There are very few feelings in poker that beat “soul reading” your opponent and looking them up on the river with a weak hand.
A big hero call can give you a confidence boost and make other players think twice the next time they want to pull a bluff against you.
All of this is more in a region of the metagame, though. From a strictly theoretical point of view, making hero calls in situations where everything suggests you’re beaten, can be very dangerous.
So, you won’t find much in terms of strategic tips on when to herocall someone. It often boils down to the reads you have, table dynamics, and other non-tangible things.
What Is a Hero Call, Exactly
There isn’t a steadfast definition of a hero call in poker, but most players have no problems recognizing it when they see it.
It is the kind of call that you really shouldn’t be making, but you still do it because you’re convinced the other player is bluffing.
For example, let’s say you flop a flush draw with small suited connectors like 45. The board comes all high cards, your opponent bets and you make the call. The turn gives you a gutshot straight draw as well, and you check-call once again.
The river comes a 4, giving you a weak pair. You check for the third time, and the opponent fires out a healthy bet of two-thirds the pot.
You really can’t beat any hands they’re betting for value, but for some reason, you believe your pair of 4s is good. Whether it is a live read or your history with this player, you just know that your measly pair is winning here.
So, you make the call, they tap the table and turn over a busted flush draw. You proudly slam your hand on the table as everyone around you looks in awe. What a call!
Hero calling isn't just about winning pots. Of course, you’re happy to drag a big pot your way, but this play is often more about bragging rights and proving yourself and the others you got the game.
No matter where you play, making such a thin call against someone sends a clear message: you’ll have to try harder if you want to bluff me.
When Does Hero Calling Make Sense?
Precisely because a hero call can give you such an adrenaline rush, many players fall into the trap of making this play far too often.
If you’re regularly paying off someone’s huge river bets just so that you could occasionally catch them with a proverbial hand in the cookie jar, you’re not doing yourself any services. All the times you paid them off when they have a monster will more than makeup for that one rare occurrence when they don’t have the goods.
To seriously consider hero calling in a big pot, certain conditions need to be met.
Either you have to be up against the player who is prone to pulling big bluffs or the way the hand played out justifies the herocall. Mostly, when your opponent is representing very few hands with his bet.
Ideally, you’ll want the scenario where both of these conditions are true, as this is the best possible spot to make a hero call.
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For example, you open with pocket Jacks against a very aggressive opponent, and they just flat call from the big blind. The board comes A 10 5 with a flush draw, and they lead out.
Since you know this is an aggressive player who never slow plays their monsters, you can’t see them having much here. So, you call.
The turn is an offsuit seven that changes nothing, and they fire out again, betting the full pot. Nothing has changed, so if you were winning on the flop, you’re probably still ahead. You make the call.
The river comes another 5, pairing the board but missing all straight and flush draws. They move all-in for 1.5x the pot.
It is a really tricky spot because everything they’re telling you with their bets is that they have a monster. But there just aren’t that many monsters possible on that board structure, so let's break it down:
- He would probably 3-bet AA and TT preflop
- Since you have a read that he is very aggressive, he probably would 3-bet AT as well
- He would not use this line and sizing with Ax hand having just one pair
As you see, he is representing only 55 and maybe A5 here, while he could have plenty of bluffs with broadways and other hands.
When you add everything together, this is a typical scenario where a hero call might be in order.
Their entire story just doesn’t add up, and you have a hand with good showdown value, just in case they turn up with a funky pair of 6s they decided to turn into a big bluff for whatever reason.
This isn’t to say that you should routinely call off in these spots. If you’re doing it too much, perceptive players will pick up on it and will start taking advantage of your river tendency to call off light.
But having an occasional herocall in your playbook will make you that much harder to play and will definitely make more aggressive players think twice before firing three barrels into you.
Pros & Cons of a Herocall
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Being a player with the ability to make big hero calls every now and then can be a valuable addition to your repertoire. I’ve already mentioned some of the pros of this play, such as intimidating your opponents and reducing their desire to bluff against you.
But, the simple truth of the matter is that this can also be a very profitable play.
If you play in games where there are “maniacs” who enjoy huge bluffs, being the one to pick them out can do wonders for your hourly rate.
The thing is, not all players are capable of this play, or at least not often enough. While a big herocall is difficult by its very nature, you can’t simply give up your hand because the bet is too big. Well, you probably could and wait for better spots, but every spot can be good if you are capable of reading your opponents well and aren’t afraid to go with your gut.
But, this only goes to a certain point.
One of the biggest cons of hero calling is that you might become too comfortable or too used to doing it. If this happens, you’ll be spewing money left and right without even realizing it.
A few right calls could give you the false sense of being the “poker god” who can read the soul of their opponents all the time.
And if you can truly do it, more power to you!
But, if you are losing five out of six your hero calls, it is time to take a step back and regroup. Making a good call in a tough spot is a really great feeling, and you could become “addicted” to chasing that. At that point, you’ll start looking for hero call spots instead of letting them come to you naturally.
Always keep in mind that hero calling is just one of the weapons in your rich poker arsenal. Like any other play, it needs to be used sparingly, and when the situation is right. Any poker decision that’s driven by your ego or emotions is usually a bad one, and a hero call is particularly susceptible to this.
Also, make sure you’re not making a hero call just because you want to show off and beat a particular player. Trying to catch someone bluffing by repeatedly paying off their big bets is not the way to show them who’s the boss.
I mean, eventually, it is almost guaranteed to work, but by that point, you’ll have donated so much money to them that they’ll be more than happy to let you get away with your “soul read.”
There is another subtle thing to keep in mind in these spots.
Don’t go for a hero call if you think it will affect your emotions if you’re wrong. If you think it will bother you too much if they turn over the nuts, don’t put yourself in that spot. You’re better off folding and playing the rest of the session on your best game.
That being said, sticking to solid preflop hand selection will put you in more favorable situations, s it might be worth checking out this poker cheat sheet before sitting down at the table.
Do’s & Don’ts of Hero Calls
So, now you know what a hero call is and you know when you should and shouldn’t be making it. Of course, there isn’t a clear strategy for this play since it is very situation and player-dependent, but some of the tips in this article should definitely help.
And to help you even further with these spots here’s a quick and simple overview of some do’s and don’ts when it comes to hero calling.
- Be ready to make tough calls when the situation warrants it
- Think about all essential aspects of the hand before making the decision
- Consider how big the bet is in relation to the pot
- Evaluate your and your opponents likely ranges
- Stick to your gut feeling when you’re confident you’re ahead
So, the list of things you should do when thinking about hero calling someone isn’t that long and complicated. It all makes sense, and if you stick to it, you should do just fine.
Much more important is the list of things you shouldn’t do in these spots.
- Ever hero call someone just because you don’t like them or want to show them who’s the boss
- Make it a habit to call huge bets on the river chasing the “high”
- Intentionally seek hero call spots and force things. Let these spots come naturally
- Be afraid to stick to your guns if you have a solid read
In poker, there is never really shame in folding. As the famous Dan Reen poker quote says:
Don’t go around making unwarranted hero calls just because you’re afraid you might be shown a bluff. Even if you get bluffed off of the best hand, it is another piece of information you’ll be able to utilize later.
A calm and systematic approach to making decisions is always needed, but especially so in hero calling spots, as these often represent a significant chunk of your stack.
Summary: You’re Only a Hero if it Works
The sinking expression on your opponent’s face as you drag the pot after calling a bet that you just shouldn’t have called can hardly be described using words.
Hero calling looks great on TV and can give you that pleasant feeling, but it’s a two-way street.
When you make a call, and they turn over the nuts, you’re the one sheepishly mucking your hand, not wanting to show the rest of the table you were goaded. And, if you play poker long enough, you’re bound to find yourself on both sides of the fence.
As with all things poker, don’t let it get to your head.
When you make a good hero call based on your read of the situation, you’re entitled to be happy about it, but don’t make it out to be more than it is. Likewise, if your herocall doesn’t work, don’t sweat it if you know it made sense, given the information you had. But if you want to up your game, you can always join one of poker training sites and make even better decisions!