Review of poker lessons learned: Quiz 3

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Quiz No. 3: Test Yourself On What We’ve Discussed In This Column

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This article first appeared in Card Player magazine.

This is another in our popular series of short quizzes about powerful poker concepts we’ve discussed in the past. In fact, quizzes don’t get any shorter than this one. The last two quizzes had three questions each. Today, there’s only one question – but the answer will require considerable discussion. This is a question worth thinking about.

Caro Column Quiz No. 3: Question

This question is based on a concept from my column in the Feb. 10, 1989, issue of Card Player. Which of the following is not a legitimate reason to check a medium-strong hand on the final betting round?
(A) Your opponent never bluffs.
(B) Your opponent bluffs too often.
(C) You have established a very loose image.
(D) Your hand is about average in strength.

Caro Column Quiz No. 3: Answer

Remember, the important word in this question is not. We’re looking for the answer that is not a legitimate reason to check a hand on the last betting round.

The answer isn’t (A), and we’ll discuss the reason shortly. In fact, the purpose of this question was disguised. I’m not interested in talking much about the right answer. I’m interested in explaining why, if your opponent never bluffs, that’s a motivation to check. I’m guessing the advice won’t seem intuitive to you.

The answer isn’t (B), either. This is the opposite of (A), so you might have assumed that one of them must not be a motive to check. I mean, (A) was “Your opponent never bluffs” and (B) was “Your opponent bluffs too often.” It’s reasonable to assume that one of them would be a reason not to check. Actually, they both are reasons to check, as we’ll see. The reason you often should check a medium-strong hand when your opponent bluffs too often is that bluffing too often is a mistake. You will tend to make more money whenever you give opponents the opportunity to make key mistakes.

And the answer isn’t (D) – your hand is about average in strength. As we’ve proven by simplifying the deck to just three cards – in the first quiz a couple of issues back – generally, you should bet your strongest hands, bluff with your very weakest hands, and check your medium hands. All of the exceptions we make to that basic concept as we consider more sophisticated situations are exactly that – exceptions. So, if your hand is about average in strength, that’s often an excellent reason to check.

The answer is (C). Having a loose image is not a good reason to check a medium-strong hand. When your image is loose, you can bet more of your strong hands for value than you could otherwise. Opponents are likely to call with even worse hands than usual. So, there’s your answer.

But let’s get back to the reason for the question. I want to talk about (A). Why would you want to check if your opponent never bluffs? It makes no sense to you, right? OK, here’s the actual text of the column in which I wrote about this in 1989. It was called …

Check Because He Never Bluffs – Absurdity or Powerful Truth?

True story. It’s 1981. The game is ace-to-five lowball, and we’re at the Eldorado Club in Gardena, California. Owner George Anthony is playing, and so is Bruce, Butch, or Bosco – I can’t remember his name. It started with a B; let’s settle on Boris and be done with it. Boris was another waning hippie who showed up and played the big game for about a week, then vanished without a trace – vanished without repaying my $500, too, but that’s another story.

I’m in a pot with Boris. We each draw one card. I make 9-8-4-3-A (a semistrong hand that often can be bet for value). As I’m checking, I feel a rush of warm breath on my shoulder. I’m studying my opponent, so I don’t bother to turn around. But I remember hoping that this is pretty-woman breath and not pesky-male-poker-student breath. Boris turns over a pair of fives, losing the showdown.

The warm breath comes nearer. There is a gust in my ear, accompanied by a male mumble: “How come you checked that hand? Aren’t you supposed to bet for value?”
“I checked because Boris never bluffs,”I whispered.
“Never bluffs!” the student muttered. “That doesn’t make any sense. How can some guy never bluffing keep you from value betting? How can you be afraid of a guy who doesn’t bluff?”
Well, can you guess how I feel about giving instruction at the table? I try to avoid it. So, I motioned the student away from the table, where I explained this …

The More Often They Fumble, The More You Should Punt

If I were teaching football strategy, I would point out that professional teams punt too often (although they don’t now as often as they used to). Anytime you see a team that has crossed the 50-yard line punt on fourth down with less than two yards to go, there’s an excellent probability that you witnessed a mistake.

I usually wouldn’t check and raise, (A), because I believe it’s too early in the hand to get maximum value from that tactic.

When you punt, you surrender your initiative and give the ball to your opponent. This is similar to checking in poker. When it’s a close football decision between punting and running an offensive play in hope of making a first down, you should consider how likely the opposing team is to fumble. The more likely, the better it is to punt. Punting gives them the opportunity to make those mistakes that they’re inclined to make.

It’s the same in poker. Checking often can give opponents opportunities to make mistakes. Never bluffing is a mistake! Correct strategy against thinking opponents dictates that you must bluff a certain percent of the time for every situation. If an opponent bluffs that percent of the time, you have a very tough decision about whether or not to call. Mathematically, in fact, it doesn’t matter. Your profit expectation on each decision will be identical whether you call or fold. (Let’s not get into that today, though.)

If an opponent never bluffs, you gain something. Gain what? You gain the advantage of never having to call for fear that you’re being bluffed. Remember, bluffing the correct percent of the time is part of the formula that would make a perfect opponent unbeatable. Bluffing correctly is profitable to him, relative to bluffing incorrectly. So, if he never bluffs, he surrenders this profit. OK. So, if an opponent never bluffs, it’s sometimes correct to sometimes sacrifice a value bet and to check instead.
What if an opponent bluffs too much? It depends. If the opponent bluffs so often that you actually win more than half the time, you obviously should consider checking and calling. But even if your opponent errs by bluffing slightly too much, you might find a check more beneficial than a value bet. It’s worth a lot of money if you keep this concept in mind.

So, yes, strange as it seems, you should consider the fact that an opponent never bluffs as a reason for you to check a medium-strong hand! This doesn’t mean that you might not bet a medium-strong hand anyway if an opponent calls far too often, but the fact that he never bluffs weighs on the check side of the decision. Think about it.

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Mike Caro

Twitter: FaceBook: Known as the "Mad Genius of Poker," Mike Caro is generally regarded as today's foremost authority of poker strategy, psychology, and statistics. He is founder of Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy (MCU). See full biography at

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