Poker Essays

Fixed Limit Hold 'em Strategy - When to Check-Raise?
By May 2006

Poker is about more than just betting and calling with the best hand. If it were, it would be easy to master. Part of being a great poker player is understanding the variety of tactics available to you in your game. In Fixed Limit poker, one of your goals is to extract the most bets from your opponent when you have the best hand. Another of your goals of course is to win the pot. One tactic that can help you with both of these is the check-raise.

Check-raising, also called 'sandbagging', is a poker play where instead of betting one's hand, you check to an opponent whom you know will bet, and then raise him. In this way you either get two bets into the pot instead of the one you would have gotten by betting outright, or induce him to fold and give you his bet uncontested. A check-raise generally signals great strength, as you are trying to get extra poker chips in the pot when your opponent has already indicated that he has a good hand. In the early days of poker, some players felt that sandbagging was somehow dishonest, 'dirty' poker. In this day and age, most players understand that it is simply a part of the game. If someone gets angry at you for check-raising, poker is really not for them. (Note: This assumes you are playing at a casino or a home game where the goal is to win, rather than to make friends. If you are playing with friends or family for fun you are of course free to make whatever rules you like, however the reality is that a check-raise is no more a 'dirty' play than a bluff.)

When are some good opportunities for a check-raise? For one thing, you generally should have a very strong hand. If you have a hand like A, 7 and the board is A, 6, 3, this is not a great time for a check-raise. You would much rather bet and see how your opponents react than induce a bet from an opponent who may have a stronger Ace and then put additional bets in. On the other hand, if you have Q, Q, or A, Q and the board is A, Q, 3, this might be a good time to check-raise, as you will probably get a bet from another Ace. If this board contains two of a suit and there was a pre-flop raise by someone close to you on your right, a check-raise is a good tactic here to thin the field. If it is checked around and the pre-flop raiser bets and you raise, it will be very difficult for flush and straight draws to call two bets to see the turn. If the pre-flop raiser is somewhere in the middle, many of those players will have already seen his flop bet by the time it gets back to you, at which time it will definitely be worth it for them to call your one additional bet when you raise.

If you flop a big hand and the board is not that threatening to you, you might want to flat call a pre-flop raiser and save your check-raise for the turn, when bets are doubled. If you check-raise on the flop, you will alert your opponents to the strength of your hand, and this may cost you bets on the more expensive streets. You would also like to check-raise in an early position. If there are only one or two players to act after you, you are better off betting out. Opponents may put you on a late position steal, plus if you check you are taking a greater risk that it will be checked around and everyone will get a free poker card. Finally, you can occasionally check-raise as a bluff. Because a check-raise is so often perceived as strength, you can take the pot away from another player by employing it. This is a good ploy to try if you know the bettor is an aggressive player who likes to bet when he senses weakness. Since it costs only one bet for him to call your check-raise, this play may require for you to put in another bet on the turn to get rid of him. Far from being "dirty" poker, the check-raise is a necessary tactic for you to maximize your poker success. It behooves you to learn to use it effectively.

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