In nearly all cases, during a betting round on a poker hand, a player may choose to check instead of bet, if there is currently no bet before them. In essence, checking is "betting zero chips". A player cannot check if there is a bet before them; they can only fold, call, or raise.
On rare occasions, in some variants, there are other times when a player may not check: in 7-Stud, for example, the player who has the low upcard on the initial deal must bet either a full bet or the bring-in, and cannot check. Likewise, in some more obscure home game variants, players showing various combinations of cards may be required to bet, or even to match the pot.
One of the most common mistakes beginners make (or even experienced players, if they aren't paying attention) is to try to check in the preflop betting round for a game which has blinds, like Hold 'em. The blinds act as initial bets, so subsequent players cannot check because there is a bet before them.
Commonly-heard phrases using "check" Edit
Check-raise or Checkraise
- To check when the action is upon you in order to allow a later player to bet, then to raise that bet when the action returns to you. See the checkraise page for more details.
Check in the dark
- If a player in first position checks to start the betting round before the card(s) which start the betting round are dealt, it is called checking in the dark.
Check-out or Check-fold
- If a player folds when they could have checked, it is called a check-fold or check-out, or sometimes folding out of turn (even if the player is not technically acting out of turn). This is considered inconsiderate in poker etiquette, as it may conceivably affect future players' decisions about betting, raising, or calling. However, it is generally not against the rules in a poker room, as evidenced by the fact that many online poker sites allow players to check-out (though they often pop up a warning dialog asking if the user really intends to do this).
Check to the raiser
- If a player in early position want sto check, and wishes to indicate they are doing so because they expect (or want) a player in later position to take the lead in the betting, because that player had raised in the previous betting round, they will often say "I check to the raiser!" to emphasize the supposed reason they are checking. Of course, this phrase is sometimes used as a bluff in preparation for a check-raise.
Check it down or Check to the river
- Players may agree to halt all further betting on the present and all future betting rounds. Doing so is called checking it down. They must agree verbally, and the dealer must understand this is the case; once all active players agree to check it down, the dealer will simply deal all remaining cards without pausing for betting rounds, and the best hand or hands at the showdown will win the pot. Agreeing to check it down is binding and cannot be reversed, for obvious reasons.
Check or bet
- A dealer will often prod the action at lower-limit games where beginners usually play by prompting players with an instruction for them to "check or bet", which are the two choices available to a player in first position.
Hand signals Edit
Checking is such a common action that a standard hand signal has been developed to indicate that a player is checking. Tapping the table, with either one's cards, one's fingers, or one's fist, is implied to mean that one is checking. This is generally only accepted if the user taps the table at least twice (merely touching your cards to the table does not constitute a check), but if the intent seems clear, it's possible for a player to merely "hit the table with their fist once" to indicate a check.
Unfortunately, tapping the table is also occasionally a nervous habit (or sign of contemplation) that some players have, which can lead to confusion and even confrontation. Accordingly, it is best to not even come close to tapping the table when it is your turn to act, or at any time during a betting round, to ensure that your tapping is not taken as a check. If the dealer, or even other players, believe you have checked and if too many subsequent players then act on that assumption (e.g. betting or raising), you may lose your chance to act and be forced to accept the perceived action as observed. If you are prone to move nervously about while thinking, you should be sure to call for time promptly to ensure that only a more clearly stated action taken by you will be accepted by the players and the dealer.
Checking is also so common that more idiosyncratic gestures and hand signals are frequently taken to indicate that a player checks. These are generally more demonstrative, such as twirling your finger(s) in a circle while pointing in the direction of the dealer (indicating "roll on, please, to the next player"), or swiveling a pointing finger to point at the player to your left (indicating "take action from this player, not from me"), and are much less likely to be "accidentally" performed by a player while thinking. One occasionally accepted action, though, is to merely wave your cards up and down, facedown, in the air in front of you, looking as though you would be tapping them to the table, if only the table were a few inches higher. This is another action you should not take while thinking, as it can be easily misinterpreted.
Players near the button also often use the button to signal a check, either by tapping a chip to it (to make a loud clicking noise) once or twice, instead of tapping the table, or by physically reaching out and flipping the dealer button over to its other side.
Verbal signals Edit
Similar to hand signals, there are many ways players have of stating verbally that they check, and nearly all of them will be considered binding if the dealer and other players accept them and act upon them. Among the ways players can state that they are checking are:
- "I check"
- "Roll 'em!" (especially when said by the player in last position)
- "Deal!" (when said by the player in last position)
- "By me"
Notice that some of these phrases seem contradictory (in particular, "OK" and "No" seem to be opposites). In some cases, the players is indicating that the dealer should go ahead and deal the cards ("Go", "Deal", etc); in others, the player is indicating that they are declining to bet ("No", "By me", etc). So, again, be careful when talking when the action is on you. Short demonstrative words or phrases could be interpreted as a check unless it is clear in context that they are not.