Mike Caro poker word is Silly


Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2007) in Poker Player newspaper.


You’ve heard me talk about today’s topic before, in various contexts. I’m passionate about it.

It has to do with the common notion that checking and then calling is weak. Many experts will tell you that professional poker players should keep their aggressive image intact by doing one of three things: (1) betting; (2) checking and then raising if bet into; or (3) checking and then folding if bet into. Checking and then calling is seen as a weak play – one that should be reserved for amateurs.

I disagree. Central to my teaching is the presumption that checking and calling is perfectly proper. This ancient lecture, one of my favorites, helps make the point…

The silly fear of checking and calling

Among the ranks of wannabe professional poker players and even among nearly world class players there is a notion that became popular 15 or so years ago. It’s a strange and silly notion that’s still going strong today.

It’s the notion that you should bet if you have a good reason, but if you don’t have a good reason, you should check. And that part’s fine – and obvious. But then the notion continues — If you check, this notion goes, you should then be prepared to either raise or fold if someone bets into you.

Let me rephrase that, so you understand what this popular piece of advice really says. Remember, it’s a common opinion that even many sophisticated players believe. The opinion is that when you check, you should seldom call if bet into. The related advice is that after you check you should either fold or raise. Checking and calling, they tell us, is a weak option.

Macho

A weak option? Oh, I get it, checking and calling is not macho enough, right? Get real, guys. Here’s the truth. If you’re one of those regular players in middle limit games who seldom checks and calls, you’re costing yourself thousands of dollars every year.

The truth is that checking and calling is the most natural thing in the world. Let’s reason this out together. When you hold a medium hand that’s not quite strong enough to bet with, what should you do? Should you throw your hand away out of turn because you’re frustrated? I don’t think so. Should you bet anyway, even though your hand isn’t quite strong enough? No. So, you should check, right? Right!

But then your opponent bets. Now what? According to the popular notion, you should rarely call.

Why?

If you were going to check and call, the notion goes, you should simply have bet in the first place. But why? We’ve just thought about it together and decided that our hand wasn’t quite strong enough to bet. So we did the sensible thing. We checked.

And now we’ve been bet into. All our options should still be open to us. We will usually fold our weakest hands. We will usually call with our medium hands. And we will usually raise with our strongest hands, assuming we planned our check-raise in advance as a trap.

Sure, there are exceptions. But if we don’t stick to the basic premise that we mostly fold our weak hands, call with our medium hands, and raise with our most powerful hands, we’ve just set poker science back a hundred years.

Exceptions

You see, poker science says that you can and you sometimes should be deceptive by playing a hand differently. But those are the exceptions. In order for deception to work, you must do the standard, unexceptional thing most of the time.

You need to check and call more often than you check and raise. If you’re checking and raising more often than you’re checking and calling – which is exactly what happens if you follow the popular “Don’t check and call” advice, your whole strategy is upside down and you’ll cost yourself money.

So, today I’m here to tell you that there’s nothing weak about checking and calling. Nobody’s going to think you’re a sissy for not raising. Your wife or husband won’t lose respect for you. The sun will come up in the morning. Checking and calling is the most natural thing in the world. When you have one of those very common hands that has medium prospects of winning, the thing you should usually do is check and then call.

Research

You see I’ve done my own analysis, programmed my own computers. Sure, I’m proud and I like to brag, but so what? I’ve actually done the research.

The point is there’s nothing weak about checking and calling. Despite what others say, that’s the strategy you should choose most often when your hand isn’t strong enough to bet. And I don’t just say it as a matter of opinion. I know it for a fact.

This is “The Mad Genius of Poker” Mike Caro and that’s my secret today. — MC

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Mike Caro

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Known as the “Mad Genius of Poker,” Mike Caro is generally regarded as today's foremost authority on poker strategy, psychology, and statistics. He is the founder of Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy (MCU). See full bio → HERE.

8 thoughts on “Mike Caro poker word is Silly”

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  1. Time after time I see the latest generation of poker players practicing the fine art of only entering a pot with a raise. As soon as they are identified by that fact, their raises become meaningless and their chances of raising another off of a pot, practically nil. Check and call is a good way to disguise the strength of your hand and to get the aforementioned auto-raisers to build the pot for you. Once again Mike nails it.

  2. I just attended a WPT Boot Camp this summer in Tulsa. They taught a tight/aggressive strategy, betting three times pre-flop (in position, with the correct hand), then other strategies later. I came home and tried it with the local people I play with, abandoning my check / call / raise-with-a-good-hand usual play, and got slaughtered. Raising 3x pre-flop vs. limping in worked a few times, until everyone got so tired of my aggressive play they began coming over the top no matter what to shut me down.

    I watched another player that slow-plays her hands constantly, checking, calling, checking, calling, rarely betting – take down pot after pot, and end up in the money and winning consistently. But she wasn’t following the RULES! She wasn’t betting AGGRESSIVELY! She always limped in! But she was the one with the huge chip stack in front of her.

    Okay, enough of my dissertation. It proves to me, that no one method of play is correct, or the reverse of that, that any method of play is correct – at certain times. That’s why we have to mix it up; learn the fundamentals, then learn how to break the rules. It still comes down to the cards, intuition, and reading other players.

    Yes, I did learn at the Boot Camp. It was fun, too, learning from the pros.

    1. I’m not sure how good of a poker player Bruce Lee was, but I think this applies “Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless – like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup, you put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle, you put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”

      Or maybe take a page from the Marines and improvise, adapt and overcome.

      I’m going to guess most of they players were probably thinking, if not saying, how badly and weak she was playing, as they were pushing a lot of the chips her way.

      I’m glad to see the site getting more traffic and some discussion arise out of the posts. I think a neat feature would be if you could check a box to send you an email if somebody replies to your comment, or posts to an article that you posted to. That way the discussion could continue. Or maybe when the forums are up link these to a discussion thread so the page doesn’t get cluttered with comments. Although seeing the comments in the context of the article is probably helpful in some cases.

      Thanks Mad Genius.

    2. the problem with checking and calling is you are not extracting VALUE! if you make your hand after check call check call you have lost a ton of chips you should have made. just an example I have 88 and hit my set vs ak the flop is a 8 7 if I check called I am allowing other players in the pot that don’t belong there (this is why at the wpt boot camp they taught you about the 3x bet) not betting preflop with the 88 you may have allowed someone in the pot who now has a straight or a flush draw other than the ak and most likely they are going to suck out on you on the turn or the river. the thing you probably didn’t catch at the boot camp is having a good range of hands otherwise when you get reraised you won’t considerer folding you will consider 3 betting or shoving!

      1. I’m all for “extracting VALUE,” as you phrased it. So, we agree — except for the rest of it.

        Three-betting has its place. (By the way, I personally attended the World Poker Tour main boot camp that you mention. Twice. It’s a great learning opportunity, and I enjoyed teaching there.)

        Straight Flushes,
        Mike Caro

  3. Thanks!
    Now i feel a lot better about check/calling which i do a lot. I always felt like a bad pokerplayer when I did it cause so many people say/write that it’s a weak play.

    Best regards, John

    1. I gave up on feeling bad about the check/call a while ago. I play in relatively loose 1/2 NL and 3/6 limit games and a lot of people that play there watch a lot of tv and make a lot of bad river bets. Mike Caro’s articles on check/calling are just validation for me, I guess. Weak or not, it sure has been a profitable move recently. Especially against people in sunglasses for some reason.

      I figure people can say whatever they want as long as the chips keep moving my way :-) I’m finally starting to build a decent bankroll and may move up limits at some point, but at this point it’s fun, I’m still learning and making a decent hourly rate to boot.

      1. “I figure people can say what they want as long as they keep pushing the chips my way” – exactly. This is the reason I play (even in friendly games), it’s the whole point of the game.

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