Nearly every time I play poker, I run into at least one person who checks out (i.e., folds unnecessarily, when not facing a bet) on the flop if he misses it. I don't get this.
First, let me tell you what I'm not talking about. I'm not talking about breaking a rule or point of etiquette. Some people consider folding when not facing a bet to be against the rules, the equivalent of acting out of turn. I first ran across this idea last year in a Card Player magazine column by Michael Wiesenberg, available here. This surprised me, because I've never heard a player in a casino scolded for checking out, as long as it is done in turn. Here's Wiesenberg's argument:
Online cardrooms offer an unfortunate option. You can fold at any time when
the action is on you, even when there has been no bet in the current round.
Presumably, this is to speed up the action, but the downside of this is that it
is not protecting the other players.
For example, in a no-limit hold'em game, the player on the button flops a
straight-flush draw and bets on the flop (which contains an ace) and turn.
Unfortunately, the river misses him completely. He is reasonably certain that
the player under the gun has middle pair. To his right you sit, a new player not
up on cardroom etiquette. The first player checks. You, drawing to a straight or
flush, missed your hand and disgustedly throw your cards into the muck. The
button had planned on making a final bet to try to steal this pot. Had you held
on to your cards, the first player might well not have called, fearing that an
overcall from you would beat him, but with you now gone, he's much more likely
to call, so the button dares not make a bluff that otherwise might have had a
reasonable chance of succeeding. But your not holding on to your cards stopped
him. You did not protect him. When you are in this situation and the first
player checks, you also should check and hold on to your cards, even if you're
that sure you can't possibly win. Then, if the button bets, hold on to your
cards until the first player acts. Only when he has completed his action should
you throw your cards away.
I usually agree with Wiesenberg, but here I think he's wrong. Of course folding rather than checking changes things. But that's the nature of the game--every action or lack of action by every player changes the situation. In the specific example cited, one could just as easily argue that the player checking out makes it easier for the guy on the button to bet with nothing, because now he knows that he only has one person to try to bluff, which is always easier than trying to bluff two people. Yes, the unnecessary fold changes things, but it doesn't change things in a way that is either obviously or consistently favorable or unfavorable to any other player. It is therefore not unfair or unethical in the slightest, in my opinion. The player checking out has no way of knowing whether his action helps or hurts the plans of any remaining player; he cannot intentionally be helping or hurting anybody else by his decision. As far as I know, it is not against the rules in any Vegas card room.
But that's not my point here. There are rare situations in which I have checked out on the river, because it is inconceivable that I could win or even split the pot. I stress rare, though, because usually I'll just check along with everybody else, there always being a very small chance that I'll have the shock of collecting the pot, or part of it. (For one such story, see the second part of this post.)
Checking out on the flop, though, is just nuts, as far as I'm concerned. There are two more cards to come, and you just might get to see them both for free. That doesn't happen often, but it costs you nothing to check and hope. If somebody bets, you can fold at that point, without anything lost. It's not like you're in a hurry to be doing something else, since you have to wait for the hand to play out anyway. Once in a great while, even if your hand is a complete dog on the flop, the turn and river will come as the miracles to make you two pair or trips or a straight or a flush. What is the point of throwing your hand away when instead you could just check and watch to see what develops? I cannot discern any up-side, any benefit to folding in this situation--yet every session I play I see at least one player who has adopted this as a habit when the flop misses him.
Like I said at the beginning, I just don't get this. Poker players do all sorts of goofy things, but this strikes me as one of the most inexplicable.