How to play a calling station in tournaments?

I have been having a lot of trouble with a calling station player recently in tournaments. Although sometimes I have gotten the better of him, he has been a thorn in my side.

Here is what I have observed about his play.

  1. He limps in nearly every hand, and never raises preflop. Will play any suited hand and many others.
  2. He will call any raise preflop from any position with junk cards.
  3. He always limps from SB, and always calls any raise when he is in BB.
  4. He calls every flop bet regardless of whether he has top pair or nothing at all, but never reraises on the flop. Hence it is almost impossible to put him on a hand or a range.
  5. He seems to make flushes on the turn or river with a much greater frequency than 1:3
  6. His usual modus operandi is to call everthing down to the river, then make a bet when he thinks he may be ahead.

In theory it should be very easy to exploit such a player by raising and betting strong hands preflop and betting strongly with good flops, but in practice he is quite crafty and seems to make good results in tournaments, often making final tables. When he loses pots they are small pots, but when he wins them, often with low flushes, they are usually big one.

In the comments box last night he stated that he never seems to get good cards on the final table. I felt like writing a response that the calling-station style of play does not usually do well on final tables, but thought the better of it, as I am still trying to develop a better strategy to counteract him.

Possible strategies:

  1. Instead of betting the pot when I make top pair or a good draw, betting double the pot. He is more likely to fold, but then I am putting a large percentage of my stack at risk on a marginal hand.

  2. Avoid playing pots that he enters, except with superstrong hands. Problem with this is that he limps almost every pot from any position. If you are seated next to him, folding all heads-up hands is not really an option.

  3. Play smallball poker against him down to the river on every pot and bet or call only your strongest hands at river. The problem with this is that you may flop two pairs, like AQ on the flop after you have raised and he has called and slow play them, only for him to draw to a low flush. On the other hand, if you bet big on the flop, he will still call any flush draw, and if he hits it, your stack is badly damaged.

I know that the logical response is that calling any draw to a flush is a losing strategy, but I don’t like to lose whole stack or be crippled early on chancing it against flush draws.

Perhaps it is just part of the nature of small stack tournaments that everyone must lose except for the winner.

In a tournament last night I was bitterly disappointed (for a few minutes) to go out in 5th place–in the money for sure–even though several players on the Replay tournaments GOAT list went out before me. I guess I just want to win every time, and if some pros can do it with their own hole cards COVERED UP, then my potential for improvement in reading opponents must be infinite.

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My usual strategy against players like that:

  • Significantly increase the size of my pre-flop raises if they have limped in front (usually 50% to 100% larger than usual, but I’ll keep increasing the size if their call rate stays really high). Creating a lower SPR pot diminishes the value of their speculative hands, and if you have a range advantage in general, you are starting post flop with more chips in the middle, and so the benefit of any advantage then gets magnified.
  • Switch to almost pure value on the flop, again with a larger sizing. I keep a few high equity bluffs in my range, just so I can show down a rare bluff, but I mostly discontinue c-betting without solid value.
  • Extend my value range so that I will bet a weaker hand for value, and will take a stronger hand for more streets of value.
  • If villain’s river bets are almost all strong value, note that, and significantly tighten your calling range for river bets.

Generally … i do not adjust my pf play to counter a specific opponent’s play … my goals are usually to isolate one opponent when OOP and to reduce opponents to one or two when in position … if not successful i will generally try to keep the pot small, even if i hit top top … when i do isolate a limper / call station opponent i know that my average pf range is higher than his … i can then C bet for value or represent top pr. when an A or other high cards come and slow down with the lower flopped cards that are more likely to be in his/her range … generally i do not like to create a huge pot with just one pair and it sounds like this opponent is willing to keep the pot small… so my bluff rate is lower with known call station/trappers … it also sounds like he wins his money on the river with traps and may have a low bluff rate … so u can call or fold to his bets accordingly. Generally limpers gain value with multiple players in the pot and when their opponent over bets their hands and they have a monster.

if you are a player who also likes to see lots of flops with limps and calls… its going to be harder for you to represent those higher cards on the flop… b/c you have similar average ranges

i think we all have these nemeses … i told one player … chip_57 who kind of plays this style … that “i am his ATM” b/c he gets me so often at showdown … he replied that his perception was that he gave me a lot of chips … so you may be doing better against your nemesis than you think … btw Chip_57 is an excellent player.

Good to see you tonight as well as our mutual nemesis. Actually I have studied his play quite a bit and now am beginning to get the better of him. Knowing that his range includes limping from any position with any suited King or Queen and NEVER betting when he has top pair on the flop definitely gives one an edge. When you flop a total monster, then you can start to slowly build the pot.

There was another player on the same table that we were both on tonight with a very similar playing style.

Sometimes I am overcautious. Tonight I folded a hand when I made a straight on the river, and two players were ferociously contesting the pot when it seemed certain that one of them must have made a flush on the turn, however, it turned out that both had pairs, and I would have won a huge ot had I stayed in. Still I hung in there and finished second. When I was down to 2 BB with just 4 players left second stack self destructed versus largest stack, which was nice.

The main rule in tournaments seems to be to stay alive. I have also studied the play of the GOAT, or at least the player who has won the most chips in tournaments on RP, and he is definitely a hanger in who will sneak onto the final table with a few chips and just wait for opponents to make mistakes. (Of course if he gets AA, he will try to get stacks, but anyone would.)

What I don’t really understand about the calling stations is whether they just don’t understand the odds, or whether they do understand the odds or the concept of domination, but just figure they can outplay enough opponents on the river, by winning big pots and losing small ones.

On the other hand, by limping their big hands preflop, they lose the chance to take down big pots on the flop.

Again and again I will see hands where, let’s say, a player who has KT makes top pair and bets the flop and the turn, only for the calling station to turn over KJ at the river, or to make 2 pairs with K5, but the calling station will never bet their KJ on the flop.

I guess the calling station strategy would fall apart pretty quickly if it was for real money.

These tournaments seem to have got tougher. I have won the Milky Way tournament many times, but recently just been making the final table and sneaking into the money or going out on the bubble. Still I see that I often outlast the GOAT, so there is that. I guess that if you have about 30 players in a tournament, then winning any more than one out of 30 games is beating par for the course.

I also think that the 9:30 pm tournament which has 9-seats per table has a little less variance than the 6-seater, where you are pretty much forced to play with some dominated hands or from out of position and to bluff more than you might like. As I have said before, these tournaments are like cage-fighting, and everyone will always be beaten eventually except for the winner.

Hey BK - first and foremost you have to remember this is " action" poker play - it is set up for that and the best action comes on all the river hits and beats you constantly see. So trying to get to the river with some kind of chance is a smart play - knowing when to get out is smarter… As well , it is free and many people don’t care about losing their free chips - but winning them is fun - hence the fisherman and all the ridiculous all - ins you see. This player may like winning so much - that losing doesn’t matter - he would trade 5 losses for a win – even though he is winning as much as you say. Lastly - when he is at your table - if he keeps limping into all these hands - you can do that as well - trap him - if you don’t feel comfortable with last bet - get out - you limped in anyways and continue to play “your” game when he’s not at your table. You can bet his style of play is much different in a real live game with real money - where the river hits are drastically lowered and the money is real.

Over cautious is ok … safety first … bad players never get bluffed off hands

I am not a fan of hanging on to cash … generally play more aggressive the closer to the bubble in hopes of building a big enough stack to win … others are more hanger ons with a short stack but will play more aggressive with chips in the end … if you give the hang on to cash vibe … your blinds become a target

I generally do not like to limp … you just get so much more info from your opponent when you raise … even a min raise … one of the biggest mistakes I see players make is limp folding at the final table when the blinds are high

And yes … 6 max you have to widen your playable hand range … or you get crushed by the blinds

I like your idea to go down a few levels and experiment … like your “blind” play … I often play lower price tourneys with a passive limp strategy … or a controlled maniac strategy with lots of 3 bets … or other types of play i want to try out … just to try and understand the situations from a different perspective … gl

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Actually it is not always free. I see a lot of players in the 1 million buy-in tournaments who are playing with their last million chips and I can only assume that they are actually buying chips so as to be able to participate, because it takes a while to win a million chips if you are starting from scratch. If it was just the occasional player, I would not really notice, but in almost every daily tournament there are such players.

Very carefully!! Calling stations are skilled at the art of deception!