Two Things You Should Never Say at a Poker Table, News - During one of the several tournaments I played on my recent trip back to Las Vegas, I saw a bet and call on both the turn and the river with the final board showing {K-}{K-}{J-}{J-}{A-}.

Not too surprisingly, the bettor — a straightforward A-B-C player — showed a jack. The surprising part was when the caller turned over {Q-}{Q-}, and said, "I had to call. I had queens."

I almost laughed out loud. The impulse I had to suppress was to tell him, "If there's ever a time to fold pocket queens, it's when a player like him bets into you twice on that board."


This was far from the first time I've heard "I had to call" as self-justification. It's dime-a-dozen common in low-stakes games. It's also a sure sign of a losing player, and hearing it often at a table is often a sure sign that it's a good game to be in. This is because the most basic thing that separates bad players from good ones is the frequency with which they make erroneous calls, when folding would be the correct move.


In fact, so reliably does the utterance of this expression mark bad players that I think it's fair to make this conjecture — the profitability of a poker table is directly proportionate to how often you hear the players say, "I had to call."

But do you want to know a secret about that phrase? It's never true.

It's never true because, in the most literal sense, nobody puts a gun to your head in order to force you to put more chips into the pot. Every decision in poker is voluntary.

A more accurate rephrasing of "I had to call" would be something like, "Calling there was the correct decision, even though I ended up losing."

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