Of all the player types you may find at poker tables, calling stations should definitely be your favorites, as they are both very profitable and very easy to play against.
In this guide, I am going to discuss all the different strategies you can employ to maximize your profits when facing a calling station, but before I do that, I need to explain what a calling station is and how to identify one in your games.
What Is a Calling Station in Poker?
The term calling station gets floated around in poker quite a bit, but what is a calling station exactly, and how do you recognize one?
Well, quite simply put, a calling station is a player whose preferred play is always “call” as opposed to “fold” or “raise.”
Calling stations will check and call a lot while only betting or raising themselves when they have the actual nuts or close to it.
Even when a calling station bets, they will usually make very small bets in the hopes of getting called instead of sizing their bets properly in relation to the pot, other players’ actions, and other factors.
Calling stations are often inexperienced poker players who don’t yet understand the game, although some players have spent their entire lives playing poker in the role of a calling station.
The exact reasoning behind playing this particular style of poker is unclear, but once you do find a calling station, you should do your best to play them as often as possible.
To summarize, you will recognize a calling station in your games by some of the following traits:
- Often limps and calls raises preflop
- Often checks and calls bets postflop
- Rarely makes bets or raises
- Usually use very small bet sizing
- They are extremely unlikely to bluff
You will face calling stations more often at the low stakes.
(Image courtesy of Poker Atlas)
What to Expect From a Calling Station
When playing a hand with a calling station, you will often find yourself in very similar scenarios, which is why it’s good to have an idea of what to expect.
Before the flop, your typical calling station will usually start by limping in or calling a raise that someone else has made. A calling station will rarely enter the pot for a raise and will usually let all the aggression be done by someone else.
If you see a calling station making a raise before the flop, and especially going for a 3-bet, the alarm bells in your head should start going off immediately. The same goes for all the other betting rounds, where calling stations will only be seen making bets and raises when they hold a powerhouse.
On the other hand, you can fully expect to see a calling station call your and everyone else’s bets and raises with a wide range, from bottom pairs to backdoor draws and everything in between.
The loosest of calling stations will often call small bets in earlier betting rounds with just about anything, while some may end up folding bad hands that have no real chance of winning.
For the most part, a calling station who called a flop bet will call the turn bet as well, chasing after more cards that could help improve their hand.
Once you have identified a calling station, make sure to watch them play hands with others as well and try to determine just how loose they call bets and how far they are willing to go with their draws.
The more information you have on a player of this profile, the more value you will be able to draw from them in the long run, thus increasing your EV when this player is in the game.
If a calling station is all of a sudden 3-betting, it is likely best to fold your hand.
Strategy Adjustments When Playing Against Calling Stations
Now, let’s talk about some actual strategic adjustments you can make when playing against a calling station and the way you should execute them for maximum profit.
Tip #1 – Isolating the Calling Station
While playing the calling station heads-up would be ideal, in most cases, you will only get to play with such players in a ring game setting, which means there will be other players with differing play styles.
Assuming other players in the game are not all passive players, your job will be to isolate the calling station whenever possible but with hands that rate to do well against their calling range.
As previously mentioned, a calling station will often enter the pot with a limp. If you limp in as well, you will let other players join the pot cheap and take away big chunks of your equity.
A preflop raise, on the other hand, will often clear the field and allow you to go head-to-head with that player, which is the perfect scenario.
However, be mindful of other players still in the hand and make sure to know which of them are capable of 3-betting your raises as a bluff and which ones are playing more straightforwardly.
When sizing up your isolation raises, make sure to go big enough to get other players to fold their weaker holdings, and don’t be too concerned about how much the station will call. In most cases, the raise size won’t matter to them!
Additionally, getting more money in the pot against a calling station should be good, as you are doing it with a range that’s made up of hands like 88+, suited Aces, and Broadway cards, all of which will be dominating and crushing the station’s limp-calling range.
One of the best ways to isolate a calling station is to 3-bet.
Have you seen my video on how to 3-bet like a pro?
Tip #2 – Bet Big for Value
Once the preflop portion of the hand is over and you have managed to get heads-up with the calling station, you will want to assess your hand against their range. Whenever you make a hand as strong as the top pair, and usually even with a hand like the middle pair, you will want to start betting for value.
Like I already said, calling stations don’t really care too much about your bet sizing, so you can get away with just about anything and bet big when you have a monster hand while betting smaller when your hand is less valuable.
Remember that the calling station’s playing style is such that they will call bets with any pair, any gutshot, any flush draw, and basically any backdoor draw as well.
On draw-heavy boards, you should really make sure to bet big with your top pair or better, as you are extremely likely to get called by a hand that you are currently well ahead of. What’s even more, you don’t really need to be too worried about the station bluffing you off when a scare card comes on the turn or river.
For example, let’s imagine we raised to 4x preflop to isolate a calling station with KsQd and managed to get heads-up with them.
On a board of QhTh7s, we bet 8bb into a 9.5bb pot, and the player calls.
The turn brings the 8h, which is potentially a very scary card. However, unlike many other opponents who might use this card to bluff us on the turn or river, the station will still just be looking to take a weak hand like Q5s or KT to showdown without any more bets.
For that reason, you will be able to make big bets and not worry too much about pot control against players from this category, which is exactly what makes them your favorites to play against.
Heads-up against calling stations, bet big for value as they will call with worse hands.
Tip #3 – Minimize Your Bluffs
I wish I could tell you never to bluff a calling station, but there are some situations in which bluffing is still profitable, even against this type of player.
However, you should always look to bluff these players with hands that can get there in multiple ways on later streets while worrying less about things like blockers and removal effects.
Remember, the calling station is not very likely to fold to one bet if they have any piece of the board.
For that reason, a flop bet may get called, but a bigger bet on the turn or river may force the station to get rid of their weak hand if they are left unimproved.
The best part about it is that such players will usually let you know if they do improve by leading right into you when that two-pair completing card hits the turn or river. When they lead into you, you better believe them!
All that said, you should reduce your overall bluffing frequencies against a calling station by a significant portion across all board textures and make sure to bet for value a lot more often than you do as a bluff.
Since they will likely call, avoid attempting risky bluffs against calling stations.
Tip #4 – Include Overbets in Your Game
The concept of an overbet used to be something people didn’t even consider in poker until relatively recently, but it’s one of the best tools you have at your disposal against calling stations. As I already said, the station does not really care about the size of the pot or the size of your bet in relation to the pot. They only care about the total dollar value being put into the pot and their hand.
So, if you flop a monster and want to get paid, don’t worry about the size of the pot and try to get as much value as possible.
For instance, imagine flopping a set of eights on a board of Qd7d8s in a pot that’s only $30 in your $2/5 game, as the station simply called your preflop raise in the big blind.
Sizing your flop bet up to $50 or even more is a great idea against this player, as they are just as likely to call this bet with a gutshot, an 8, or a 7 as they would be if you only bet $20. If they have a Q, they are calling pretty much no matter how much you bet.
What’s even more, your bet sizing won’t really impact the way they play later streets too much either, as they will try to improve on their hand and usually give up when they don’t.
The last thing you want to do is try to think back on what the GTO sim had to say about this particular board and make a “balanced” play, as the player you are up against isn’t really even thinking about what hand you might have at all.
Tip #5 – Remain Cordial at All Times
Playing against calling stations can be incredibly fun and profitable in live poker games, but it can also be very frustrating. We have all seen “a fish on a heater” at one point or another, and sometimes, there is really nothing you can do to beat them on a given night.
You make your big bets, you get the money in good, and they simply keep sucking out on you all night long.
When this does happen, it is incredibly important to remember that poker is really not about the short-term results, that all luck is going to even out, and that this player has no chance of beating you in the long run.
Causing scenes when you get sucked out on, yelling at the calling station or calling them stupid, and worse yet, changing the way you play your game to deviate from winning poker strategy are the worst things you can do.
Instead, take any losses you endure in stride, take a walk and come back with a fresh head, and remember that there is no better situation to be in than playing against a massive calling station with a lot of chips in their stack.