If you've ever watched Phil Hellmuth play poker on television you would have seen him use his famous "check in the dark" move. Checking in the dark is not really a strategy in poker - it is more of a surprise move when you are playing Texas Hold'Em!
However, it's not just reserved for the self-proclaimed greatest of all time. Anyone can do this in their game and we will explain how it works and why you may want to use it.
What Does Checking in The Dark Mean
In poker, making an action "in the dark" (or a "dark action") means that you make your action before the card(s) for that next street are dealt. Therefore, doing a "check in the dark" means checking before receiving or looking at your cards.
Dark actions are not limited to checking, if you are first to act you have the ability to check or make a bet before the beginning of the next street. If the player that acts before you has made a dark action, you also have the option to make a dark action. For instance, you could even make a dark raise or a dark call if someone has made a dark bet!
For example, Player A raises from the button and Player B calls in the big blind. This call from Player B ends the preflop betting round, now before the flop is dealt Player B has the option to make a dark action such as a check in the dark.
You can make a dark action on any street or betting round:
- Preflop - calling or raising before the hole cards are dealt.
- Flop - checking or betting before the flop is dealt.
- Turn - checking or betting before the turn card is dealt.
- River - checking or betting before the river card is dealt.
Dark actions are limited to live poker, as the software on the majority of poker sites does not support betting or checking in the dark. When playing live you must verbalize your action before the cards are dealt, as most dealers will quickly deal out the next card once the betting round has been completed and you can miss your opportunity to make a dark action.
Why Do Poker Players Check in the Dark
There are a lot of interpretations about what it means to check in the dark, and if you asked the average player why they did it they likely wouldn't be able to give you a good answer.
Simply, when you check in the dark it means that there is no flop, turn, or river (depending on the street) that you intend on betting - meaning you will be checking 100% of your range. However, you may see recreational players use this move and in these cases, it's a lot more likely that they're not realizing this and are doing it at random.
These are some of the common reasons people will have for checking in the dark:
Setting Yourself as a Loose Player
Making an action 'in the dark' may make people think you're a loose player, as nits wouldn't want to make any action without as much information as possible. Being seen as a loose player can be an advantage as people are more likely to 'put you on nothing' and pay off your value bets with more marginal hands - hands that they wouldn't pay off a nit with.
Being an 'action' player or doing little things like checking in the dark every now and again can make the game a more fun environment - if everyone is sat at the table trying to eke out every little advantage they can then it isn't a great environment for recreational players to play in.
Making the game you're playing in fun for everyone will end up benefiting your bottom line as you'll have recreational players more likely to stick around and buy back in even if they lose their initial buy-in. Sometimes it can be worth making marginally -EV plays/decisions in order to keep the recreational players at the table where you can more than make up for any EV loss.
No Clear Response to the Raiser
Checking in the dark is mostly done by recreational players when unsure what to do. This could be when they have a marginal hand preflop that is going to be tricky to play on a lot of flops, or if they're in a multiway situation.
When recreational players have hands like weak pocket pairs or hands like suited connectors that will often flop weak pairs or draws, they may feel there are no flops that they'll want to lead on but there are some they will want to check-raise on (when they flop sets or draws). Given this, a lot of players will check in the dark to see what their opponent does first.
There are also spots like multiway pots where recreational players may feel unsure about the best action. Again, in this case, they feel that if they check in the dark they can hand over the initiative to one of the other players in the pot, which will allow them to make better decisions when it's their turn again.
In many cases this isn't a bad idea, most players haven't developed a leading range in their game so checking in the dark and letting the other players make their actions and give information on their hands can be useful.
To Avoid Providing any Information
We know from what we've covered earlier that by checking dark you're communicating to your opponent that you don't have a betting range and that you would check no matter what the flop is, so when you check in the dark you do give some information away to your opponent.
However, by checking without seeing any cards, you don't give away any physical tells. Some players will involuntarily react when they hit the flop, turn, or river, so by checking before those cards come out you don't give your opponent something to look for.
Similarly, some players give off negative body language when they miss the flop, turn, or river. This can be something simple like a slumping of the shoulders, a disinterest in the pot, or crucially it can come across in the manner that they check.
If you see yourself in any of these players I've described then it may be worth checking in the dark in some scenarios. The best time to do it is when you're the preflop caller as there are very few situations (if any) that you will be betting into the preflop aggressor - so it doesn't matter whether you see the flop or not.
Copying a Professional or Fictional Character
The most common reason players - particularly recreational ones - check in the dark is because they've seen their idol do it on the latest poker show and think that they should put it into their game.
Most of the time there is no thought to why the professionals do it, or what it means in terms of their wider strategy, or how their opponents will interpret it - it's just something done to look 'cool' or 'professional'. It's usually pretty obvious who these players are, they're usually the ones wearing sunglasses and a hoodie and talking about how great Phil Hellmuth is.
There's often no rhyme or reason to when/why these players check in the dark, so when they do it can be worth trying to catch their reaction when they see the flop as they may look disappointed if it was one that they might have wanted to bet.
These kinds of players usually wear their tells on their sleeves so looking for any signs of regret when they've checked in the dark can allow you to check behind and save your money in some situations.
Pros & Cons of Checking in the Dark
Like everything in poker, there are pros and cons to making certain actions and it's just the same when you check in the dark.
So what are the pros that you gain when you check in the dark?
- Can avoid giving off tells about your hand if you're prone to reacting when you see the next card.
- In multiway pots it allows you to see what everyone else does before you in a spot where you are unlikely to have a leading range.
- You should be checking to the aggressor in most hands so checking in the dark when you're the preflop caller allows you to avoid the mistake of leading in spots you shouldn't.
- It gives the impression to your opponents that you're a loose player, meaning you'll get more action in later hands.
As you can see, most of these pros come when you're the preflop caller rather than the preflop aggressor - which leads us nicely into our next topic...
We've covered the pros, let's have a look at the cons that come when you check in the dark.
- When done as the preflop raiser, it prevents you from c-betting which means that a lot of hands lose their value or bluffing potential.
- It's often done without any strategy in mind, which makes it the same as flipping a coin to decide your action.
- There may be some flops/turns/rivers where you will want to lead into the preflop aggressor and checking in the dark prevents this.
- It may cause your opponents to play unpredictably if they don't know what it means to check in the dark.
It's a good rule of thumb to not check in the dark if you're the preflop aggressor as you'll want to have the option to c-bet.
Checking In The Dark: FAQ
Answers to the most common questions about checking in the dark.
What is checking in the dark?
Checking in the dark is when a player is first to act and decides that they are going to check before the next card(s) has been dealt. It's called checking in the dark as the action is made before anyone knows what the next card is going to be.
Should you blind check a pocket pair?
If you've decided that you're going to check your whole range no matter what cards come out, then checking dark with a pocket pair is perfectly fine. However, if there are some situations that you do want to bet then you shouldn't be checking dark at all.
Do professional poker players check in the dark?
There are some professional players who will check in the dark, you will see when you play with them live or watch them on TV that it's mostly 'live pros' that do this. Players who learned and studied the game online won't be familiar with it as you cannot do it online.
How can checking in the dark put you at a disadvantage?
Checking in the dark can put you at a disadvantage if there are some situations where you want to bet - such as making a c-bet or a lead into the preflop aggressor. Checking dark prevents you from doing either of those and forcing yourself to check can make some hands lose a lot of value.
Is checking in the dark a good move?
Checking in the dark can be a good move when playing against recreational players as they may not understand the move and make mistakes when coming up against it. If you're playing against good regulars then there isn't much advantage to be gained from checking in the dark.
Now you too can check in the dark like your poker idols - and you can do it with the understanding of what it means strategically as well as the best times to implement it!