I am very much a beginner and usually play low stakes limit texas hold'em with my beginner friends. I try to play a tight and aggressive style, like is suggested for beginners, which works well against my friends who are almost all calling machines. I have one specific situation that I often find myself in. I am the big blind and I have a poor hand. Almost everybody calls, one or two people fold, and I check to see the flop. The flop doesn't improve my hand and I still have absolutely nothing. My calling machine friend who was small blind checks and now it's my turn. What almost always happens is I check, because I don't want to bluff and get called with no hand to play, and everybody else checks and it's a checking party until the showdown where my hand is still bad and one of my friends takes the modest pot with a low pair. My question is what should I do in this situation?
In my opinion, Jon's analysis is fairly good, but I think this is even a bit simpler than he's made it out to be.
You say your friends are calling machines. So, by definition, they're not going to fold to any bluffs. Whatever you bet, they're going to come right along for the ride. Therefore, by betting, all you're doing is increasing the size of the pot that you're — at best — going to win by sheer luck at showdown in a garbage vs. worse garbage situation. If you're going to end up at showdowns like that, you're basically just gambling, so you really want to keep the pots small, to limit the damage that bad luck can do to you.
If you're not betting to win the pot or to build the pot for value, the next thing to think about is folding, but that's obviously out of the question when you have the option of checking. So as Jon says, check and hope your hand improves on the next street.
Keep checking, maybe you will catch.
The problem here is unless you are head up against the small blind you are out of position. Generally speaking bluffs out of position are more prone to failure. You check the flop everyone checks behind you, great no one hit anything I should bluff. But the problems are many at this point that say nay to bluffing.
Many people check because they have weak kickers with their pairs, or they have a draw that they prefer to see cheap. These players will call. Players that turn a pair, even a small under pair will tend to call. Your bluff out of position is just not going to work often enough.
In position you have a lot more information and feel for what the other players have, and bluffs just work much better. This is not to say you should never make a bluff here. As you become more proficient at the game you will recognize the times you should bluff out of position.
If you start with a poor hand and still don't hit that is just a pot you don't want to mess with.
A bluff against call stations rarely works.
Bluff out of position against multiple players rarely works as someone probably hit the flop. And once you get one caller then pots odds get better so you will get calls from draws.
You are thinking right. You call them 'calling stations' therefore you should never bluff them but instead make full pot size bets when you have strong hands. And, yes, it is OK to give up on some hands (especially small pots) when you know you are beaten and they will keep you honest if you bluff. You are playing people not your hands in these situations.