The Calling Station (Part I)

Poker Player Analysis

So far in this series we've discussed the correct strategies for defeating the "Maniac" and the "Rock". However, the most common opponent you'll run into in small stakes games, particularly online, is the "Station". This, two part, article may be the most important piece of poker literature you've ever wrapped your mind around. Lend me your brain for a few quick pages and I truly believe I can change the way you think regarding these players.

Most people can't help but re-live the last thousand or so bad beats they've taken whenever the sit down with a couple of these guppies. They see horns appear pushing up their calling station hair. They begin to see fire in the eyes of the Calling Station reflecting the fact that where taught to play poker in the heart of hell by the devil himself. When I sit down with a Station, I see a golden halo hovering only inches above his dull little head. I like to take the halo from him and melt it into coins that I can spend on chips that I can use to beat up on his little Calling Station buddies. As a matter of fact, most of the time the station will be happy to just give you the halo, as long as you know how to ask for it. I'm going to teach you how to do just that. It really isn't difficult; actually, halo theft can be a great deal of fun.

The Station, or calling station, plays too many hands. He calls to often and doesn't raise enough. The station is the reason so many players can make a living at poker. There is no other group of players that is easier to gain an edge on and yet I see so many players who have a difficult time against these meager opponents. In poker, we make our money by capitalizing on our opponents' mistakes. A calling stations entire playing style is just one big fat mistake. I'm going to teach you exactly how to play effectively against this group of ATM's, I mean players.

These "Stations" are what we usually picture in our minds when we talk about "fish". I've heard many players say that they actually prefer to play against better players, and that they hate playing against a group of fish. That's just wrong. The calling station can be a very frustrating opponent indeed, but let's examine what exactly causes the frustration. The reason Stations are so frustrating to play against is because of the huge number of bad beats they put on you. Let's think about that for a moment. What exactly is a bad beat? Well, there could be a number of different definitions to "bad beat", but I'll submit this one. A bad beat occurs when one player makes a bad decision or series of bad decisions that cause him to take the "worst of it", and yet gets lucky and wins the hand. If we can agree on that as a definition for a "bad beat" then we can follow it to its logical conclusion. If we are taking a bad beat it means, necessarily, that we have outplayed our opponent. When all the money goes in on fourth street with your opponent drawing to three live cards in the deck that can save him, that is a very good thing. The reason good player often do not like playing against Stations is because the mental effects of getting all of your money in as a 93% favorite and losing are debilitating.

Emotionally, a player who manages to "suck out" to win a couple of big pots from you can be hard to take. The truth is that Calling Stations are exactly the players we should look for in a game. These players are the main reason poker can be a lucrative endeavor. I've heard a lot of players complaining about how much they hate playing against a bunch of "fish". They claim that these poor players are more difficult to beat than players who actually do know what they are doing. If you are one of the players who would truly prefer to play against better opposition, well, just stop it. I mean really, you have got to change your mentality. That idea, the idea that it is easier to beat good players than bad players is absolutely incorrect. It is now and always has been erroneous judgment. You simply have got to change your mind about playing against poor players. Statistically speaking it is impossible for a player to gain an edge by consistently taking the worst of it. It just cannot happen.

Before I beat you up for harboring these illogical feelings and ideas I would like to address some of the negative effects that "fish" really can create in a game. Let me preface this information with a simple statement. The negative effects of Stations in your game pale in comparison to the positive effects. The positive effects are, of course, the potential profit that they, quite literally, bring to the table. Now, let's talk about the adverse effects of Calling Stations. There are three major problems that emerge when you play against Stations. Calling Stations add volatility to the game; by playing too many hands and chasing too many draws too often they make poker more "swingy" than you might like. Calling stations are also very difficult to put on a hand. Because you can't count on them to do the correct thing and because they generally play a very wide range of starting hands and are not able to utilize even simplistic mathematical concepts (God love 'em!), it can be difficult if not impossible to figure out what a Calling Station has in the hole. If they don't know what they're doing, it's impossible for you to know what they're doing. The third and, realistically, most harmful of the three is what some refer to as the "Schooling effect." The "Schooling effect of fish" actually does make playing against Stations in large quantities a bit tricky. Put simply, sometimes players who would be getting bad pot odds to chase draws can actually get the correct price when more than one of them calls on different draws. Yuck! It's almost as if they are colluding accidentally.

In terms of volatility, or the money swings in a game of poker, Calling Stations really can cause an effect that most good players would consider problematic. They add to the amount of "standard deviation" inherent in any poker game at a particular stake or limit. That is to say, you'll need a larger bankroll to play against Stations than you would need against "Maniacs" or "Rocks". If you track your hourly rate (the amount of money you gain, on average, for every hour you spend playing) you will find something pretty interesting. Imagine that you regularly play against two different groups of players at identical stakes (for instance $1-$2 NLH with a buy in range of $50-$200). One group is a mixed group of poor players with widely varying styles; some are maniacal, some are overly tight, and some are loose and passive. The other game is chucked to the fishy gills with loose- passive, Calling Stations.

Supposing you have the same exact edge over both groups of players you should find that you will make money in the game against the Stations with less consistency even if it is averaging out to the same hourly rate. Beating a game with a lot of Stations is an up and down, swingy, proposition. If you created a graph to keep track of the amount of money you win and lose per hour, session, week, month and year in order to establish which game is more lucrative between your two regular games, the one with lots of peeks and valleys for wins and losses (big losing sessions and big winning sessions) will likely be the game with all the Stations. The good news is that those peeks (winning sessions) will be much more significant and pronounced than the valleys. That is why you typically need a larger bankroll to handle the swingy nature of playing against fish. When you are frequently getting all of your money in the middle with a 70% chance of doubling it something peculiar occurs about three out of ten times. You get busted!

♣ Continued at: Player Analysis: The Station, Part II

♣ Back to the archive of articles on poker strategy.