Poker Essays

Check Raising in No-Limit Holdem Cash Games

From Card Academy May 2007

Check-raising can be a powerful tactic in poker if used properly. However it should only ever be used sparingly in limited circumstances. There is usually not too much in No-Limit Holdem that check-raising can accomplish where betting out will fail. It is usually beneficial to bet out, because it gives you more options to win the pot and gives you more information on the other players involved in the hand if they do happen to call or raise you. However, this article will discuss the different strategic benefits of check-raising in a number of different situations.

The definition of a check-raise is when you deliberately check in the hope of a player in later position betting. You may then raise this bet in the hope of accomplishing a number of different objectives.

You've made the absolute nuts
So you've made a hand on the flop that has made your eyes pop out. I mean really hit the flop hard. This doesn't mean you've hit a straight, or a small flush, but I'm talking about flopping the nut full house with KK on a K 2 2 board.

It's dangerous to attempt a check-raise with a flopped straight, or small flush, because your hand cannot improve any further and risking giving someone a free card to improve on you is foolish.

With a strong made hand like the full house, it is often futile to bet, because it is highly unlikely that anyone else has a hand to call you with. In this particular case, you have the luxury of not caring whether anyone bets or not, because you are quite happy to see the turn card, hoping that someone may improve.

If someone does bet, then you have the opportunity to either check-raise, or flat call the bet and perhaps attempt a check-raise on the turn, if you are fairly certain he will bet again. Many better players will be wary of your flat call however, which exhibits quite a lot of strength and a check-raise on the flop may be more likely to pocket you more money, because they will query your move on the flop. Check-raising on the flop may seem like you are trying to protect your hand to them, and hence if they are holding a strong king, they may call you off on the turn and river, believing they may be good.

However, a smooth call on the flop will more than likely prompt a check from them after you check again on the turn. Now you will have lost an opportunity of winning your check-raise bet on the flop, plus your bet on the turn. So when you decide to slow play your monster hand, be careful not to make it look too suspect, because a good player can easily sense that something is amiss.

Attacking a continuation bet
Many players will always fire off a continuation bet, regardless of the flop. The type of player that likes to put in this bet most of the time needs to be targeted and check-raising them is the best stance to take. In this case you are check-raising your opponent because you do not think that he will fold if you simply bet out.

Your objective here is two-fold.

First of all, these are easy pots to take off the aggressive player, because you know that they have more than likely missed the flop and will not show much resistance. On occasion however, they will push back, but in this case, you were merely making a play and folding should not be too painful.

For example, you limp in middle position with a pair of sevens. An aggressive opponent puts in a modest raise from the button. You call and the flop comes T 6 2 rainbow. While there is an overcard on the flop, you cannot be too confident of your hand being the best. However, because you know your opponent will bet nearly every time, then the likelihood that he has a ten is significantly lower regardless of whether he bets or not.

Now if you bet into him here, there may be a chance he will fold anyway. But a more aggressive player will question the play, "why would he bet into me, when he knows I will bet anyway?" Quite often you get raised in this situation, even if the raiser is only holding two overcards to the flop. However, you have no other real option but to fold, because you really can't be sure now whether he is making a play at you, or is actually holding a hand.

If you check-raise instead of betting out, you have now put them into a difficult position. They will be far less willing to re-raise your check-raise, because that would be risking far too many chips with just overcards. Plus they will be afraid that you have a genuine hand in any case, because most players would play a big hand this way against a player who always puts in a continuation bet on the flop. If you are called, or re-raised, then you can now be certain that you are beat. Be especially careful if you have been called, because the lure of trying to push them off their hand by betting on the turn is very appealing. However, the possibility that they are now slow playing a monster is extremely real.

The second objective is to try to keep the aggressive players honest. You can't give these players free reign to dominate the table by taking down every pot they take a lead into. By occasionally check-raising these players, you will eventually get them to slow down with their continuation bets. This will allow you more room to move in the future on this table.

Thinning the field
Check-raising is used habitually in Limit Holdem to thin the field, in other words to get people to fold. However, it is different in No-Limit Holdem, because you don't have restrictions on the amount you can bet. Therefore you can simply bet out a larger amount if you want to reduce the number of players left in the pot. There is an argument that a check-raise shows more strength and thus will force more people to throw away their marginal hands. However this is very situation specific and perhaps only useful if you have many loose players at your table that call on the flop too often.

After flopping a big draw on the flop, where you have 14 or 15 outs to win the pot, it is often useful to use a check-raise here to get yourself into a strong position to either win the pot there and then, or be happy to see the next two cards with all of your money in the pot, because you are generally slightly ahead in terms of odds. It is useful to check-raise because one, you are masking your hand if they call you and two, if you bet out and get called, any move that is made on you on the turn will probably get you to lay down your massive draw, because you no longer have two cards to make you hand.

If your check-raise is raised, then you are not scared about pushing in over the top of him either, showing incredible strength and forcing a tough decision on your opponent. Check-raising with weaker draws is not recommended unless you know you are up against a weaker player, who will become more passive after your show of strength, or if you are quite confident that your opponent will fold.

Why check-raising may be dangerous
Don't check-raise with marginal hands. Many players often check-raise with a fairly marginal hand after the flop. For example, after hitting something like top pair with a nine kicker.

Let's say you have called a small raise in middle position with T9 of spades and the board comes 9 3 2 rainbow. This is definitely not a good time to attempt a check-raise, because many things can go wrong. If you check to the raiser in this position and the raiser doesn't bet, then there aren't that many cards on the turn that you will be happy to see. Any card above a ten and you may have let the raiser get ahead of you for free. Any four, five or six and someone may have made a fortunate straight.

The fact is, you have also gained no additional information from action on the flop. The turn card will more often than not spell danger for you and it will be much tougher to bet now, because you are still taking a stab in the dark, but with less likelihood of taking it down.

If someone does bet and you do happen to check-raise them, you have opened yourself up to being re-raised, with only a marginal hand. If they call, then you can nearly be certain you are beat unless you hit a nine or ten on the turn. So unless you are certain that they will muck their hand, don't try it. Note that if you are certain they will muck, you can do so with any hand, so there is no point in waiting till you have made a marginal hand to do so.

Betting out with a marginal hand is generally favoured, because you should be happy if they fold and if they call you, you can reassess the hand to see if they are perhaps on a draw. If you happen to get raised and you feel you are behind, you have only invested a small bet and can fold without too much regret.

From this example, we can outline a number of things to look out for before you choose to check-raise.

Be certain that your opponent will bet
You cannot effect the second component of a check-raise if your opponent does not choose to bet! Not only may you have missed an opportunity to get a bet out of the players still involved in the hand, but you have now also given everyone a free card. This is exactly what you didn't want to happen in hoping to check-raise and the whole strategy has blown up in your face. What is even more significant is if the free card improves your opponent to the point that they now have a stronger hand than you. And the worst result is if this player would have folded on the flop had you bet!

For example you have KK on a flop of Q 7 2 and you were hoping to trap someone with AQ or KQ. Checks all around and the turn is a 9, which looks innocent enough. Letting a player with 99 make his set and possibly take all your money is a cardinal sin, because they would have most probably folded on the flop had you bet out. Can your hand stand up to 3 bets? When check-raising for value, we said how important it was for your hand to be very strong. Because you are raising someone, you are also giving them the opportunity to raise again after you. Therefore, unless you have an extremely strong hand, you will be forced to fold if they do so. So be careful, if you wish to trap someone and your objective is not for them to fold, because you think you have the best hand, make sure you are willing to call that extra re-raise.

Minimizing risk of non-betting
I have suggested that you be certain that your opponent is going to bet before you check-raise. Of course is it never a certainty whether they will decide to check or to bet. However, you can be more assured of them betting if you take into consideration a number of things.

The players you target should be aggressive players that generally play more hands and bet more often. Obvious targets are players who love to put in continuation bets.

The number of players yet to act also has a bearing. If you have five or six players yet to act after you, then there is a pretty hefty chance that someone will bet with a marginal hand, or even try and steal the pot.

Card Academy

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