Beginner poker players often employ a loose-passive style of play at poker. And oftentimes, they get labeled as "calling stations" by their opponents. But what exactly is the loose-passive style, and why is it so bad to be a calling station in poker?
Loose-Passive Style Explained
In poker, a loose-passive player or calling station plays too many hands, rarely raises, and hates to fold.
The loose-passive style has two main aspects to it. First, the player is loose so they like to play a lot of hands pre-flop just to see a lot of flops. And they really don't like to fold, they get attached to their hand.
Their post-flop poker playstyle is passive. They rarely take the initiative, responding to their opponent's plays rather than going on the offensive. This means they don't raise much, and instead limp and call a lot - hence the name "Calling Station".
How Do Calling Stations Play
Poker is a game of two halves:
- pre-flop, and
The different styles of poker players are categorized following their behavior for each half. Preflop patterns are on a spectrum going from tight to loose, and postflop patterns range from passive to aggressive.
Before the flop
Pre-flop, a calling station has very low standards when it comes to what cards they're willing to play, and which position they are in. They want to see as many flops as possible.
But they are unlikely to raise, even when they are first to act or the action has folded around to them. Instead they tend to limp in by calling the minimum. If someone raises before or after them, they still like to call so they can see the flop.
After the flop
Post-flop is where the calling station really lives up to their name. They won't often bet, but they won't be pushed off their hand either. This is especially true if they've caught a piece of the board (even bottom pair), they hold any pocket pair, or they have any kind of drawing hand that could improve on later streets.
The calling station wants to see the hand to the end because they might have the best hand. And even if they don't, they want to make sure their opponent isn't trying to bluff them. Their curiosity gets the better of them - they just have to know what their opponent has.
Pros & Cons of a Loose-Passive Poker Style
Although playing as a calling station isn't a profitable style, it does have some advantages.
- A hand that looks like trash pre-flop can become a monster if the right community cards come, and it's unlikely your opponents will realize what you have. Then all you have to do is let them bet into you to build the pot.
- Frustrate the hand-readers - it's very hard to put a calling station on a hand because they play such a wide range of starting hands. And they usually play all of them the same way, good or bad - by calling, calling, calling.
- You can improve your own hand-reading skills by seeing every hand down to showdown and seeing whether you assigned the correct range to your opponent.
- You can't bluff a calling station, so this style can be profitable against loose-aggressive players who try to run everyone over with constant bluffing.
- It's more fun. Let's face it, poker isn't much fun if you're folding every hand. Playing Loose-Passive poker guarantees plenty of action.
- You won't suffer the frustration of folding a hand that would have become a monster if only you'd stayed in.
Being a calling station is recommended against for multiple reasons.
- It is an expensive strategy as you will pay off people's value hands.
- It's easy to identify a Calling Station after a few showdowns. Good players will quickly adjust their approach so they can exploit you.
- Playing weak cards puts you at a statistical disadvantage, even if you get lucky in the short term.
- Calling when you don't have the correct pot odds to do so is a long-term losing strategy. You can't beat the math in the long run.
- Poker is a game that rewards aggression and initiative, and playing passively is the opposite of that.
- If you aren't selective with your starting hands, then you can end up playing for a big pot with a weak hand - and losing because of your weak kicker. This is a big risk if you don't like to fold when you catch a piece of the board.
Loose Passive Hand Selection
What sort of loose-passive hand range can we put a calling station on? First, calling stations don't like to fold at all, but they will have some standards for their starting hand selection.
They will play any Ace or any face card, even when they are paired with a weak kicker. They'll play suited cards, even when they aren't connected. And they'll play
connected cards even when they aren't suited. This amounts to about 30-60% of starting hands.
But they will also play complete trash hands too, if they can see a cheap flop. This is because their curiosity gets the better of them - and after all, any two cards can become a monster if the right flop comes!
When To Be a Loose Passive Player
Most of the time, you should steer well clear of playing poker in a loose-passive style. The term Calling Station is an insult for a reason!
However, it can be profitable if you are playing against players that just can't stop bluffing. But even bluffers sometimes have it.
And if you want an expensive way of practicing hand-reading, then try out the loose-passive poker playing style. But don't make a habit of losing big pots just to prove to yourself you put your opponent on the correct hand. Poker is about profitable decisions, not ego.
How To Beat Calling Stations
The first step in taking advantage of Loose-Passive poker players is to identify them. Then you must use their playing style against them. Don't bluff, and instead value bet them relentlessly.
And never give them the correct odds to call! They'll probably call anyway, but you want to make sure they are making a mathematical mistake in doing so.
If you don't hit your flop or miss your draw, just give up and see a cheap showdown.
Identifying a Calling Station
Pre-flop, look out for players who limp into the pot a lot but still call subsequent raises so they can see the flop. Why would they call a pre-flop raise with a hand they didn't think was worth raising in the first place? Because they are passive players that hate to fold.
Post-flop, watch how they play. Do they ever take initiative and bet? Or do they just call and call, even when they don't have the pot odds for any possible draw? And what sort of hand do they have at showdown?
If you see a player showdown with a trash hand after playing passively on each street, then they are probably a calling station.
If you use a poker heads up display, then useful stats to look at are VPIP, PFR, AF and WTSD.
A calling station will have very high VPIP because they love to play lots of hands. They will have a low PFR because they don't raise often pre-flop.
Their AF will be very low because post-flop they call so much more than they raise. WTSD will be very high because they see so many showdowns instead of folding.
Bluffing against Loose-Passive players is a recipe for disaster. They'll call you down with almost anything, so only try a triple-barrel bluff if you like losing money.
You cannot bluff a calling station. They look for any excuse to call. Even if they know they are beaten, they will call to satisfy their curiosity ("what if"). And they hate the idea of being bluffed. They live to "keep you honest" by catching your bluffs. Don't give them the satisfaction!
You can use this to your advantage though. If a calling station catches you trying to bluff them, then they really are not going to fold to you ever again. You can punish them when you do have a good hand because they are going to call your massive overbets and all-ins with weak holdings.
If you can't bluff a calling station, then make them pay when you do have a good hand. Get the maximum value on every betting street. Punish them for their inability to fold!
You can also value bet a lot thinner than you would against better players. It's risky getting three streets of value with a hand like middle-pair or top-pair no kicker. But against a player who'll call you down with Ace-high, it's a licence to print money. Just remember that sometimes a Calling Station will have a decent hand.
Upsize Your Bets
Calling Stations are what's known as "inelastic" or "sticky". They don't pay much attention to the size of bets. Big or small, they love to call them all.
Use this to your advantage by betting bigger than you would against a less sticky player.
Remember a Calling Station will often chase any draw, so it's important you don't give them the correct odds to do so. Profit in poker comes from other players' mistakes, and making mathematically incorrect calls is a big mistake. Make pot-sized bets on draw-heavy boards. Sometimes the Calling Station will hit their hand, but this will be heavily outweighed by all the times they don't.
Never Follow Blindly
Like with any situation in poker, you can't just rigidly follow these guidelines and expect to crush calling stations every time. Sometimes a calling station really does have the nuts - and you think you are value betting when really you are just building up the pot for them.
It is hard to put a calling station on a specific hand, but if they do start playing back at you then you are probably beat. Any time a passive player shows aggression, alarm bells should be going off.
Why Not Be a Calling Station
It's no coincidence beginners utilize a loose-passive style and more experienced players avoid it like the plague. It just isn't a winning strategy over the long run - and poker is a game played over the long run.
Playing weak starting hands puts you at a disadvantage against players that are more selective. In the short-term you might win a few hands, but over any reasonable sample you will lose.
Calling when you do not have the correct pot odds to do so is just lighting money on fire. You cannot turn a profit over the long run. You might get lucky at first - but you cannot outrun the laws of probability.
Loose Passive vs Loose Aggressive
Although playing loose-passive is a poor strategy, playing loose isn't necessarily unprofitable. Playing passively is almost always bad, but looseness can succeed if combined with aggression. Poker is a game of initiative and aggression, and so skilled players can be very loose with their starting hands and still win by being aggressive. This is known as the loose-aggressive (LAG) playing style.
LAG style done right is very hard to play against. Ironically, a Loose-Passive player is better placed to play against a LAG because they can't be bluffed off their hand easily.
But a word of warning - the LAG style is hard to pull off successfully unless you really know what you're doing. If you aren't experienced and skilled you can get yourself into a lot of trouble and lose a lot of money with this strategy. It exposes you to a lot more variance than playing tightly. Even absolute crushers like Tom Dwan and Gus Hansen have suffered incredible downswings playing Loose-aggressive poker. We're talking millions of dollars.
Beginners are better off sticking to a Tight-Aggressive strategy - be selective with your starting hands you play - and play them aggressively, not passively. In other words, the complete opposite of the calling station style in poker.
Calling Station FAQ
The answers to common questions about the loose-passive poker playing style.
What hands do calling stations never play?
Calling stations are Loose-Passive players, so they play a lot of hands. But even a Calling Station has standards. Usually they will go for any Ace or face card (even with a weak kicker), suited hands and connectors. So it's rare for them to play complete trash like 72 offsuit - but it does happen.
How often do calling stations bluff?
Calling Stations do not bluff a lot. You can't bluff unless you raise, and Loose-Passive players prefer to call bets rather than make them. But by calling with weak holdings, the Calling Station can make their opponent think they have a better hand.
When do loose-passive players call?
Loose-Passive players will look for any excuse to call. They will convince themselves their opponent is bluffing, or perhaps their bottom pair really is the best hand. They will chase any draw even without the correct odds, hoping the turn or river will improve their hand. And sometimes they will call just to satisfy their curiosity about what cards you have, even when they know they are beat.
Can calling stations win at poker?
In the short-term, calling stations can be profitable poker players - but in the long run, they are guaranteed to lose money. Playing passively is a losing strategy, especially if you are playing with weak starting hands. And calling when you don't have the correct odds to do so is like lighting money on fire.
How to play against a calling station?
If you want to beat a calling station then stop trying to bluff them and instead take them to value town when you do make a decent hand against them. Value bet bigger and thinner to really extract as much as possible. And force them into making big mistakes by pricing them out of their draws.
How to play heads up against calling stations?
If you find yourself in a heads-up match against a Loose-Passive poker player then make sure you are only betting for value and not trying to bluff your way to victory. Wait for a decent hand and try to stack them off. And if a Loose-Passive player starts playing back at you, it's time to start worrying!
You should be able to limp in when you are on the button with speculative hands without fear of being raised. If you're in the big blind then you're going to see a lot of flops for free because the calling station won't do much raising. But whichever position you're in, always raise for value if you have a decent starting hand.
How to play poker when everyone is a calling station?
If you're in a poker game that is full of Loose-Passive players, then you have to forget about fancy play and instead play ABC poker. You won't be able to force people out of the hand pre-flop or post-flop. All you can do is wait around for a good hand. When you hit one, start printing money with relentless value-bets!
Calling stations play poker with a loose-passive playing style that is mathematically guaranteed to lose money over the long run. They are easy to identify and exploit, so long as you bet bigger and thinner for value and don't try to buff them.