When is it dangerous to bet after a check?

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was originally published (1992) in Card Player magazine. Heavily enhanced in 2014

Only a few of the truly powerful tools for winning poker are specific to a single type of game. Sure there are terrific tactics for hold ’em and stunning strategies for stud. But guess what? Most of the high-profit concepts we can use to destroy our opponents apply to all forms of poker.

Want an explanation? OK, let me think. Well, suppose you have a medium-strong hand. It’s the last round of betting, and it’s down to just two players.

What type of poker game is it? I already told you, it doesn’t matter. Could be hold ’em. Could be seven-card stud. Could be draw poker. Who cares? What we’re about to discuss is true of every known type of poker. Who are the two remaining players? If you really need to know, it’s you and an opponent, OK? Your opponent is first to act and checks.

So, repeating: You’re sitting in an undefined type of poker game, it’s the last round of betting, only you and your opponent remain, you’re holding a medium-strong hand, which I absolutely will not describe, and your opponent checks. Got it?

A tough bet. Suppose that your hand is so borderline that you can’t easily decide whether a bet is profitable or not. Now suppose I give you just one piece of information about the opponent and you tell me if you should bet or not.

Sole piece of information: Your opponent often check-raises with powerful hands. Correct decision: Don’t bet. That’s because, unless you can read your opponent well enough to throw your hand away against a raise without worrying about a bluff, correct mathematical strategy dictates that you call that check-raise most of the time. This makes your borderline bet unwise. Now erase that information, and I’ll tell you something else instead.

Sole piece of information: Your opponent is very tight. Correct decision: Don’t bet. That’s because you are very unlikely to get called with hands you can beat. Unless you believe your opponent is so tight that he’ll throw away better hands than your own medium-strong hand, your bet is unwise. Now, erase that piece of information.

Sole piece of information: Your opponent bluffs a lot and also bets medium-strong hands aggressively. Correct decision: Don’t bet. This type of player, a frequent bluffer who also bets for value, is extremely common. You’ll often see otherwise sophisticated players abuse their bankrolls by betting freely when this type of player checks.

His very nature has limited the range of his probable hands to ones you don’t want to be betting against. If he checked an average or weak hand, he’s too unlikely to call to justify the risk of betting. That’s because he tends to bet slightly above medium hands aggressively. Maybe you could beat a few of those remaining ones, if called, but that’s no longer a strong enough reason to bet after he checks. So, you’re more likely facing either a very strong hand — one worthy of his check-raise — or a weaker hand that won’t call often enough to justify your bet.

Let’s go over it again. If your opponent often check-raises when holding strong hands, if your opponent is very tight, or if your opponent bluffs frequently but also bets medium-strong hands aggressively, then your bet is usually unprofitable. Don’t do it. — MC

Published by

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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