When to Check in Poker

WHEN TO CHECK IN POKER

Contrary to what you see on TV and in other media, not every poker hand involves high-ranked cards and large piles of chips being pushed into the pot. Big hands are actually pretty rare, especially in the opening stages of a game when most people are still trying to figure out their opponents’ playstyles. Realistically, there will be many rounds that pass with very little play or none at all, with players opting to check rather than risk chips.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN WHEN SOMEONE CHECKS IN POKER?

A check is essentially like calling but only if the current amount is zero. Players can check if they want to stay in the hand but would prefer not to play. After someone checks, the round continues with the next player in sequence.

WHEN CAN YOU CHECK IN POKER?

A check is only possible when no previous play has been made. If someone has already played then checking isn't an option, only a raise, call or fold is available. Generally, a check is used to avoid playing when you have low-ranked cards and are hoping to improve your hand after the flop, turn, or river. Checking is only possible for the big blind pre-flop because the big blind counts as the first play and everyone needs to call at least the big blind to stay in the hand.

HOW TO CHECK IN POKER

The universally accepted gesture to check is tapping the table twice with a closed fist or a finger when it's your turn to act. However, you may also say the word "check" to signal your intention. If you’re playing online there’s a button you can press if that option is available in the round.

FIVE COMMON REASONS WHY PLAYERS CHOOSE TO CHECK

1. WEAK HAND

When you have a weak hand and don’t want to waste chips but also don’t want to fold.

2. AFTER A BIG PLAY

After making a big play you might choose to check and keep your opponents guessing what your cards might be.

3. AS A TRAP

As a trap, to look weak, when in truth you have high-ranked cards.

4. FIRST TO ACT

When you are first to act, unsure about committing to a hand and don’t want to risk any chips before everyone else acts.

5. AFTER A LARGE PLAY

After you’ve just made a large play in the previous round and don’t want to risk any more chips.

THREE SIMPLE CHECKING STRATEGIES

When a player checks in poker, it’s generally accepted as a sign of weakness, but that isn't always the case. Checking can also be used as an offensive strategy that can keep your opponents guessing what your true intent is. Here are three simple strategies you can use that involve a check as a key component.

1. CHECK RAISE

The most widely used type of strategy involving a check is a check raise. When you are among the first to act, check. As the round progresses, another player will more than likely make a play. When it's your turn to act again, raise the pot significantly, as a guide aim for at least six times the big blind, or if the play is already higher than that, double the previous play. A check raise is a trapping move that requires other players to play after your initial check and is a great way to feign weakness and trick other people into adding to the pot. If everybody else in the hand checks, you can obviously no longer raise.

A check raise works best against between one and three other players, so you may need to build up to a check raise on the turn or river. Play at least eight times the big blind pre flop and attempt to scare most of your opponents out of the hand before you check raise. Generally, you should wait until you have a high-ranked hand to check raise, but the strategy is still effective with any hand as a bluff, just keep in mind that if the game reaches the river, you may lose if you only have low ranked cards. It's also worth noting that a check raise isn't always legal. Some casual games, poker variants and smaller casinos will have rules outlawing the practice, so read the rules before you try and check raise.

2. SLOW PLAY

Checking can also be used to slow play. After you are dealt a high ranked hand, only check throughout the next few rounds, feigning weakness. Call any big plays that are made and stay in the hand but wait until the river to be aggressive. When you get to the river, make a large play, at least fifteen times the big blind, or if the play is already higher than that, double the previous play. The goal is to look weak through the entire hand, enticing other players to play aggressively to force you out, increasing the size of the pot, then forcing them to fold on the river.

However, keep in mind slow playing comes with significant risks. As the round continues, other players may hit better cards and create higher ranked combinations. It's also inadvisable to slow play if you have low ranked cards. There is a chance that your opponents may feel pot committed by the river and refuse to fold, in which case, you want to be able to beat them in the showdown.

3. SPORADIC CHECKING

Similar to the check raise, this strategy involves checking, then raising the next round. Vary between checking and raising until the river to help confuse your opponents and keep them guessing what your cards might be. This strategy relies on everyone checking, so if another player plays after you check, only call, and wait until the next round to raise. Keep in mind that this also comes with risks. Just like slow playing, checking sporadically allows more players to stay in the pot and potentially hit higher ranked combinations as the round continues.


FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQ)

WHAT HAPPENS IF EVERYONE CHECKS DURING A ROUND?

If everyone checks during a round of poker, then the current play is essentially zero, it ends with only the previous rounds chips in the pot. In community card games like Texas Hold'em, this means everyone gets to see the next card without playing. If all players check on the river, everyone shows their cards as normal and the person with the highest ranked hand wins whatever is in the pot.

HOW DO YOU CHECK IN POKER?

Tapping the table twice with a closed fist, your index finger or your index and middle finger together is the universal sign for checking in poker. You can also just say "check" when it's your turn to act, but a lot of players like to avoid speaking in case the tone of their voice indicates what cards they might have. A shaky voice, change in pitch or general nervousness are all possible tells for your opponents to read.

WHAT DOES CHECKING OUT OF TURN MEAN?

Checking out of turn means you have tried to check when it wasn’t your turn to act. It's the same as playing out of turn, raising out of turn, calling out of turn, or folding out of turn. Acting when it's not your turn is considered very rude. Depending on the casino, you may be penalized for acting out of turn.

At the very least, checking out of turn means you have shown a measure of weakness and other players may make a large play in response. Try and avoid making a habit of acting out of turn, even if the casino doesn't penalize you, other players might eventually become frustrated and leave the table or make a complaint to the establishment. One or two infractions can be forgiven; we all make mistakes, but repeat offenders are rarely tolerated for long.

WHAT IS CHECKING IN THE DARK?

Checking in the dark is only possible during community card games like Texas Hold'em and Omaha poker. When the player who is first to act checks without waiting to see what the dealt community cards are, they are checking in the dark. There is no real advantage to checking in the dark, other than possibly confusing or psyching out your opponents. Keep in mind the decision is also binding, the check then can't be rescinded once the cards are dealt. Once you check in the dark, that's your move for the round, unless another player raises the play then you will get another chance to act.

WHEN CAN I CHECK IN POKER?

You can only check on the flop, turn and the river if there has been no previous play. You can't check pre-flop unless you’re the big blind and nobody raises before it's your turn to act.

WHY DO PEOPLE CHECK?

Checking is generally done when you have low ranked cards and aren't interested in raising the play and risking your stack. However, it can also be done as a strategy to mislead and misdirect your opponents. Checking is also a good way to gather info on what cards your opponents might hold. If you check, and they follow suit, it could be assumed they have low ranked cards. If you check and they play aggressively it could be an indication of high-ranked cards or a possible bluff.


There you have it—how to check in poker. Now you know all about it, you’ll be checking with the best of them.