Dara O’Kearney says you should not automatically assume that a check back in position means you can take it away on the turn.
A common misconception I see in recreational players is that when an opponent checks back in position, in means they ‘have nothing’ and the right strategy is to bluff them. For example the Villain might check back on a 7♦8♠9♥ flop, so if the turn brings a blank that means the out of position player should lead into them to take it away.
Likewise, amateur players might surmise that if they have a big hand here, they should check again on the turn to induce a bluff, because the player has ‘nothing’ and that’s the only way to extract value from them.
This is not always the case. If the player in question is balanced, they should be checking back a lot here with good and medium strength hands. The good hands they check back for balance purposes and/or to slow play them, the medium strength hands because they want to get them to showdown cheaply.
Check backs are often medium hands
A check should be balanced
A check back on boards like this is usually the sign of a condensed range (mostly medium strength hands) rather than the player having missed. They are more likely to have ‘nothing’ on this board if they bet, because when you have nothing you should bluff more.
Betting here is more likely a ‘polar range’ meaning it is a strong value hand or a weak hand that is bluffing, but nothing in the middle.
The correct strategy against players in these spots is almost the same, you should be betting, but it should be mostly for value. When your opponent has a condensed range they are going to be playing their hands as bluff catchers against you, so for that reason you should be targeting them for value with your top pair or better hands, and semi bluffs.
Be careful what you bluff with
Weak hands are more likely to bet as bluffs (along with value)
Pure bluffs are unlikely to work, especially to a single bet, so it’s better to semi bluff hands that will sometimes hit a very strong hand on the river and allow you to bet again for value. It also gives you some hands to bluff with on the river if the situation looks good as your opponent will have a lot of hands he’s happy to call one bet with but not two. It’s often the case we don’t want to semi bluff out of position because we don’t want to have to fold to a raise, but this isn’t one of them. If our opponent is trying to get to showdown cheaply with a medium strength hand they will call a lot but rarely raise.
A check back on a board like this is much more likely to be something like A8 or 44 than it is a complete airball. These are hands that are not going to bet the turn when you check again, so you have to take the betting lead.
Against weak players you can certainly ascertain that when they check back the flop in position they are playing their hand face up, and adjust accordingly. But against good players and unknown players, a much better starting point is to assume their check back range includes lots of medium strength hands as well as a small amount of very strong hands for balance.
Dara O’Kearney’s new book Endgame Poker Strategy: The ICM Book is out now.