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What is a Cold Call in Poker?

Poker is the most widely beloved and enjoyable gambling game out there. There are a few reasons for this but chief among them is the fact that it’s more of a game of skill than just a game of chance, with players embarking in psychological warfare between one another (in a fun way, of course) as they try to bluff and psych out each other. 

Like most gambling games, though, poker has a whole lot of jargon attached to it that can sometimes scare away new players. Never mind knowing what words like “raise” or “royal flush” means, there are also more advanced terms like “cold call” that new players will have to familiarize themselves with before they can really get good at the game. 

Speaking of “cold call”, it doesn’t have anything to do with the real-world slang term that basically means calling someone out of the blue, but it’s actually still pretty straightforward.

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Defining a Cold Call 

To understand a “cold call”, we first need to understand what is meant by a “call” in poker. A call, very simply, is when a player matches either the bet or the raise of the last person to play by matching that amount, with the other two options beings to raise (match the previous value and increase it) or to “fold” (to place your cards down and be counted out for the rest of the round).

So, as a simple example, let’s say there are four people at a poker table:

Players are dealt their cards, starting from the left of the dealer and going clockwise.  Player 1 checks (doesn’t open the betting but remains in the game), player 2 opens the betting at $10, player 3 folds, player 4 matches the bet and places another $10 in the pot, and player 5 decides to raise the bet and increase it to $50. 

In both Texas Hold ‘Em and traditional 5 card draw, after this initial round of betting, comes the “flop” – this is simply where players get a chance to discard any or all of their cards in place for new ones, and the betting then continues based on 

Player 1 can then fold, call (as in match that $50) or re-raise (say, by raising $75) and as it goes around the table each player has the same options. If all active players (as in players who haven’t folded) call in a round, with no one raising, the betting round ends and each player shows their cards. Alternatively, if all but one player folds, that last remaining player wins.

A cold call, then, simply refers to calling after any raise on the initial bet. So, if player 1 bets $10 and the second player raises to $20, a cold call is when player 3 calls on that $20. Similarly, it’s a called call if after that player 4 raises it to $50 and player 5 calls on that $50. 

In Texas Hold’ Em, cold calls also happen in the pre-flop round (as in the initial round of betting before cards are discarded and replaced) if someone calls during that round. This does not apply in other versions of poker where you can only call and raise after those initial bets are made.

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To Cold Call or Not to Cold Call

The big question, then, is when and when not to play a cold call. It’s worth mentioning that different kinds of poker work very differently so a cold call may be a good idea in one form of poker (say, a poker tournament) and not in another (a cash game of Texas Hold ‘Em).

To answer this, we need to understand what the point is in cold calling. 

In short, you could cold call as an alternative to raining the bet or folding, so doing so effectively sends out the message that you have enough faith in your cards to stay in the game, but not confident enough to actually raise the amount bet.   

This might seem simple enough, but because poker is a game that is 90% about reading other players, a cold call can signal to other players that you have, in effect, a mid-level hand, whereas simply raising would show that you have proper confidence for your hand to win during the showdown (after all calls have been made and the cards of active players are revealed). 

Now, because poker is also often about bluffing, you can actually throw off your opponents by cold calling when you should raise and raise when you should cold call, but this obviously depends on what you believe the other players are holding. 

So, with all this in mind, where and when should you cold call? It’s honestly impossible to say as a general rule. It depends entirely on your hand and also the nature of the people you’re playing against. It can be a smart, cautious move against good players, but it can also be used to manipulate weaker players. It is, basically, just one of many tools in any good poker player’s arsenal.

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