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Overcalling is the term for calling a bet after another player or other players has/have already called that bet. For the purposes of this advice, we'll be concerned only with the betting and calling that takes place on the river, after all of the cards are out. To overcall a bet on the river, there must already be a bet, and you can't be the first player to act after it. Before the action gets to you, one or more players must act on that bet for it to qualify as the subject of this discussion.

If you already have some experience playing hold'em in a live game, you probably know that the first player to bet on the river often does not have a good hand. He could have been on a draw, missed, and now be betting a bluff. He may have a low pair, or even two pair, that he knows will not win if he checks. He might, however, have the nuts or some unexpected great hand. Sometimes you just can't know for sure what a bet from the first player really means.

One thing you do know for sure is that, even though the bettor could have anything, the first player to call him has to have something. If you're the next player after that first caller, you have some analytical thinking to do. First, you have to think about what kind of poker hand the original bettor has. Second, you have to think about what kind of hand the first caller thinks the bettor has. Since he called first, knowing that you are behind him and could possibly raise, you usually have to give him credit for a reasonably good hand.

You have to figure out why that player called. Does he have a lousy hand, can beat only a bluff, and is hoping you won't call? Is he calling with a fairly lousy hand, just because the pot is very big? Is he calling with a great hand ( or even the nuts) just so you'll also call?

It also helps if you know the players in question. If that is the case, here are four easy questions that you can quickly ask yourself:

1. Are both the bettor and the caller extremely loose players? If so, then either of them could have anything, and if you're truly undecided, you should lean toward calling.

2. Is the bettor a loose player and the caller a tight player? If so, you can be sure that the caller has a good read on the bettor. He doesn't think he is throwing his money away in this spot. In this situation, you should fold if you're undecided.

3. Is the bettor a tight player and the caller a loose player? A tight player who is first to act is capable of bluffing in this spot. The loose player is capable of calling with anything in this spot. You should generally consider calling, unless you know for sure that the first player who bet just doesn't bluff in this spot or has a habit of checking his good hands.

4. Are the bettor and caller both tight players? If so, then you'll usually need a much better than average hand to call.

Just like playing loose is not always a bad tactic, playing tight is not always the best tactic. It's really a question of how good your opponents are. There's no substitute for knowing your opponents.

If you could know only the bettor or the caller, not both, you'd make the better decisions in the long run by knowing the caller. The first caller is the key player in this equation. If you recognize the caller as a good, solid, experienced player (and especially if you know that he's just a better overall player than you), you can take advantage of that knowledge.

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