What “Checking the Nuts on the River” Means in Poker


checking the nuts on the river

Checking the nuts on the river is often misunderstood, and is one of the most controversial and debated topics in poker. It’s not a new rule, but because it’s not applicable in every poker game, a lot of players, even poker pros, miss it. Some players also misuse the rule on checking the nuts, referencing televised tournaments when playing casual cash games.

There are exemptions to it because, in some cases, checking the nuts doesn’t affect anyone except the player who holds the nut hand. But let’s define what a nut hand is, and how it is different from absolute nuts. The difference between these two will come into play as we dive deep into the controversy surrounding the rule on checking the nuts.

What is a Nut Hand or Nuts?

Nut hand is the strongest or best possible combination of cards in a poker game at any given time. An absolute nut hand, on the other hand, is a combination of hole and community cards that puts a player in an unbeatable position under any circumstance.

If the board has 6♦ 7♦ A♥ 10♦ 6♣, the player who holds 8♦ 9♦ has the absolute nut hand. The player knows this because his cards complete a straight flush, and there is no possible combination of hole and community cards that can beat a 9-high straight flush of diamonds in this table.

absolute nuts - straight flush
There is no possible hand combination that can beat you in this scenario. You have the absolute nut hand.

Although a nut hand is the strongest combination of cards in a table, it isn’t necessarily the same as the absolute nut. For example, in the same table, if one player holds 8♦ 9♥, he knows that he has the nut hand because it’s impossible for another player to complete a straight flush. The 9-high straight flush of diamonds remains the absolute nut for this table; it’s just not in play.

Ace-high flush, full house, or even quads doesn’t automatically mean absolute nuts, but it’s most likely a nut hand.

Another excellent example of an absolute nut hand is a royal flush in Texas Hold ’em. Unless the royal flush is the community cards, no two players can hold a royal flush at the same time! Therefore, a player who has this hand must display justifiable aggression.

Nuts may also refer to a hand in the flop or turn, making nut hands very vulnerable to changes as the game progresses.

Absolute nuts, on the other hand, remain the same throughout the game. It will always be the best possible combination under any circumstance.

What Does Checking the Nuts Mean?

Checking the nuts is when you have the nut hand or absolute nuts, and as the last player to act, your move is to check or flat-call your hand.

This move creates a huge controversy because a player can never be on the losing side while holding the nuts, so everyone is expecting that player to show justifiable aggression or create action. It’s the responsibility of the players to recognize nuts, and not capitalizing on it is the main ingredient for a boring poker game.

If a player bets, the nuts should raise; if everyone checks, the nuts should bet. Checking the nuts makes the game less entertaining. It’s like watching a home game where everyone is friendly and doesn’t have the intention of taking down other players. That’s the reason why it became a controversial and highly debated topic.

Can You Check the Nuts on the River?

checking the nuts on the river
In cash games, you are allowed to check the nuts on the river. But in televised tournaments, such move is considered illegal and you might sit out the whole blind rotation.

Checking the nuts on the river is acceptable. For real, yes. Not in tournaments, though. People who watch televised poker tournaments know that checking the nuts is an illegal move, and they refer to it when playing cash games. The truth is that checking the nuts on the river is a legal move in almost every cash game.

Before you start hating me, let’s find out why checking the nuts on the river is not allowed in tournaments.

Televised tournaments, enforce a rule that players can’t check the nuts on the river. Checking or flat-calling unbeatable hands incur a penalty that may vary from sitting out a hand or a full blind rotation at the tournament director’s discretion.

The implementation of this rule aims to prevent collusion with other players, which can significantly affect the outcome of the tournament. However, most cases of checking the nuts were due to oversight or failure to realize that they have an unbeatable hand.

Checking the nuts can give two or more players an unfair advantage because it can mislead or deceive other players. Theoretically, two or more players working with each other can increase their chances of winning the tournament, as long as they are not playing against each other.

Players who are conspiring with each other can use different strategies, including checking the nuts to gather more information about other players, or to stay in the game for as long as possible.

Exemptions to the Rule

In tournaments, one player checking the nuts on the river can significantly affect the outcome of the game. It affects even the players who are not in hand.

However, if the player who has the nuts is not the last to act, then there’s no reason to penalize the player.

Checking the nuts on the river when a player is first to act is a widespread practice that a lot of poker pros use. When players do this, they’re hoping for a check-raise. This strategy intends to create an impression of a weak card, and provoke other players to inflate the pot.

There’s no room for collusion when the player is in early position, and it’s only a matter of oversight or the intent to get a check-raise. Checking the nut on the river only becomes illegal when the player who has the nut is the last to act before a winner is determined.

Most cash games don’t implement the same rule for checking the nuts.

It barely affects anyone other than the player who has the nuts. The ambiguity and level of play in cash games create very little room for collusion. All forms of soft play, including checking the nuts on the river, is acceptable for most cash games.

Controversy in Checking the Nuts on the River

Collusion was the main reason for banning a player who checks the nuts on the river. However, there are other strategic reasons why someone would want to keep another player in the table. It could be to learn about the playing style of other players, which may be beneficial later in the game.

A lot of players feel that this rule takes away their freedom to strategize their game. Colluding players will always find a way to cooperate, and in this case, both of them can make minimum raises to keep them in play for as long as possible and gather as much data as they can. 

Conclusion

We don’t condone collusion, but sometimes checking the nuts on the river offers more benefits for the entirety of the game. Different players practice different playstyles, and taking out an integral part in their plan makes it harder for them to formulate a winning strategy.

Nevertheless, if you find yourself with the nuts in a tournament, it would be best to bet and apply proper aggression. You’ll end up winning a lot more and gain a better edge than if you were to flat-call or do nothing. 

Lastly, if you’re playing cash games, you don’t have to bother yourself about this rule. Even if a player checks the nuts on the river, it’ll barely affect other players, so there’s no reason to worry about it.

Primoz

I have played poker professionally for more than 10 years. I was a winner at every poker format that I played - from tournaments to cash games, both in NL Holdem and PLO. Now my biggest satisfaction is to provide enthusiastic but new poker players with answers to all of their questions.

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