Sometimes the run out is such that checking to check-call on the river is the right play.
If you are familiar with a lot of the work that I do over at my training site CrushLivePoker.com you would know that I am not a big fan of check-calling the river in NL Holdem. Simply put, players, especially toward the lower stakes of live No Limit, do not bluff enough to make check calling profitable. There are of course exceptions to this and I played a hand at the Hollywood Park casino last week that demonstrates one of those exceptions.
In this particular game we were playing $5-$10-$20 with $3000 effective stacks. The game was generally good and I had a winning image. It got folded to me and I decided to make a loose open with K♦ 4♦ from the cutoff to $65. The button, the big blind and the straddle called and we saw the flop four ways. The board came out K♥ 6♠ 3♣ giving me a weak top pair. The action got checked to me and I decided that because the board was not all that draw heavy that this was a good spot for me to check and get some future value from some weaker hands. This would be akin to me checking a hand like KJ as the under the gun raiser when several people called behind me in the field. If I were headsup versus the big blind or straddle on this board, I may have bet K4 for value. But versus three players I thought that it was a bit in between, so I checked. The button checked behind and we saw an 8♥ turn card. Again it was checked to me and this time, with the backdoor flush appearing I decided to bet $90 into the $260 pot. The button called and the blinds folded. The river brought on the J♦ bricking out all of the draws.
Years ago, when I was less of a thoughtful player and when most of the money at the table was won from thin value I would have bet this card from up front close to 100%. I mean the whole reason why I checked back the flop was to make it seem like I did not have a king, so that I could get future value from worse hands. But now, as I have evolved as a player, I concentrate more on ranges, positional awareness and post flop action in order to determine what the best move would be. Here, when the button checked back the flop I thought that it was unlikely that he had a king. Players are known sometime to check a weak top pair in spots like this (like I did) but with me holding a king I though that this was less likely. So if we take most kings out of the buttons range moving to the turn what hands is he calling with on that 8h? There seems to be two obvious categories—a draw or some sort of medium strength bluff catcher like an eight or pockets sevens. If we bet at the end for value with our top pair the draws will just fold out as they missed, AND most likely the jack is bad for the medium strength bluff catchers as it is another overcard to second pair.
So instead of trying to go for thin value, I thought that the best play was to check with the intention of check calling. If my opponent held a hand like KT, he would have taken me to value town if he had bet. But it ended up going check/check and I won versus 85os. Even though the results did not work out for me in the best way I still think that I made the right play. It appears like there was much more value in trying to pick off a missed bluff then expecting to get called by 85 when a jack falls at the end. If the river had been a different card, like maybe pairing the three it would have been better for me to bet and try to get hero called by a hand like an 8.