We spoke about the benefits of checking in the last lesson, and this one will continue on the topic, this time more from the perspective of the weaker range of hands we'd consider playing. Betting would often be worth considering with at least some of these hands, and we'll tackle the issue of checking and calling instead of doing so.
If we're convinced we're the favorite, and perhaps even more importantly, that we will likely be the favorite at the end of the hand, then betting will be the norm, although of course there will be exceptions, as previously discussed. Here, we're looking more toward reducing risk and gaining extra profit by playing more marginal hands more passively.
There is a lot of confusion among a lot of decent or better players about the concept of "weak-tight." This includes several poker authors as well. The thinking is that if it's worth a call, it's worth a bet, and it's always better to bet if you're plan on calling. This thinking extends beyond this in fact, to situations where you don't really have anything, such as a good starting hand that missed the flop, and encouraging you bet these out as well without question, or face their scorn of being "weak."
In fact, often I encounter such thinking on poker discussion boards, where a player makes a rather passive play and then wonders if he is playing too weakly. And there's usually several people who are ready to tell him he is.
So what is weak play anyway? Well when we have the goods we want to play aggressively of course. If you have a very good hand and you check and call all the way through, then that would constitute weak play. No one will argue with that. It's rare that you will see actual weak play though, and in the overwhelming majority of cases, players tend to err on the other side, that of playing too recklessly. This involves overplaying their hands, whether that be through betting or raising them when they shouldn't, or calling when they shouldn't.
In tight games, there will indeed be a lot of instances where we'll want to consider betting out marginally good hands, to take advantage of fold equity. As a rule though, games tight enough for this to be a real issue aren't going to be games we want to play in online anyway though, so we'll look at this from a perspective of a typical online game.
Now, there is going to be three main situations that arise with our hands. First, we're going to have a made hand, one that will be the favorite to win, which we'll want to play aggressively. We may slow play these if appropriate, but we'll be looking to generally get as much money in the pot as possible, so when we check, we do so for that reason. Otherwise we'll be betting and raising it out.
Second, there will be hands that we missed on, which we'll want to fold if necessary. We obviously don't want to be betting these hands, although you'll be surprised the amount of poker advice out there to the contrary. For instance, you have AK, and the flop comes rags. You'll incur the wrath of quite a few self-professed experts by checking here, in spite of your not having anything here and being very likely behind, even with the draw, if you're up against several opponents. We want to look to throw this hand away of course, and should only play on as a rule if we can get a free card. Betting or calling here most often carries a negative expectation, which is the food of fools. Let them feed the pot this way - we won't. Of course there are going to be exceptions, but as a general rule, we either want to be the favorite or have odds to be the favorite to stay in a hand.
Third, there are going to be the in-between hands - not an obvious bet but not an obvious throw-away either. The important thing here to realize is that this is not in terms of the strength of the hand, but the relative strength, in comparison to what your opponents may have. For example, you may have a good hand, but are concerned that this may not be the best hand out there. You don't want to throw it away, as you're not convinced enough that you're beaten, but you don't want to lose a bunch of extra money on it either. Perhaps you have bet and he has raised on the flop. If you don't have the hand to re-raise, it's often better just to check and call on the turn and river. The reason is, you've got the pot odds to stay in the hand based upon what's there already, but you aren't comfortable with the odds on the extra money you'd be throwing in there for the raise.
The easiest way to illustrate this concept is at the river. Say there's 12 big bets in the pot right now. You figure you've got a 30% chance to win the pot, and you're up against a single opponent. If you check, he will bet and you will call, and the call is a correct one, since you're risking 1 bet to win 13. However, if you bet he will raise, and you're only getting 1:1 odds on the additional bet, as opposed to 13:1 on the one required to go to showdown. So obviously you wouldn't want to bet here.
The same principle applies to situations earlier in the hand. The common theme here is situations where you aren't really the favorite, but you have enough of a chance to win in combination with the expected return if you do to make it worthwhile to stick around. And if so, you want to go to showdown as cheaply as possible as a rule, since you aren't getting the correct odds on any additional contributions beyond the minimum. This is not weak play - it's smart play.
You need to be careful you don't abuse this concept though, and use it as en excuse to play hands that should be folded, as is the case with the typical player. You're going to have to win enough of these hands to make this play worthwhile, otherwise you're just throwing money away. This falls into the "not sure" category, and as you get better at the game, your sense of what is playable and what is not will improve. It's best to err on the side of caution here though, and throw it away if you feel you don't have enough of a chance to play on.
As a rule, this applies to draws as well. We're usually not going to get the proper odds on additional money contributed beyond the minimum, so we're going to need a good reason not to look to see cards as cheaply as possible in this situation. Gaining a free card, or drawing as the favorite would be exceptions, but this isn't going to normally be the case. If you have enough outs that you're the favorite, you're obviously going to want to bet it out, as you have the proper odds on any additional money contributed. Or, if you're in late position on the flop, and are confident that if you bet or raise you can see the turn for free, an additional bet here may make sense. Other than that, look to check and call whenever possible.
Also, there are going to be instances where you may have the best hand now but aren't the favorite. In games where going to showdown is the norm, you always need to consider your chances at the end before deciding whether to put extra money in the pot. Keep in mind though that in a lot of these situations, like having top pair but a lower card, with several people in the hand, it's often preferable to check and fold. If there are less people in the pot, your chances can be decent enough to check and call, but you still wouldn't want to put money in this pot without having to in order to stay in the hand.
To sum up, there are going to be situations where it's correct to check and call along when we don't feel particularly confident about our hand, but are confident enough to want to stay in as long as the price isn't too high. This will keep us in the game when the overall odds on the play are good enough to do so, and will also keep us from investing additional money which we don't have the proper odds on, whether that be betting when it would have been checked around, or betting and having to pay a raise where checking would only cost a single bet. Every bet saved adds up to plenty at the end of the year.