Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2008) in Poker Player newspaper.
Some poker players love to bet and raise, some love to call. Me? I love to check. There are days where I amuse myself by sitting down at the poker table with the express mission of seeing how many times I can check.
Why? It’s because I don’t think of checking as a nondescript action. I elevate checking to the same stature as betting, calling, and raising.
And, in terms of money making potential, it is just as important. You need to check at the right times, for the right reasons. Today, we’ll talk about that.
Rules of entry
This entry follows the same rules as the recent ones in this series. Raise your hand if you know what those rules are.
Okay, a couple readers in the back of the room don’t seem to know, so I’ll repeat them. This entry is a member of a series of interviews in which I’m allowed to both ask and answer the questions.
Each entry is completely independent of those that came before, so you can join anytime. However, the question numbers continue sequentially. And since we left off with question 114, let’s continue…
Question 115: What are the main reasons to check?
First, you should check defensively, to keep a bet from being pummeled.
Second, you often should check to get an opponent to do your betting for you.
Third, in rare instances, you should check to give your opponent a chance to improve.
Question 116: Are there other reasons to check?
Of course, but you can make those reasons fit into the three categories I just provided.
For instance, you might argue that you should check simply because your hand isn’t quite strong enough to bet with — because it doesn’t have a great enough advantage to justify the risk. But that fits into the first category of checking defensively.
And you can check as the first step in an attempted sandbag (which is the term we use for checking a strong hand and then raising if your opponent bets), but that fits into the second category of getting an opponent to do your betting.
There are some things you need to know about checking that fall outside my previous definitions, though.
You should be more eager to check if you’re running badly. That’s because opponents have seen you lose on previous hands. Because of that, they’re often inspired, think they can beat you, and generally play better and more aggressively when you’re in the pot.
In those cases, marginal bets that normally would have had small profit expectations are now unprofitable. And, so, you should check.
Also, you can use tells to check hands that otherwise would be strong enough to bet. As an example, if you see an opponent looking away from the action, seeming uninterested, that’s an act to lure your bet. It often means that opponent has a very strong hand and intends to raise. So, you should check.
Question 117: Do you have a governing philosophy regarding checking in poker?
Sure. I believe all this nonsense about checking being weak and that tough guys usually don’t check should be refuted.
In fact, I think those advocates are doing great damage to many players and should be publicly flogged. Well, publicly flogged is kind of overstating it, I guess. Privately flogged will work nicely.
My basic philosophy is that there are two things you do routinely in poker: (1) You fold; and (2) You check. Only when it’s clearly advantageous to take an assertive stance, should you bet.
When you arm yourself with that outlook, you go into a poker game prepared to win. You’ll still be seeking chances to master your opponents with aggressive play, but you’ll realize that checking is what you’re most likely going to do unless there are compelling reasons to act differently.
Question 118: But what about checking and then calling — isn’t that a weak tactic?
I’ve talked about that before. Despite common wisdom, checking-and-calling is not weak.
Checking is the natural thing you do whenever your hand isn’t strong enough to bet. And calling is the natural thing you do when your hand is too strong to fold.
Put those two truths together and you can see that checking-and-calling is a very common and sensible tactic in poker. Those who loudly argue that you should either bet or check-and-fold fail to understand the basic essence of poker itself. They, also, should be flogged.
I believe that checking is unfairly seen as unglamorous and has never achieved its deserved stature in poker. Let’s rethink checking, and give it the same respect as betting, raising, and calling.
Remember, almost no poker choices are exactly break-even. So practically every decision you make in poker either adds or subtracts from your bankroll.
Checking is just another profit-enhancing opportunity in poker. — MC
Next self-interview: Pending