When to Check Raise

The check raise is one of the most misunderstood plays in poker. Weak players despise it, regulars fear it, but sharks embrace it! If you play enough poker you will find some players will absolutely lose their minds if they continuously get check raised. There is something especially frustrating about putting chips in the pot and then watching your opponent snatch them from you repeatedly. Weaker opponents will tend to snap in rather dramatic fashion, and sometimes you can even get a good player to lose their cool. We’ve talked about check-raising before when Cinch wrote about it, but I thought I would throw my 2 cents in :). Btw, it seems my latest article on PokerStars VIP Changes has really struck a cord because players are super pissed at them. I am really curious to see what comes of all this.

5 Types of Hands to Check Raise

1) The Nuts: this should be fairly obvious, but it is amazing how frequently poor players don’t raise for value when they have a monster. Obviously, we can envision scenarios where it doesn’t make sense to raise for value. However, the default play with a monster should be a raise or check-raise if your opponent bets.

2) Draws. Check raising draws its tricky. You should NOT be check raising draws automatically, and there are many situations where it won’t make sense to raise draws. Generally, the weaker your opponents range is the more you should be check-raising with your draw. This is because you are at an equity disadvantage versus your opponent and want fold equity. Draws create an opportunity for us to be aggressive, and still do fine even if we are called. When running into the stronger part of our opponents range aggression allows us to get paid off on later streets. Check-raising draws only becomes highly unprofitable against opponents who are willing to re-raise you.

3) Air. Most commonly, we will want to consider check raising or raising with air in the blinds where ranges are at their widest. Against opponents who steal a great deal against us from the button and small blind it may be necessary to check raise / raise a certain amount of flops with total air (to maintain our minimum necessary defense frequencies). If possible it is advisable to do with this with overcards and some equity at a minimum. Never raise with air because “it is the only way I can win”. Air check raises should only be done with caution at all times.

4) Bottom Pair. Yep, sounds a bit crazy, but it is true. Bottom pair is just one of those hands that doesn’t play very well out of position. Why? Because your hand is too strong to simply fold, but not strong enough to play passively and head toward showdown. The check raise (while a bit tricky) can be the best way to realize the equity of your hand. I think check raising bottom pair definitely has its place in a well rounded game.

5) Draw Heavy Boards. These are often great boards to check raise for value if you have a strong or medium strong hand. Many players will attempt to steal pots with outs. However, if you check raise Villains powerfully it can cost your opponent a lot of equity.

The Value of the Check Raise 

Without the existence of the check raise option, it would be difficult to build a significant pot and extract serious value. Check raising allows a player to bloat the poat rapidly in just a couple of streets. Ex. It is easy to go from a pot of $15 on the flop, to $65 on the turn, with a simple 2/3rds pot sized bet followed by a pot sized check raise. This allows tight aggressive players to extract tremendous equity versus weak opponents when they have a large edge. Against better players it can also serve as a powerful deterrent to the Villain continuation betting a wide range of hands. Without an appropriate check raise strategy it is easy for your opponents simply printing money against you by raising and c-betting. The check raise is not only for offense, it also provides a strong defense against aggressive players.

Check Raising Mistakes

1) I always smile when I see opponents check raising some hand that makes no sense at all. Ex. if you have a medium strength hand it is generally a bad idea to be check raising. Why? Because you are neither check raising for value (since you will push away the weaker part of his range and only value yourself against the stronger part), and you aren’t check raising as a bluff either because mid pair is normally the best hand on any given flop HU. I literally think some of these players think something along the lines of, “I should be check raising more hands, mid-pair seems like a decent flop for me, I guess I should check raise.” If that is the extent of your thinking when it comes to poker then you are going to be in for a lot of rough sessions.

2) Many good players over fold to check raises because they fear getting large amounts of equity in behind, and they default toward a cbet overly wide and then fold in the face of aggression strategy. This one and done aggression strategy works very well at micro and perhaps even low stakes, but really starts to fail you at higher games. Vs the one and done players it is easy to simple float them and/or raise them on flops and steal money. Sophisticated players will play more balanced ranges.

How To Size The Check Raise

There are two main player types to check raising against.

1) Check Raising Against Weak Players. I advise upping the size of your value check raises to 1.5x, 2x, or 3x-5x the pot in certain situations. Most of the time you should avoid check raising air and bottom pair hands versus weak opponents where your fold equity is minimal. Some mediocre top pair hands and even midpair top kicker hands can become great to check raise for value with. These would fall in the medium strength bucket versus a better opponent. It can also be a bad idea to check raise mediocre draws if you are not creating fold equity. In these situations it makes sense to keep check raises for more premium draws where building a large pot is desirable.

2) Check Raising Against Regulars. You should have a more balanced approach to your check raising. The sizing of your check raises should be relatively consistent so you are not giving away bet size tells. Generally, other regulars won’t allow you to abuse the check raise against them. If you appear overly active or have been using it frequently against them they are likely to show up with some interesting calls. Make sure that your frequencies are not getting out of line with the air, bottom pair, and draw hands. It is important to have solid mix of the nuts in there as well to keep them honest :).

Now I am going to throw a shameless plug at the bottom of this article :). If you don’t already have my book Exploitive No Limit Holdem get it directly from me for a discount today.

Paul's book cover final












ThePokerCapitailst (No nonsense, no ads, straight talk on poker)

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