You and a friend have reached the final table of a pretty big tournament.

Say you’re both in a hand, and you river the best possible hand (e.g. aces full).

Player A checks. Your friend checks.

You’re on the button, and you should bet, but you don’t want your friend to call and lose all their chips.

In this case, are you allowed to check the nuts?

What does “nuts” mean in poker?

In poker, nuts means the strongest possible hand.

If all community cards have already been dealt, and you have the nuts, then you cannot lose.

Unless you muck your hand by mistake, of course.

If you have the nuts on the flop (first three community cards), you could still lose.

Depending on your hand, you could flop the nuts in Omaha poker and still have a high chance of losing on the river.

In Texas Hold’em, not so much. But it’s still possible.

Two examples

You have the king and the eight of clubs. There are three clubs on the board, including the ace of clubs, which means your flush is the highest possible flush. Your opponent cannot have a full house or quads, as there is no pair on the board. Your opponent cannot have a straight flush either. You have the nuts.
You have a seven and a five. 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 is the best and only possible straight in this case. There are no pairs on the board, and it’s a rainbow (different suits). You have the nuts. Worst case scenario is you’ll split the pot if another player has a seven and a five as well.

Can you check the nuts on the river?

If you have the nuts on the river and you’re last to act, you cannot check.

That would be against the rules as it would be considered soft play (more on this later).

If you’re not last to act, then you can still check and hope any of your opponents bet, so you can raise.

But it doesn’t make any sense to check if you have an unbeatable hand and everyone else has checked already.

Even when it’s obvious that your opponents have very weak hands and will not call your bet, you should still bet.

Again, this is a rule, and you may get a penalty if you don’t follow it.

You may also get a penalty if your opponent bets and you just call rather than raise. It happened to Tim Reilly once.

Penalties for checking the nuts on the river

As a dealer, I’ve only seen players check the nuts on the river by mistake. They never did it on purpose.

For instance, I’ve seen a complete beginner check the absolute best hand on the river simply because they didn’t know what they were doing.

I’ve also seen players misread their hand and check back the nuts, or even throw their hand in the muck by mistake.

That being said, penalties do exist in poker and you may get one if you check back the best hand on the river.

For example, you may be asked to skip a round, or leave the table for a few minutes.

This is to prevent what’s called “soft play”.

Soft play in poker

In poker, the goal is to win as many chips as possible, regardless of who you’re playing against.

Now, if you’re playing at home with friends, just for fun, then you can pretty much do whatever you want.

For instance, you may have a very strong hand, but still check, because you don’t want your friend to lose all their chips too soon.

Or, you may decide to check it to the river when playing heads-up.

In a friendly home game, this is usually acceptable.

In an actual casino or poker room, however, soft play can have other implications and this is why it’s not allowed.

Soft play against one or more opponents influences the action of the whole table — at best.

At worst, it’s just plain cheating.

For example, two friends may reach the final table in a poker tournament and decide not to play aggressively against each other just to increase their chance of winning the top prizes.

Soft play isn’t usually easy to spot, but if someone has the strongest possible hand and checks back on the river, then it clearly is soft play and that’s why it’s not allowed.

Ironically, as explained, checking the nuts almost always happens by mistake. But to prevent soft play, you may get a penalty for doing so.