A week ago, poker pro Jonathan Little tweeted “I have yet to hero call correctly in the #wsop.” A “hero call” is when you call a fairly sizable bet on the river and all you have is a bluff catcher. It’s entirely a read-based decision. Jonathan’s tweet included a link to a ShareMyPair video of a hand where the villain had flopped quads and Jonathan paid off a sizable river bet. Which, by the way, sucks.
Jonathan Little is a great poker player, two-time WPT champion, and produces a prolific amount of first rate instructional content. I met him during my first trip to the WSOP in 2015 and we corresponded a few times via email afterwards. What I remember most is that Jonathan is thoughtful, gracious and genuine. This is not a guy prone to making poorly thought out hero calls. Compared to him, I’m a poker dummy.
So when Jonathan Little’s hero calls repeatedly fail, it makes me wonder… Is the occasional thrill of a correct hero call worth it? In the long run, is never hero calling the more +EV strategy? Is the superhero of the hero calling game actually Captain Foldalot?
In no limit or pot limit games, bet sizes usually increase with each round of betting. River bets are the largest, so the risk / reward associated with hero calling is much greater than with light or speculative calls on earlier streets, where your hand might improve or turn and river action provide additional information to re-assess your read on the villain.
Even if our pre-flop and flop play is terrible, those bets are small and we can make up a lot of ground with good turn and river decisions. Playing a lot of online Pot Limit Omaha lately and still a PLO neophyte, I examined some river betting data.
I looked at PLO hands where a player makes a sizable bet on the river, at the stakes at which I’m currently playing. It doesn’t matter if I was involved in the hand or not; only that I get to see the hole cards. Based on their hand strength, I can determine whether the bet was intended as a value bet or as a bluff. The preliminary results show (updated a few days after the original post):
- Total hands with sizable river bets – 115
- Value bets – 74.8%
- Bluffs – 25.2%
They don’t always have it, but nearly 75% of the time they do, and that’s high enough to make snap-folding my bluff-catchers an easy default decision. Hero calling (is) for dummies! [REMINDER TO SELF: This is for online PLO only.]
We may observe specific players with a high river bluffing frequency, or the logic of how they played an entire hand might not align with the river bet. Usually, however, just like Jonathan Little, we’re wrong. On the Ignition Poker platform I use, all players are anonymized, so you cannot apply knowledge gained about a player in one session to a future session with the same player. HUDs are useless. Most of the time, you have no choice but to regard each opponent as an “ordinary routine player” for the stakes you are playing.
As I move up (or down!) in stakes, the profile of an “ordinary routine player” should shift, and it will be interesting to repeat the sample at different stakes to see how much the river value-to-bluff ratio changes.
Until then, I’ll be Captain Foldalot when facing large river bets.
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