Checking in position doesn’t mean weakness in poker

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Position and pot control are two of my favorite topics as the more I’ve learned the more I’ve seen how powerful they can be when they work together. When you play pots in position, you have much more control over the size of the pot and how much it’s going to cost you to get to showdown. Since most of your hands are not monsters, you’ll often want to check at least one of the betting streets so you’re not playing a pot that’s too big for the relative strength of your hand.

The most common street I find myself doing this is on the turn since I’m almost always the preflop aggressor in a hand and will be making a continuation bet on most flops. That being the case, whether I hit the flop or not, my hand is usually not that strong to want to bet the flop, turn and river, so I’ll often check behind my opponent on the turn.

This move allows me to get to showdown for the same price it would’ve cost me just to see the river (or less). Since the pot is the same size on the river as it was on the turn, this means any bet I (or my opponent) make is typically going to be about the same size as it would have been on the turn. If I bet the turn, I may get check-raised and be forced to make a tough decision. Plus I may face a much larger bet on the river because the pot bigger.

Checking the turn allows sets up my opponent to bluff the river. When I show weakness by checking the turn, my opponent will often take that as an opening to steal the pot on the river and will bet a variety of missed draws, second pairs or even make a stone-cold bluff. Unless I improve my hand, I’m usually just going to call their bet as I really just have a “bluff-catcher” hand. It’s likely good, but I can’t be too sure my opponent didn’t river two pair or a set, so by simply calling, I get value from those hands I’m beating and I lose the minimum to hands that beat me.

I recently had a deep run in the Borgata Winter Open main event and played a hand where I failed to use these tools and paid the price. I was dealt A-A and after I raised only the big blind called.

The flop was 4-6-9 rainbow. My opponent check-called my continuation bet. The turn was a 10. This is a great spot to check-behind as I’m usually way ahead or way behind. I made the mistake of making another bet and my opponent moved all-in. I further compounded the mistake by calling. My opponent had 7-8, a.k.a the nuts!

Why would I make this play? I know better than this, but I fell victim to the preflop beauty of those pocket aces. I didn’t consider the relative strength of my hand and use the power of position to control the size of the pot. I was clearly in a way-ahead or way-behind situation and should’ve checked the turn and likely just called a reasonable bet on the river.

Learn from my mistakes and take the time to use position and pot control to your advantage. If you have a hand that’s likely best on the turn, think about checking when they check to you. You’ll see the river and likely get to showdown much cheaper.

You’ll find yourself getting value out of the weaker hands that try to bluff you and you’ll lose less on those hands in which you’re beat by an unsuspected higher kicker, higher set, two-pair or even a well-disguised monster!

Decide to win!

— Lee Childs is founder and lead instructor of Acumen Poker. He also is a Lock Poker Pro and an instructor with the WPT Boot Camp. Check out his site at
www.acumenpoker.net.