Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2006) in Poker Player newspaper.
Years ago I described something I termed the “Slippery Sandbag.” In some games it can be your most profitable poker weapon. It’s basically a check-raise without the raise. It’s the art of letting an opponent hang himself, the art of deceptive passivity. The art of feigning vulnerability. The art of letting someone else do your betting.
Now this isn’t an art that you should overdo or turn into a poker lifestyle. It’s something you should attempt only occasionally. Use it too often and it loses power. Use it appropriately and you can conquer your most assertive foes. I’ll talk more about the Slippery Sandbag in the future.
But today, I want to share a lecture I delivered long ago. It’s a lecture that leads you through the threshold of checking and calling with a strong hand. I’m not talking about checking and calling with a medium-strength hand. We’ve already dealt with that and learned that the common professional wisdom that declares checking and calling is weak, that you should either check and fold or check and raise, is illogical.
Instead, today we’re going to deal with the pure, basic fundamentals of checking and calling when you figure to win. And we’ll learn how you can not just win, but win more money than you normally would. The lecture goes like this…
Checking and calling for extra profit
Previously we’ve discussed why checking and calling isn’t a weak play, as some professional players assume. Checking and calling with medium-strong hands in typical limit poker games is the most natural thing in the world. You check because your hand isn’t strong enough to bet. Then, if your opponent bets, you call because your hand is too strong to throw away. Any argument that states that checking and calling with medium-strong hands is bad strategy is an argument that stands poker theory on its head and distorts logic.
Fine. But what happens when you have a strong hand, not a mediocre one. Should you check and call then? Sure. Sometimes.
Listen closely; I’ll tell you the trick. Here are two basic reasons – among others that we won’t get into right now – why you should sometimes check and just call with a strong poker hand.
Reason for checking and calling with a strong hand #1. If you never check and call with a strong hand, alert opponents will know that you have a vulnerable hand when you check and call and can take advantage of that fact by betting some hands that they would be hesitant to bet otherwise. You see, part of your profit in poker comes from having to pay off as few bets as possible when you’re at a disadvantage.
So, anytime an opponent checks a hand that he could have bet profitably and been called, you gained something. Occasionally checking a strong hand and just calling with it in a way that makes an opponent take notice will make it less likely that he will force the issue in the future. A check-raise will, of course, also make your opponent more reluctant to bet marginal strength, but a check-raise doesn’t help make him more leery of your future check-calls. Therefore, unless you sometimes check-call with a strong hand, your opponent will always know you have questionable strength when you check call and that frees him to maximize his profit by betting big hands more aggressively on the later betting rounds. You don’t want to do that, and you can avoid that mistake by occasionally checking and calling with strong hands.
Don’t discourage that bluff
Reason for checking and calling with a strong hand #2. Your opponent might be bluffing or betting a weak hand. If you either bet into him or check and raise, he might fold and you’ll lose any additional profit you might have made from the hand. This is why I very frequently check and raise with strong hands against overly aggressively opponents who bluff a lot. I like to just check and call and let them bluff themselves out of their money.
So, now we know that not only is checking and calling the most common thing you should do when you have a medium-strong hand, it’s also very important to check and call sometimes when you have a very-strong hand.
When should you do it? When you’re against aggressive players who bluff too much, so you don’t scare them – by betting or raising – from continuing to bluff away their money of later rounds of betting. And against observant opponents who might take advantage of you if you only check and call with medium hands. By checking and calling with strong hands, you make these players think twice about betting when they have the best of it, and whenever they back down against your marginal hand that’s weaker than theirs, that’s money in your pocket – a chance to win for free as the underdog. Checking and calling with strong hands can accomplish a lot, and you shouldn’t forget to do it sometimes.
This is “The Mad Genius of Poker” Mike Caro and that’s my secret today. — MC