‘Checking-Down’ Hands On The Bubble – The Poker Cooperation Play

When A Small Stack Is All-In, Checking-Down A Hand Will Often Be The Most Profitable Play. Find Out How And When To Check-Down A Hand Here

There are times in Sit N Go tournaments where it makes more sense to check than to bet – even if this means committing the ‘poker crime’ of giving an opponent a free card with which to beat you. The main example occurs at the bubble (or close to it) in a SNG when a small stack is all-in.

This article will explain why ‘checking a hand down’ with another large stack can be more profitable than betting out – and also explain when not to check down!

Here is a common situation in a Sit N Go tournament with 4 players remaining and the standard 3 player 20 / 30 / 50% payout structure:


Player 1: 4000 Chips

Player 2: 400 Chips

Player 3: 3000 Chips (after posting the small blind of 100)

Player 4 (You): 2500 Chips (after posting the big blind of 200)

The action is as follows: Player 1 folds, player 2 goes all-in for 400 chips, player 3 calls and you look down to see 6-8 off suit.

This is a perfect situation to call the 200 chips with the intention of checking the hand down with player 3. The initial call is largely based on the pot-odds (you are calling 200 chips to see a pot of 1000 so getting 5-1). However there is another reason to call here, under normal circumstances Player 3 will cooperate with you in maximizing the chance to eliminate player 2 by checking the hand down.

By doing this you increase the chances that Player 2 will be eliminated and that you both move into the money paying places. Betting, especially with a weak or vulnerable hand, may result in a situation where a hand that could have beaten player 2 in a showdown folds on the flop. Now when Player 2 wins the hand there are still 4 players actively competing for the 3 paying places.

Checking a hand down involves implicitly cooperating with another player to maximize your own profits as well as theirs. This works in bubble (and close to bubble) situations in both SNG tournaments and Multi-table tournaments (especially in poker satellites!).

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Checking Down Hands At The Bubble - When Not To Cooperate

There are, however, times when the cooperation play becomes less important than winning the pot. If some of the above circumstances occur then the co-operation play should not usually be attempted.

1 – Your opponent does not understand the cooperation play and is likely to bet out, even with nothing.

2 – Your hand is strong enough that beating the all-in player is no longer a question (for example flopping 2-pair or a straight in the above example).

3 – Eliminating your opponent will not increase your expectation as significantly as winning the pot. For example with 5 players left and just 1 payout (a SNG Satellite) cooperation may not help significantly if you have a short stack.

4 – When a medium-stack has entered the pot with a raise and then a smaller stack then goes all-in. Reversing the places of the players in the above example would make a cooperation play less desirable. The medium stack has shown strength by raising before the flop and the small stack went all-in anyway. Save your chips here unless the pot-odds are compelling, if the original raiser has a high-pair then checking the hand down may not be an option!

Checking Down Hands At The Bubble - Implicit Collusion

Checking a hand down is often referred to as ‘Implicit Collusion’, the key point being that this is not explicitly suggested or otherwise communicated at the table. While checking down based on a mutual understanding is profitable and perfectly within the rules, communicating this intention (even in an online chat-box) is a breach of rules that could see you disqualified from the tournament!

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