other players also flat call. When you see the flop 5 handed, you’ll need to hit it hard to have a shot at winning the pot. This improves the value of hands like small pairs and suited aces. It significantly reduces the value of high card hands (even as good as Ace-Queen). Many poker experts recommend a flat call only from position in small stakes poker tournaments – and choosing hands which can hit hidden monsters.
When you get to the middle stages, with bigger blinds, there will be a huge range of stack sizes at your table. Some players will have 100x stacks, others will be 10x or so – with many in that comfort-zone in between. If you want to flat call, you need to take stack depth into consideration first. While you might have great implied odds against a deep stack, a small stack behind you is a big risk. Instead of using a flat call, you should raise more often. This keeps the pressure on your opponents. It works well against those comfortable mid-sized stacks, who will often decide to look for a better spot.
The bubble of a poker tournament sees most players tighten up – and the big stacks go on the rampage, stealing as many pots as possible. When a small or medium stack raises, they usually have a good hand (otherwise they would not take the risk). A flat call is not recommended. Instead, you should be looking to chip-up – taking the lead in the hand whenever possible.