Immediate Calls and What They Can Mean
In poker, the time it takes a player to take an action (check, call, bet, or raise) can sometimes give you information about their hand strength. These are known as bet-timing tells. One of the most meaningful bet-timing tells is the immediate call, also called the snap call.
When someone makes an immediate call (and it is not a call that completes all betting action), it means that they have decided quickly that they are neither folding nor raising. This will often indicate a medium-strength hand; one that is obviously worth a call while at the same time obviously not worth a raise (in the view of player making that decision). Players with strong hands are usually concerned with trying to maximize the value of their hands, and they will usually think for at least a couple seconds about what their best course of action might be.
Last year I watched 15 episodes of the “Poker After Dark” TV show, specifically noting all of the immediate calls on the flop and turn. (I did not track preflop calls; preflop calls are less meaningful because bets are smaller and hand strength is less-defined.) Most of these immediate calls were made by Eli Elezra. There were six examples of Elezra calling immediately on the flop or turn; all of them represented weak or medium-strength hands. In none of the instances were Elezra’s hands strong enough to raise for value (this is my opinion, but all of the hands were quite weak).
Here are just a couple examples of situations where Elezra called immediately:
“Poker After Dark,” season 6, episode 61
Situation: In a heads-up pot, the flop comes J 5 5. Elezra checks to Antonius, who bets. Elezra calls immediately with A 9.
“Poker After Dark,” season 6, episode 62
Situation: In a 4-way pot, the flop comes 3 5 6. Tom Dwan bets second-to-act and Elezra calls immediately with A 7.
The other situations were very similar, with Elezra having quite weak hands.
In order to compare Elezra’s behavior, I wanted to find some examples where he just called with a hand that was potentially strong enough to raise for value. Because only calling with stronger hands is understandably not that common, I did have to search many episodes to find two examples. Here they are:
“Poker After Dark,” season 4, episode 38
Description: In a 3-way limped pot, Elezra has J 5 and checks his two-pair on a board of J 5 6. The player last to act bets, the second player folds, and Elezra takes several seconds to call the bet.
“High Stakes Poker,” season 5, episode 3
Description: In a 4-way raised pot, the flop comes A K Q. Doyle, second to act, bets. The third player folds. Elezra, holding the K Q, takes a few seconds to call. Even though the logic of a raise here is debatable, the point is that the hand is strong enough to where Elezra probably has to consider whether a raise would be a good idea; this would make a snap call unlikely.
(The examples above are not meant to demonstrate any sort of statistical significance. They are just used to demonstrate the reasons behind why immediate calls are made.)
Besides hand strength, there are a few other factors that can influence whether someone makes an immediate call.
Cash games: Immediate calls are more common in cash games than in tournaments. This is because people are more relaxed in cash games while tournaments are more tense. In tournaments, even inexperienced players tend to think about simple decisions where the action seems obvious.
Bet size: Snap calls are more likely to be made when the bet is small and the decision is less important. (All of Elezra’s snap calls took place on the flop.) Immediate calls can happen on the turn; it is just less likely.
Time that has passed in round: The more time that has passed during a round of betting, the less meaningful an immediate call is. For example, a player immediately betting the flop followed by a player immediately calling is more meaningful than a player taking a long time to bet followed by a player who immediately calls. The more time a player has had to consider the situation, the less meaningful an immediately call will be.
Perceived aggression level of bettor: Snap calls are more likely to be made against aggressive players. This is because, versus an aggressive player, a player may more quickly decide that a weak or medium strength hand is an obvious call, whereas versus a tighter player, they might think about laying that hand down. This may explain why, in the five Elezra snap-call hands we examined, two of them were against Dwan and two of them were against Patrik Antonius; Dwan and Antonius were arguably the most aggressive players in the analyzed footage.
Player tendencies: Some players are quite capable of making snap calls with a wide range of hand strengths. These players will also usually act fast with their other actions. If you know a player is capable of calling quickly with a wide range, you obviously shouldn’t assign much weight to his immediate calls.
Using this information
For me, personally, there are two main ways a snap call can alter my strategy:
- If I have a weak hand, an immediate call on the flop or turn will increase my chances of bluffing on the next street.
- If I have a very strong hand, an immediate call on the flop might cause me to check the turn, if I think that my opponent is folding to another bet from me.
It’s hard to come up with a one-size-fits-all strategy based solely on immediate calls, because there are so many factors involved. However, if you start paying attention to snap calls and what people have when they do that, you’ll become more comfortable at adjusting a player’s hand strength based on that information.
Zachary Elwood is the author of the book “Reading Poker Tells.” His blog is at www.ReadingPokerTells.com and he is on Twitter at @apokerplayer.