MCU poker tip: A check can cost money

I teach that checking and then calling isn’t the weak poker tactic that many players think it is. Checking and calling is natural when your hand isn’t quite strong enough to bet and isn’t quite weak enough to fold. Despite this tactical truth, when you hold strong hands, betting is usually the superior choice. It’s more profitable overall than checking and hoping to trap most opponents. Why?


When you check and your opponent also checks, that usually means that you lost an opportunity to profit. Had you bet, you would have earned a money advantage by either (A) getting called with a worse hand or (B) winning the pot outright without being called. The second outcome, “B,” often is a positive one in limit games because — unless you have a huge hand — there can be more average profit in taking the pot right now than in pursuing it with a marginal advantage. But “B” (winning right now) isn’t so positive in most no-limit situations, where you can fashion the size of your bet large enough to make sure opponents are paying a price that’s profitable for you. That means you want a call.

So, the benefit of taking the pot right now is especially important in limit poker games. Check-check means that the player making the second check is more apt to be satisfied with the betting sequence than the first player. That’s because often he has a chance of winning a pot that would have been surrendered to a bet.

Note that this advice is targeted specifically at situations when you either have a high likelihood of holding the winning hand or think you might chase away a potential winning hand by betting. I strongly recommend checking-and-calling, instead, if the opponent is too aggressive (a “poker bully”) or your hand falls in the broad spectrum of strength that’s too weak to bet, but too strong to fold against a bet. In those cases, check-call often is the most profitable choice.


But when your opponent is likely to just “check along” and you’re probably holding a stronger hand, then betting is a far superior choice. Seldom check in that common situation. Make being the aggressor by betting with an advantage your first choice.

When you hold a strong hand, other tactics — check-raise, check-call — require powerful reasons, such as facing a poker bully or deceiving an opponent who will do your betting for you, to justify checking. No powerful reasons? Then bet routinely with strong hands. — 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.


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