In low stakes, online poker, checking, betting, and raising tend to be based on pretty straightforward reasoning

At these levels, after all, we can expect the opposition to be nearer the beginning of the learning curve, and unlikely to be routinely carrying out complex, tricky plays.

This, of course, is good news for us! Given that our opponents are not going to be putting a great deal of thought into what they do, nor do we have to rack our brains trying to work out their tactics. Moreover, we can interpret a few of the classic scenarios pretty easily and, when potentially advantageous opportunities duly arrive, act accordingly.

Generally, it’s safe to say that the size of a bet relates to hand strength. This might sound a bit simplistic, but modest bets are indeed typically associated with modest hands and bigger bets with bigger hands. Also, continued betting tends to mean a big made hand. Meanwhile, checking tends to indicate a hand that barely merits bothering with, and a check is often going through the motions before folding to a raise. This is why they call it ABC poker…

Is Checking a Sign of Weakness?

Probably – at least this is often the case at micro limits. We often hear of ‘paying’ for information by making a ‘feeler’ bet that puts the question to the opposition. Of course, this can be a useful tool, but at low stakes online poker, when we have position on alone opponent who checks, while we might think we’re being clever betting for information, the mere act of putting chips in the middle is often enough to induce a fold and take down the pot. If they call, then we have found out that they’re willing to stay involved, and their not check-raising (one of the few things we need to be extra wary of) usually means they judge their hand ‘only’ good enough for just a bit more investment – maybe one more street. Either way, whatever we’re holding in this situation, it’s worth betting as winning the pot or seeing them call tend to be more likely than facing a pesky check-raise.

Note that a player checking to us is already a potentially useful form of information in itself. We don’t need an actual bet to learn about a player – a lack of action can be equally useful.

Bet… then Check equals Passive

Following up a bet with a check is often a poor way to play. Usually, the point of betting is to stamp our authority on a hand, or even to push our opponent(s) out and win the pot. Often at the lower levels, we will see someone make a modest bet out of position, be called by a couple of players, and then only check at the next betting round. This is wrong for a couple of reasons. First, it voluntarily surrenders the initiative and loses momentum, but it also invites other players to jump in and assume control of the pot, or even pick it up right there – perhaps even with nothing if someone has been sufficiently observant to pull off a steal with air because they correctly judged the reasoning behind the original raiser taking their foot off the pedal and showing weakness.

Typically, a lack of continued aggression simply points to a lack of a strong hand often signifies a lack of a hand. For example, we’re in the Big Blind and call the Button’s pre-flop raise, and everyone else folds. The flop is 872 – we check, the Button checks. So, after the initial pre-flop aggression, the Button does nothing to exploit either their positional advantage or their being the aggressor, electing to not throw in a continuation bet. The turn is another 7, we bet 2/3 of the pot, and the Button folds pretty quickly. Pot won, job done.

Note that I didn’t mention what our starting hand was in this example. That’s because it doesn’t really matter. What our opponent might have held, on the other hand, does matter. We would be correct much of the time if we deduced from how this hand played out that they had AK or some other decent kicker. The start brought a confident pre-flop raise, but after that, not hitting anything on the 872 Flop saw the Button lose confidence and put the brakes on. The 7 on the Turn practically brought the Button to a standstill, and any decent sized bet was going to have a good chance of doing the business. Moreover, the 8727 board is a nightmare – or, at least, can easily look like one – to the pre-flop aggressor holding AK (A-high…), so our job is made even easier.

Not only can passive play (without a plan) be punished rather easily, it also fails to garner information and, ironically, gives the opposition information.

Have fun!

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AngusD switched from pro chess to poker two decades ago and has been professionally involved in the game on numerous levels since the very beginning of online poker, including playing as a poker ambassador both online and at major festivals around the globe. He has written much about the game over the years, and brings to YPD a wealth of experience in all aspects of the poker industry. Meanwhile, his many years on the pro chess circuit (he’s an International Master and prolific author) afford him an interesting perspective on the psychology of poker.

· Published 22.12.2020 · last updated 22.12.2020

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