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Fear Of Checking

by Bob Ciaffone |  Published: Mar 05, 2014


Bob CiaffoneI think we are all familiar with the player who is afraid to bet. He does not want to put any money into the pot unless he is quite confident his hand is the best. Even when he does have a good hand, his preferred method of putting money into the pot is to check, hoping to induce a bet, and then calling the opponent’s wager. In that way, he does not give away the fact that he holds a good hand. He is actually mimicking the way he usually plays a poker hand, which is chasing.

But there is another type of player who has an emotional problem that interferes with optimum play. That is the player who is afraid to check. Perhaps he is a guy who feels it is unmanly to show weakness. Perhaps he feels that any show of weakness will cause the opponent to make a big wager that will take the pot away from him. Perhaps he does not want to ever risk giving a free card that might give the opponent a chance to make a hand could cost him the pot. At any rate, a player of this mentality looks at first glance as if he is a good player, but in fact, he is giving up one of the tools that should be in the arsenal of every good poker player — the check.

I still remember a hand that was played by T. J. Cloutier some time back in the early nineties that made an impression on me. T. J. had a short stack and had raised the pot preflop holding pocket queens. There was about five thousand remaining in T. J.’s stack and about that much in the pot. The flop came K-x-x rainbow. T. J. checked and his opponent made a bet that put T. J. all-in. It sure looked to me by the way he bet that he had a king to give him top pair. T.J. thought a bit, then flashed the two queens and folded, saying “I guess you have me beat,” then threw his hand away. His opponent flashed a king and took the pot.

A big reason the way Cloutier played his pocket queens impressed me is because I knew if I had held those queens, I would have been out of the tournament. My usual method after I had gotten half my money into the pot preflop was to put the rest of my money into the pot on the flop no matter what came. Beat my queens, take my money. T. J. not only avoided going broke, but also had a chance to make some money after the flop if his queens were good. True, he ran a risk of getting beat by a free card (an ace on the turn would have been a beastly card to catch, as the Brits say.) But it should be obvious that an opponent who is behind has only two or three outs to beat you, which looks to me like an acceptable risk, compared to what was gained.

One of the reasons a lot of players are afraid to check is they do not have confidence in their ability to read the opponent. They worry a lot about inducing a bet that brings about an unpleasant situation to face. Well, some opponents are tougher to read than others. As you get better at reading people, you will feel more comfortable checking every once in a while when the situation looks appropriate.

Here is a hand I played in the 1987 WSOP championship event. I had a suited ace on the button and it was folded to me. I raised the pot, and Dewey Tomko called. The flop came with one intermediate sized card and two parts to a wheel. All I had was a gutshot-straight draw and an overcard, so I decided to just check instead of making a continuation bet. Lo and behold, my gutshot four came on the turn. Dewey bet and I raised. Dewey, who had made trip fours, decided to go with his hand and reraised me. I wound up doubling through him and got off to an excellent start on the first day of play.

I am not trying to get you to do a lot of checking; I just want you to feel that sometimes a check can be the best play, and sometimes the check makes you a little less predictable. Here is another hand where my checking the flop gave me a good result. In a tournament, I had pocket queens, raised the pot preflop, and got one caller. The flop came K-x-x rainbow, there was about 700 in the pot, and my opponent checked. I decided to check it back. Some little card came and he checked again. This time I bet 300, pretty sure that my hand was good. My opponent called. Another innocuous card came at the river, and my opponent checked. I felt that my initial check had convinced him that I did not have much (he did not seem like an experienced player), so another value bet was in order. I bet 500 and got paid off by a lower pair. That was 800 that I had made by checking the flop.

To get away with checking and not taking any betting pressure, you have to check a good hand often enough to make the opponents realize that check does not necessarily mean “take it.” So every once in a while, check a good hand like top pair to vary your game.
Here are some pleasant things that can happen when you check a decent hand in back position that might have been bet:

1. You hit a turn card that improves your hand.
2. The opponent thinks you are weak and pays off, when he would have folded had you bet the flop.
3. The opponent had a big draw on the flop and would have played his hand strongly by check-raising, and you would probably have folded. He likely will not get so sporty with only one shot at making his draw. Checking the flop can defang a draw.
4. If you act weak by checking and the opponent still does not show interest in the pot, you might be able to take the pot without a fight, despite having checked on the flop betting round.
5. The opponents see that you might be checking a good hand and will be less likely to get aggressive with you if you check.

You’ll notice in most of my examples, the boardcards do not offer much opportunity for a drawing hand. The board is of a character that whoever is behind has few outs to overtake the leader. I am a lot less happy checking a hand where there is a two-flush on the board or a couple of cards close in rank that are in the playing zone.

Don’t remove checking from your poker toolbox; use it on occasion. ♠

Bob Ciaffone’s new poker book, No-limit Holdem Poker, is now available. This is Bob’s fifth book on poker strategy. It can be ordered from Bob for $25 by emailing him at Free shipping in the lower 48 states to Card Player readers. All books autographed. Bob Ciaffone is available for poker lessons.