Check-raising is an important weapon in any poker player’s arsenal and one that isn’t that evidently needed. Therefore if you play small stakes you can identify a more experienced player if you see them make this move.
The idea is you check to your opponent out of position who bets, then you re-raise them. Generally speaking, this indicates a very strong range since you’re reacting to aggression with even more aggression; also, you’re making the pot a lot bigger out of position which also suggests you have something big in your hands.
However, evidently you can’t do anything with just the very top of your range – in that case you’d tell competent opponents exactly what type of hand you have. It’s important to mix in bluffs into your check-raising range: these should be flush draws, open-ended straight draws or draws with a marginal made hand (for example QT on JT8 flop). Please note that if you have an open-ended straight draw or a flush draw you still should be satisfied with winning a sizable pot by making your opponent fold – you’re going to make your flush and straight both about 1 in 5 times (with the flush draw having slightly better chances since it has one more out), so the majority of the time you’re going to miss; and even if you do make your hand it’s no guarantee your opponent’s going to pay you off when the obvious draw comes in. Therefore bluffing with your good draws is a good play.
This doesn’t mean you should check-raise with every draw you have. You should definitely check-raise for value more often than check-raise as a bluff. It just means that if you choose to try to check-raise bluff your opponent those are the hands that are good candidates to do it with. When deciding whether or not to make this move as a bluff it’s importing to consider a few factors.
- Your opponent’s betting frequency – if your opponent’s betting a lot that means their betting range is a lot wider, therefore there are a lot more hands in there that they’re going to fold out to a check-raise.
- How your opponent’s range connects with the board. If it the board is way more favorable to the other player’s range (for example they opened early and the cards come high) don’t ever try to make them fold by check-raising.
As we wrote earlier, as a rule of thumb, check-raising should be done with very strong holdings (and balanced out with some bluffs, as we just discussed). But what kind of strong hands should you check-raise for value?
Typically, hands like flopped sets on an unpaired board, flopped straights and flushes. If you do flop or turn a monster hand which is not susceptible to being outdrawn, and blocks a lot of your opponent’s stronger value range – for example full houses or even quads – we would advise you to refrain from check-raising since it gives your opponent a chance to make a big fold. In those scenarios, calling is preferable on the early streets – the river, however, is different. You can check-raise all your absolute premium holdings as well on the last street.
Remember, it’s important to have check-raising in your play – among other benefits it disincentivizes competent players from frequently c-betting you on the flop – but it should be done rarely. First, you can only make this move out of position and generally you want to play a lot more hands in position; also, if you overbluff players can exploit you by simply calling lighter or 4-betting; and lastly, if you use it for value too often you’re going to play big pots with marginal hands against strong ranges that bet then called a check-raise.
So be prepared to check-raise, but do it wisely.