Checking in poker – despite being a “non-action” move relative to betting – can be one of the most powerful tools in a poker player’s arsenal. If used correctly, checking in poker can enhance a professional player’s profit expectation while also serving as a means to reduce losses via pot control.
Checking is only one option when betting in a poker game. In this article, we will explore the term “checking” in poker, what it means, and how it can both increase your overall profit and help keep you out of the proverbial poker gutter.
What is Checking in Poker?
Checking in poker is a way to pass to another player. If the individual checking is the last person to act, checking will result in progressing the game so the next card(s) can be dealt. If the person checking is the final player to act – on the final street of a hand, checking serves as a way to progress the hand to its conclusion (aka “showdown”).
In flop games such as Texas Hold’em and Omaha, the term “check” is NOT typically used for preflop action until it’s the Big Blind’s turn to act. This is because there is usually an amount in the pot – contributed by the Small Blind and Big Blind players – before the hand begins and before hole cards are dealt. In a $1/$2 Texas Hold’em game (assuming no antes), there will be $3 already in the pot before ANY player sees cards.
Players who act once a hypothetical hand begins in a $1/$2 flop game – starting with the Under the Gun position – can either fold (surrender their hand without committing any chips to the pot), call (match the Big Blind amount and continue in the pot), or raise the Big Blind amount. If a preflop pot has NOT been raised prior to the action reaching the player in the Big Blind, then that BB player has the option to check, which will progress the hand to the stage in which community cards are dealt. If there has been a preflop raise, the option to Check is eliminated for that phase of the hand – with the resulting options for players yet to act being Fold, Call, or Re-Raise.
Checking in Poker vs. Calling
As explained above, checking and calling are two distinct actions in the game of poker. Simply put, a “check” is performed when there are no chips/money committed into the pot for a particular street, and the player is not committing any chips/money into the pot for the round (aka “street”). The following scenario will help to illustrate the difference between checking in poker and calling.
Let’s say we’re playing a hand of $3/$6 Limit Texas Hold’em, which is 6-handed. Before the hand is dealt, there is $9 in the pot (contributed from the Small and Big Blind players). The community cards are dealt, and the UTG position decides to fold. Then the UTG+1 player also folds. Now there are four players. The next player to act is the Cutoff player, and this individual is deciding whether to continue with the hand. The Cutoff player has three options in this spot.
The player can “fold” and – as a consequence – surrender any ambition of winning the hand/pot. The player can “call,” which would require a contribution of $6 to match the Big Blind amount. Or the player can “raise,” which would require the Cutoff position to place $12 into the pot, and then wait for the remaining three opponents in the hand to act.
READ ALSO: Learn the Top 7 Poker Actions, from Checking to Going All In
However, the Cutoff player in this scenario is not capable of checking because this individual cannot remain in the hand without committing at least some chips (in this case, a minimum of $6) into the pot. So let’s assume that the Cutoff player “calls” (aka “limps”) the $6 minimum contribution to remain in the hand. The button folds, and the Small Blind likewise calls.
Now it’s the Big Blind’s turn to act, and this player now has two options with $18 already in the pot. The Big Blind can raise to $12, which would then force the Cutoff and Small Blind players to decide whether to “call,” “re-raise,” or “fold” preflop. Or the Big Blind can check – which will progress the hand to the flop with $18 in the pot, and no further contribution required from the Big Bind player before the hand moves to the flop.
The Big Blind player can check because that player had already contributed $6 into the pot before hole cards were dealt, and can remain in the hand without committing any more chips into the pot for this preflop round.
However, in this hypothetical scenario, the Big Blind is – by definition – incapable of performing a call because there is not an amount pending for the Big Blind to contribute. A call would only be possible if the action was raised by one of the earlier players to act preflop.
Checking in Poker vs. Check-Raising
“Check-Raise” is a term that is generally used for post-flop action in community card games such as Texas Hold’em and Omaha. We’ll use the same hand described above to explain a Check-Raise.
Assuming the Big Blind checked the action preflop, there will be $18 in the pot – with the Small Blind, Big Blind, and Cutoff players still competing to win the hand.
For illustration purposes, we’ll say that the hole card hands of each player are as follows:
Small Blind: 2h, 2s
Big Blind: Ac, As
Cutoff: Kd, Kh
The first three community cards (which represent the Flop) are now dealt…
7s – Jd – 3d
The action begins with the first remaining player who is positioned to the left of the button. That would be the Small Blind. So let’s say the Small Blind and Big Blind players both check the action. The Cutoff player (who now has “position” on the two other players, can likewise check to progress the hand, or the Cutoff can bet no more and no less than $6 into the $18 pot.
So the Cutoff decides to bet $6, and there is now $24 total in the pot. The Small Blind player decides to fold, and now the action is on the Big Blind player. The player in the Big Blind has a total of three options: Fold, Call, or Check-Raise.
A fold by the Big Blind in this scenario would mean that the hand is over, and the Cutoff player wins the $24 that is currently in the pot ($12 of which was contributed by the Cutoff, $6 by the Small Blind, and $6 by the Big Blind).
A six-dollar call by the Big Blind would mean there is now $30 total in the pot – and the hand progresses to the “Turn” stage (also known as Fourth Street). Note that you’d likely see a Raise put in by the Big Blind in this scenario, but for the purposes of this article, we’ll assume the Big Blind just calls.
So now with $30 in the pot, the Turn card is dealt.
7s – Jd – 3d – (Qc)
There are four community cards now on the board to go along with the two hole cards that the Cutoff and Big Blind players each possess.
With the Turn action on the Big Blind (who is again, first to act), the Big Blind player decides to check. The Cutoff player decides to bet. Limit Texas Hold’em rules usually require an increased bet amount – equal to double the original Big Blind pre-hand contribution – for the Turn and River phases.
So the Cutoff player bets $12 into a $30 pot (meaning there is now $42 in the pot), but then the Big Blind player decides to “Check-Raise” to $24. Note that a check-raise is only possible if the player previously performed a check on the same street or betting round.
Now, there is a total of $66 in the pot, and the Cutoff player has three options: Fold, Call, or Re-Raise. By definition, the player in the Cutoff position here cannot perform a “Check-Raise” because that player did not first perform a check on the Turn. So the Cutoff position calls, and we go to the “River” (aka “Fifth Street”) with $78 in the pot up for grabs.
Player Pot Equity Explanation
When checking in poker, check-raising, or taking another action can be influenced by your pot equity in the hand. In the current example, players have the following amounts of pot equity.
Pre-Hand Contributions: $9 ($3 from Small Blind plus $6 from Big Blind)
Pre-Flop Contributions: $9 ($6 from Cutoff plus another $3 from the Small Blind)
Flop Contributions: $12 ($6 from Cutoff and $6 from the Big Blind)
Turn Contributions: $48 ($24 from the Cutoff and $24 from the Big Blind)
Overall Pot Equity Contributions after the Turn
Small Blind: OUT (folded) $6 out of $78 for 7.7% (relinquished/surrendered) Pot Equity
Big Blind: IN $36 out of $78 for 46.15% Pot Equity
Cutoff: IN $36 out of $78 for 46.15% Pot Equity
So now the “River” (Fifth Street) community card is dealt…
7s – Jd – 3d – Qc – (Ah)
The player in the Big Blind, who is first to act, performs a $12 bet into the $78 pot, and the Cutoff player calls. Now the action phase of this hand has ended, and it is time for the player in the Big Blind (who was “called” by the Cutoff player) to reveal the As,Ac for the “Set” or “Three-of-a-Kind”.
The player in the Cutoff position mucks the losing hand and the Big Blind player collects the $102 pot – winning a total of $48 from the Cutoff player and another $6 from the Small Blind player, while the Big Blind’s own $48 pot contribution is correspondingly returned.
Reasons for Check-Raising in Poker
A player who is “Check-Raising” is usually trying to portray a story (aka attempting to communicate to other players/opponents) of relative strength. The rules of some poker games may even REQUIRE that a player check-raises (but only on the River) when the best possible hand is being held by the player who initially checked and is now being bet into. Check-raising can be a very strong form of checking in poker.
For example: Let’s say there is $160 in the pot of a $5/$10 Limit Texas Hold’em game, and the river card has now been dealt with only two players remaining in the hand.
Community Board Cards: 4s – 5d – 4h – 8s – Ad
Player A (Button) has: 4d,4c
Player B (Big Blind) has: 6s,7s
So being first to act, Player A can check and hope to entice action or a potential “bluff” from Player B. Since Player B has a straight, he bets $20 into the $160 pot.
Now Player A is not allowed to just “call” (in many poker games, however rules may vary) because Player A is holding the best possible hand – or “the nuts” – which is Quad 4s. If Player A decides to simply “call” in this spot, he may be subsequently penalized by the casino or poker game host for not Check-Raising with the best possible hand at showdown.
So a Check-Raise would mean Player A commits $40 into the $180 pot, making the total pot $220. So let’s say that Player B then “re-raises” to $60 due to his straight (with no possible flush on the board) – making the pot $260.
Again, Player A cannot simply perform a call. Player A must either fold (which should not happen), or Re-Raise to $80. Once the River is re-raised by Player A to $80, PLAYER B can either fold or call due to the rules of Limit Texas Hold’em that restrict per-street action to four bets per round.
So Player B calls the re-re-raise and is stunned when Player A turns over the Quads and wins a total pot of $320.
Checking in Poker: Winning Big
Checking in poker can be an extremely profitable decision (or a way to exercise pot control, or mitigate potential losses) in certain circumstances. However, “winning big” in the long-term through checking in poker is something that even the best (most profitable) players in the world continue to study.
Newer, less-experienced players who would like to improve their checking in poker may wish to consult premium services that are available via poker training sites and poker software applications online.