Hearing the Smooth Call
In the 1996 World Series of Poker, I was watching my friend John Bonetti play a monster pot against the previous champion Dan Harrington. With only 26 players left in the championship and a $1 million prize up for grabs, Dan raised the bid up to $16,000 to go with Ks-10s, and Bonetti “smooth called” with his A-A.
The “smooth call” tactic refers to when you bid on a strong hand as if it were a mediocre one (calling opponents bets when standard theory says you should be raising them) in order to trick your opponent into thinking your hand is weak, enticing them to bet more.
Smooth calling entails a dangerous risk/reward scenario. By attempting to trap your opponents into betting more on hands they wouldn’t have otherwise, you also leave open the possibility that your competition might hit a lucky card and win.
For example, let’s say you have a K-K. In normal strategy you would bet a lot of money with the K-K hoping to chase an opponent with Q-J out of the hand. With a smooth call, if you don’t bet enough at certain points during the hand, then you may allow the Q-J to get a good card and beat you.
In no limit hold’em there is no magical time or place to smooth call bets. Generally speaking, a good time to trap is when someone raises a decent amount right before you and no one else has called yet. A decent-sized bid is important so that it drives other players out of the pot, and having no one else call the raise in front of you is important because it is very dangerous to let too many players into the pot pre-flop, since that increases the chance that you will lose the hand.
Another good time to trap would be when you’re in late position of the bid (one of the last players to act in a Hold’em hand) and no one else has called yet. In this case, a raise represents strength and may cause everyone else to fold, whereas a call represents weakness and may cause other calls, or possibly even cause someone else to raise it up. Although I don’t recommend using the smooth call too often, when you think the time is right, give it a try.
Back to the 1996 WSOP: After a flop of 10-9-6, Harrington bet out $35,000, and Bonetti smooth called again. When an ace came down on the fourth card (10-9-6-A), Harrington moved all-in for $120,000, and Bonetti put his chips in the pot so quickly it astonished me. Bonetti looked over and winked at me as he showed down his three aces: Game, set, match!
If Bonetti had made the standard play — re-raised before the flop with his A-A — Harrington would have almost certainly folded his Ks-10s right then and there, and Bonetti would have won only the $16,000 raise that Harrington made before the flop. Bonetti’s trap, executed with patience, timing and panache, worked like a charm.
RAISE OR FOLD
Which hands would be good candidates for a smooth call?
a) 2-2 with a board of 2h-9s-Jc
b) 6-6 before the flop
c) Q-Q before the flop
d) 9-9 before the flop
answer: a, c
a) 2-2 with a board of 2h-9s-Jc is nearly unbeatable. The only thing you’re worried about losing to is a straight draw, which is very unlikely.
c) Like the K-K, pocket Queens are nearly as good as pocket Kings and they aren’t going to lose too often.