Sign Up For Card Player's Newsletter And Free Bi-Monthly Online Magazine

To Bet or to Check?

by Daragh Thomas |  Published: Oct 01, 2009


When I first started playing, poker to me meant playing a low stakes tournament, usually in the Merrion Casino, now sadly defunct. As it was live I would have had somewhere between 10 and 20 blinds on average. I played once or twice a week for a year. Not surprisingly, given the conditions (which also included the skill level of the opposition, as well as the average stack), I learnt very little in this year. It was only when I started to play online did I begin to learn more than the basics. I remember when I first learnt that playing tight when most other people were playing loose and badly was enough to sustain a decent win rate. It was about this time that I discovered online poker forums, after a few months of playing a lot, and posting a lot on forums, that I became what I would consider a proper poker player, where I was thinking deeply about the game.

I learnt more from posting on poker forums than any other method. The process of engaging in debate over hands forces you to question your own assumptions and think closely about each decision in a hand. (That’s of course if you actually debate, and not just endlessly repeat the same argument). However there are some problems with this method of analyzing hands. One problem is that there are many situations where it is essential to vary your play. Simply put, there is no correct answer. To explain further, take the following simple example. A student came to me with this hand recently, I think he was expecting a one word answer as to what to do on the turn, but instead I gave him back an essay.

I’ve excluded any unnecessary details to make it as universal as possible. It is a very common situation.

You are a regular tight-aggressive player (TAG). Both of your opponents are thinking, observant, TAGs, and you all have 100 big blinds. You raise preflop with A-A in early position and get two callers. The flop comes up 6-3-3 rainbow. They both check to you and you bet. The first villain, who called from the cut-off, calls again, and the second villain folds. The turn is an 8. Here is the part that was interesting to my student — should he bet or not?
In fact you have three choices: bet, check-call or check-raise. (Check-folding is out of the question). This is a common scenario, so it’s helpful (and necessary) to consider that you now have three ranges here. A range for each of the three options, given the raise preflop and the flop lead into two players. If your ranges are unbalanced, then you make it easy for an observant opponent to play against you.


A lot of slightly weak-passive TAGs (of which my student is one) will rarely if ever double barrel in a spot like this. They will tend to shut down when called on the flop. So their checking range will be quite weak, and their betting range will be very strong. This is dangerous because it allows their opponent to play perfectly against them. They can just fold small pocket pairs if the TAG leads again. However, what is interesting is that clearly the best move for a player like this to do in the specific hand it to check (with aces). Better again would be to not have such an unbalanced range, but given his history checking is better to induce action.

Each time you play a hand in a certain way, you affect your range. So by checking aces here, my student is strengthening his checking range. That sounds good, but this isn’t as important as what betting does to your betting range. A good aggressive player will be continuation betting a lot of flops three-ways, and in order to make that profitable, he needs to be bluffing a certain amount of turns. Since this is hold’em, and is actually quite difficult to have anything, it’s crucial that he includes as many strong hands as possible in his betting range. If his opponents see his range for betting as weak, he will get floated and/or bluff-raised, and again since most of the time he won’t have a hand, this is not an ideal scenario.

There are other things to consider as well as our ranges (and our perceived ranges), importantly we must think about our opponent’s range. In a spot like this, checking is better if there is a very good chance our opponent is floating us. Usually, a floater will fold to a turn bet. Given the board texture a floater will usually be drawing dead (or to three aces), so checking is great because it induces a bluff, and has very little downside. However given how strong the student’s range is after the flop lead, I think there is little chance he is being floated.

So my answer to him was to check, but (and it’s a big but) he should strive to change his game to the point where his best action is to bet. This is the type of thinking and analysis which is hard to pick up on forums, but is necessary to beat the best mid-stakes players online. Spade Suit

Daragh Thomas has made a living from poker over the last three years. He also coaches other players and writes extensively on the poker forum, under the name hectorjelly.