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Checking to Induce in No-Limit Hold’em

In last week’s column, we looked at the idea of betting to protect your hand. One of the main themes with last week’s column and what we’re going to talk about this week is that a lot of people get into habits of how they think about their range based on the absolute basics like what constitutes a profitable value bet or a profitable bluff. While these ideas can give you a good starting point for learning about poker, they shouldn’t been seen as everything there is to know. This week, we’re going to follow the pattern of opening up to ideas that fall outside of this betting dichotomy to look at the idea of checking for value or checking to induce.

To Value Bet or to Check

The starting point for learning about value betting is looking at a situation where you’re going all-in on the river against a single opponent. In this case, if your opponent’s calling range has less than 50 percent equity against your hand, then you’re profitable. However, in any other type of value betting scenario, there are a lot more factors that go into the profitability of your play. Along similar lines, there are some complicated factors that also go into the profitability of checking which is something that a lot of players don’t really think about too much because of the emphasis on aggression and value betting as much as possible. To get an idea of all of the things that can go into the EV of checking or value betting, let’s look at a basic river example.

An Example Scenario

Hero is OOP on the river against a single opponent. The pot is $28 with $18 behind. We have the option to shove or check. If we check, our opponent will also have the option to shove or check. If we shove, our opponent will call 65 percent of the time, and we will win at showdown 55 percent of the time against that range. If we check, our opponent will check 40 percent of the time, and we’ll win 70 percent of the time at showdown. If we check, our opponent will also shove 60 percent of the time against which we’ll always call, and we’ll win 55 percent of the time if we call at showdown.

First we need to find the EV of shoving with our hand. The following are our potential outcomes:

  1. Our opponent folds (35%), we win the $28 pot.
  2. Our opponent calls (65%), we win at SD (55%), and we win the $28 pot plus an $18 bet.
  3. Our opponent calls (65%), we lose at SD (45%), and we lose $18.

This makes the EV of value betting the following:

EV of Value Betting = (0.35)(28) + (0.65)(0.55)(28+18) + (0.65)(0.45)(-18)
EV of Value Betting = 9.80 + 16.45 – 5.27
EV of Value Betting = $20.98

Now we should find the EV of check/calling with our hand. The following are the possible outcomes:

  1. Our opponent checks (40%), we win at SD (70%), we win the $28 pot.
  2. Our opponent checks (40%), we lose at SD (30%), we have no profit or loss.
  3. Our opponent bets (60%), we call, we win at SD (55%), we win the $28 pot and $18 bet.
  4. Our opponent bets (60%), we call, we lose at SD (45%), we lose our $18 bet.

And this is the EV of check/calling in this scenario:

EV of Check/Calling = (0.40)(0.70)(28) + (0.40)(0.30)(0) + (0.60)(0.55)(28+18) + (0.60)(0.45)(-18)
EV of Check/Calling = 7.84 + 0 + 15.18 – 4.86
EV of Check/Calling = $18.16

What you can see here is that there are a ton of factors that go into telling us if a check/call is better than a bet. What you should gain from this example is that the value of betting and the value of check/calling under these conditions are closer than most people would expect because of the automatic tendency to want to shove here just because our opponent calls with a range that we beat.

The General Principles of Checking to Induce

Checking to induce, or checking for value, is the idea of checking for the purpose of making a call, and this is the central idea of what we’re talking about here. If you think about this in terms of game theory, there’s going to be a hand in your range somewhere where the EV of check/calling is going to essentially be the same as the EV of value betting. Hands that are slightly better than this get the most value from being used as a value bet, and hands that are slightly worse than this get the most value from being checked for the purpose of inducing bets.

There are a few general principles that can help you to determine if you have a good candidate hand for a check/call. First, you need to think about how your opponent’s calling range is going to look if you happen to bet and what your equity is like against this range. The lower your equity, the better the chances that you should check instead. Second, you should consider how your opponent will play his or her range after you check. If you expect to see a lot of bluffs, then this should be a vote towards taking the check/call line.

Play on Other Streets

Sometimes you can find yourself on the flop or turn with hands that are more advantageous to check/call than to value bet, and this can be the case even if you expect to be ahead of your opponent’s calling range. A number of factors can go into why this is the case, but ideas like pot control, reverse implied odds and avoiding playing large pots out of position can all come into play. By comparing the EV of each way to play and trying to model possible outcomes, you can start to gain a better feel for what these situations are like.

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