In this lesson, we'll discuss the benefits of checking in general, and in the next lesson we'll tackle the benefits of checking and calling.
There are a number of reasons why we would want to check. One is of course when we have nothing and we plan on folding. This one is fairly obvious and there's not too much to say about it, at least where limit is concerned. In no limit or pot limit, of course we may want to base our decision on the information our opponents will give us by getting them to show their hands so to speak first. This does occur in limit to a certain extent as well though, as we may want to know who is doing the betting, who and how many callers there will be, and if there is any raising to be done. So this is going to be a tool we can use in limit as well, in cases where we're not sure enough of our hand to bet, or may only stay in the hand under the right circumstances, and want to see if those circumstances exist.
Checking with intentions other than purely to fold if needed involves both risks and rewards. The risks involved are having the best hand and giving opponents a free opportunity to beat us. We want to get paid for our good hands of course, and generally want to get as much money in the pot as possible. This will be true any time we feel confident we have the best hand, whether it's either strong, very strong, or a monster.
The rule of thumb, with limit anyway, will be to bet it out unless we feel that we can get more money in the pot by checking first and saving our aggression until either later in the round or in future rounds. The goal here must be to increase our payoff though, although this tactic does have the benefit of adding an element of deception to our game. We want to keep our opponents off guard generally as far as what a check from us could mean. By checking with strength on occasion, they will be less sure that our checks mean weakness, and will tend to give us a little more respect, getting us free cards now and then which we may otherwise not receive.
In order to consider delaying our aggression though, we must first have a hand strong enough to be aggressive with. And, on top of that, it needs to be strong enough so that we're not worried that much about the possibility of giving free cards. This will be a combination of the strength of out hand, the nature of the board, and the amount of opponents in the hand. The stronger our hand, the more we'll tend to want to delay it, in instances where that would add to the pot size. The less threatening the board looks, the more we'll lean toward checking, and if the board does look fairly threatening, we need to be more careful with not betting it out. And the less opponents in the hand, the more we can slow play it if appropriate, and the more opponents in the hand, the more we need to be careful with this tactic.
So this will come down to the situation where we've got a very good hand, there doesn't seem to be many draws out there or we aren't up against many opponents, and we in fact want to give them free cards to try to catch something that they would want to invest more money in. Or, there's a player in the hand that tends to bet from late position, and we are confident we have him beat, so we'll be looking to check first then put in a raise. And so on.
So, looking to increase the pot is one benefit of checking, and one that many players are already familiar with. Checking for information is an even more important element though, and one not as widely used perhaps, which we'll look at now. As we mentioned, this is an important element in pot and no limit play, where you look to gain valuable information by checking into your opponents to see what they're going to do before you act. This is a particularly valuable tool to seek to compensate for positional disadvantages, or when there's someone left to act that you're concerned may go big on you, whereas if you bet into him, you risk having to lay down and lose the bet. We can save bets this way in limit too on occasion.
These situations will occur mostly when you have a decent or good hand but aren't overly confident of it, particularly in early position. This is all going to depend on how the table normally plays, but you want to see how many players you are up against here and if there is going to be any raising going on, prior to deciding whether to get involved further. You're also looking to pick up possible tells as well - how fast the player bets, and so on. In fact, if you're in early position, and are looking to bet anyway, but fold to a raise, and you know someone will bet, the worst thing that is going to happen is that you're going to gain some information here, perhaps even just for future rounds. Which is generally a good thing, as even a bit of extra information can be helpful.
Players generally will bet it out though, especially in limit, and are missing out on this a lot. This is not to say that checking from early and mid position is something you want to make a habit of, but it's got its place, particularly among the lower range of playable hands. If you're confident you've got the best hand, that's one thing, but often you're not so confident, and want to see where you're at a little more.
One of the things that you've got to ask yourself before you consider this though is what conditions would cause you to fold, and how likely they are to occur. Whereas checking to delay your aggression is all about gaining extra bets - an offensive move - this is all about trying to save bets - a defensive move. Defensive play is underused and underrated in general, even among many of the "better" players, and this will be discussed in further in the next lesson. For now though, you need a defensive reason to do this.
So there needs to be some fairly probable action that may occur that would cause you to fold the hand. For instance, if there's a lot of people left to act, and you feel that a raise is a realistic possibility, but you will fold to any raise, it's often better not to bet it out. On the other hand, if there's fewer opponents, the raiser may not have an opportunity to do so unless you actually bet, in which case losing a single bet here may be preferable to losing more checking and calling several streets.
Or, there are several people left to act, and you don't want to be involved if there's several callers. You don't have a great hand by any means and may be ahead of one player but not several. So you check to see how much interest is in the pot. In both cases, the common denominator is going to be early position with several people yet to act.
All of these ecenarios are going to depend on how the table normally plays of course. The looser and more aggressive the table is, the more you will tend to look to check when you're not sure. If there's a good chance for a raise to get you out, for instance, you'd want to consider this more than a situation where players generally play more passively.
We'll go into this issue in more detail in the next lesson. For now, look to consider checking when you are in the lower range of your playable hands, there's several people to act, there's usually a fair bit of action at this table, and if you bet you're concerned about laying it down.