As any player can tell you, poker is more than just luck and money: there’s a heavy psychological factor involved in the game. This makes it more than just another casino game and transforms it into a vital, thrilling sport. It’s not uncommon for many players to do well in the game just by playing the math, but once you’ve gotten through low-stakes cash games, you’re going to have to play against the players more than the board. One of the oddest and most frustrating elements for new players to learn their way around is that of the “hero call.”
A hero call is made when you throw logic the door entirely and make a risky marginal call just because your gut tells you to. They tend to happen later in the hand, once the flop and turn have hit the board and players are beginning to represent their hands “true” strength. There is no formula for making a hero call; it’s always down to the general “feel” of the moment, but let’s look at an example that’s not a million miles away from the kind of play you see every day.
You’re in a $50/$100 No-Limit Heads-Up cash game and you’ve been dealt Ad9d. You’re in the big blind and your opponent immediately raises to $300. You’ve had to deal with the guy making really aggressive bets and are getting a bit tired of it. You opt to three-bet to $900 to put him in his place. He calls and the flop hits: 4h6h8s. To help establish yourself, you put down a continuation bet of half the pot size and your opponent calls, meaning that there is now a total of $3600 on the table.
The turn comes down: 5c and you both check. Then the river hits with 5s. Just like the previous card, you check but your opponent fires off a bet of $900. Do you make the hero call?
I’d say yes: the other player’s river bet is pretty suspicious because it looks like he’s trying to have it serve as a value bet. The board’s texture is so low-key (a pair of fives amongst a rainbow of lower-value cards) that your opponent is trying to extract value with a hand he doesn’t have. His bet is so small compared to the final pot; he’s got 4:1 odds, which means that he could take a long shot to be profitable over the long hall.
In this case, I’d definitely recommend making the call with your Ace high. The quasi-value bet, in combination with the fact that he happily checked back on the turn, gives you a good shot and actually making money with this move. However, it’s important to note that you had a very good, very specific reason to make this kind of call. You want to avoid hero calls too often for one simple reason: they can easily turn you into a calling station, and calling stations never actually make much money at the table.