Image via WikipediaDo You Make This Tournament Poker Mistake: #2?
Another mistake in poker tournaments is to check. Why is this a mistake?
1. You can't win the pot on that street if you check it.
I know this is obvious. But how often have you lost out on taking down a pot, where a bet on the earlier street would have won it for you?
2. If you are last to act, and you check it usually means that you are playing your cards rather than the players. In fact, you should understand the situation and seize on opportunities to bet and win with nothing.
Let's say that there are four players in the hand. You called with 8s-9s on the button after one player limped ahead of you. The blinds also called. The flop is Ad-6c-3h. This looks like a safe flop. So if your opponents check, don't check behind them. Bet.
You don't have to risk a lot. Make a small sized bet, like 50% of the pot.
A lot of players, go on auto-check when the flop comes and they miss. Don't be one of those players. Opponents that check tend to be weak. Take them at their word.
Yes, you may be called. An opponent may be setting a trap. That's poker. But, more often than not, no one has a big hand with uncoordinated flops. It's called the right of first bluff. Use it to your advantage.
3. If you are checking to set up a trap, you may be allowing your opponent to hit a miracle card to beat you or you may actually win a smaller pot than if you bet.
Here is a situation I ran into early in a major tournament. I raised 3x's the big blind in late position with pocket Kings. Only the big blind called.
The flop came K-7-2, but all spades. The big blind checked. I decided to set a trap and I checked.
The turn card was a fourth spade. My opponent moved all-in. The pot was $650 and he moved all in for over $2,000. He had me covered. What should I do?
I put myself in a tough situation by not betting the flop. If I bet the flop and got called, my guess is that we both would have checked the turn, and I would have seen the river for free.
Since I tried to trap, I was in a tougher situation. I called and knocked myself out of the event. The player next to me told me I made the right play. I disagree. I screwed up by trapping myself.
The other thing that often happens when you check your big hand is that you are missing out on winning a bigger pot. If the flop is 8-8-4 and you have A-8, it seems that a bet would just win you a small pot. However, you need to take into account a)your table image and b)the table image of your opponents.
If you are seen as an aggressive player, your bet may get called or raised. If you are perceived as a tight player, the chance of being called is much less.
If an opponent is an aggressive player, your bet may get called or raised.
Finally, I am not saying that a check is always a bad play. It is not. In fact, it can be used to help control the size of the pot, which is critical in winning play.
For example, I think Dennis Phillips wins more than his fair share of big pots by checking. He will often check the turn with top pair, to lure his opponent into a bet on the river. I think Dennis is using his check as a way to control the pot size and to see the river on the cheap. He will usually call that river bet and take down a bigger pot.
Like most things in poker, the situation dictates the best play. But in general, I believe that checking is a mistake.