by George “The Engineer” Epstein
It can cost you a big pot. It’s not illegal – though it may be immoral in some cases. It happened to me, and it could happen to you, too. In fact, it may already have happened without your realizing what was going down. What’s more, the dealer played a role. (He might have been complicit in the scheme; but that’s just speculation.) Let me explain by describing a hand I played in a low-limit hold’em game at a local casino.
I was in a middle position with Q-J offsuit. Along with four opponents, I stayed to see if the flop would help my hand. Yes, it did!
With top two-pair, my best strategy was to bet/raise to force out some opponents, making it less likely one would draw out on me on the turn or river. Get rid of the small pairs and draws to straights and flushes. With two cards to come, my hand was a long-shot to fill up. (Probability is less than 17%.) Meanwhile, the more opponents staying in, the less likely my two-pair would hold up.
There were two checks to me, with two players to my left yet to declare. As I picked up my chips to bet, the opponent to my immediate left slammed the table and shouted out, “Check!” I was about to place my bet when the Button immediately after him, also declared, “Check!” And the dealer, with hardly a blink of the eye, quickly proceeded to burn the top card in preparation for setting out the turn card on the board. “Hey,” I shouted aloud, poised with my chips to place my bet, “I was betting.” The dealer muttered, “Too bad, it’s already been checked all around.” Of course I did what every red-blooded poker-player would do: I protested again... “Get a floorman!” After listening to the dealer’s explanation, he agreed: There were two checks after me so the game continues without my bet. In effect, everyone got a free card to see the turn!
Guess what happened next. The turn was the 6s. Everyone checked to me. I bet for value and was called by both opponents to my left. The river was the 6c, putting a pair on the board. Dangerous, I thought, but I still liked my top two-pair. As I made my bet on the river, assuming I was betting for value, the player to my immediate left promptly announced, “Raise!” Uh, oh, I thought. He may have caught trip sixes. Hoping that all he had was a smaller two-pair than mine, and considering the pot odds, of course, I called his raise. Sure enough, he had me beat. With 7-6 in the hole, the free card on the turn had paired his 6, and then the river filled in his trips, beating my top two-pair to smithereens. I was certain that he would have folded if my bet on the flop had been permitted, and then the pot would have been mine...
How to Protect Yourself. Could I have avoided this situation? Thinking about it later, I wondered if the two opponents had been in collusion when they quickly declared “Check! Check!” before I had placed my bet. It certainly was to their advantage to get a free card to see the turn. And it did pay off for one of them. Being distrustful of this dealer (based on another incident a few months ago), I naturally suspected he favored my two opponents, who were regulars at that casino. I doubt he had colluded with them, although, I must admit, the thought entered my mind.
My advice: If ever you are in the process of betting when an opponent behind you shouts out “Check,” quickly respond, “Time” or “I bet” before the next opponent to his left also declares “Check.” Better yet, announce “Bet” immediately after the player to your right has checked. Say it loud enough for the dealer to hear you. Then there is no question of your intent. And, if you are not sure that you want to make the bet, call out “Time.”
George “The Engineer” Epstein is the author of The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners! and Hold’em or Fold’em?—An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision and teaches poker at the Claude Pepper Sr. Citizen Center in Los Angeles. Contact George at email@example.com.