The check raise is often considered a deceptive line, because we take a passive action followed by an aggressive action. It should be a standard part of a poker player’s strategy however. It makes us tougher to play against
and can frequently be more profitable than being the initial aggressor because it causes our opponent to invest additional money first, perhaps overextending himself.
Effect of Initiative
Assuming a player is the initial preflop aggressor, it’s often very rare to see him check-raise. This is because it is reasonably standard for him to simply cbet assuming he wants to continue with the hand.
Check-raising without initiative may come more naturally to us, but good players are going to make use of both strategies in their game.
Playing as the cold-caller
Assuming we call out of position against a preflop open-raise it is correct to have a check-raising range
against our opponents cbet. In the majority of cases we should actually be check-raise bluffing more than we check raise for value. It is expected that a good 6-max regular will have around a 15% raise-vs-flop-cbet.
A common mistake is to assume that we should only be check-raising flops against late position open-raisers.
Many players will never check/raise bluff a flop when the initial opener was in MP or UTG. This is not correct in theory because presumably we are going to be check/raising our sets for value. It’s true that the opener starts out with a stronger range, but we also as the cold-caller have a strong range, and can represent sets quite easily with a check-raise.
The main difference that will occur in terms of check-raising flops against a late-position open as opposed to an early position open is simply the type of hands that we will select. When we cold-call from the blinds against an EP open we will often have a PP and broadway heavy range. Naturally our sets go in our check-raise for value range and the unimproved pocket pairs go into our calling or folding range. Usually this means we will be selecting our check-raise bluff range specifically from the hands which have overcards and a backdoor flush.
A common misconception is that when UTG opens and one of the blinds calls, that UTG has a range advantage on most flops. This is not the case. Cold-calling ranges are usually noticeably tighter than opening ranges,
and the equity
distribution on many flops is going to be around 50/50 if not slightly in the cold-callers favour.
When cold-calling against a late-position open our range will be wider, and we have a whole number of different types of draw that we can consider check-raising.
One of the important skills we will need to develop is establishing whether a certain hand is a defend OOP when facing a cbet from our opponent. There are a number of factors to take into consideration such as our opponent’s cbetting range
and the sizing he uses. There should typically be a relationship between our opponent’s cbet sizing and the range we defend. The larger he makes it, the tighter we defend.
The exact type of holdings we choose to defend are going to depend heavily on the board texture
so it is not possible to create an exhaustive list here. As a rough guide anything that can…..
- Make the nuts by the river
- Has both 3-cards to a flush and 3-cards to a straight
is worthy of our consideration for a defend. To be more specific regarding our exact defending range on a various board texture it’s recommended we make use of equity calculation software such as power equilab.Once we have established a certain hand is in our defending range we still need to make a differentiation between check/calling and check/raising. The rough guideline to follow is this....
- If our draw/backdoor-draw can make the nuts by the river then consider check-raising. If we are drawing to something dominated, consider check/calling instead and looking to bluff on a later street. The exception is bone-dry board textures where it is acceptable for us to defend our entire range by check/calling, barring any specific reads.
So assuming we decide to check-raise, what kind of sizing should we use?
Check-raising the flop is a little bit like 3betting preflop.
We usually bet around 3 times the size of our opponent's cbet. Assuming we get check-raised and are interested in 3betting the flop, it’s a little bit like 4-betting preflop; we usually make it just over a min-raise. Any deviations from these sizings can often indicate that we are playing against a weaker opponent.
Many players shy away from check/raising the flop as a bluff, because the feeling of having to check/fold the turn ultra frequently feels all too familiar.
There are a couple of things to keep in mind....
- It’s correct for us to check/fold some hands at least, we can’t be barreling everything.
- Sometimes the turn problems are caused by a misunderstanding regarding flop play. If we are playing the flop correctly we should have some relatively strong draws in our flop check/raising range which can fire any turn regardless of the card. Examples would include nut-flush-draws, or oesds. See the PokerVIP.com training video How To Check Raise Flops for more information on this topic.
Assuming we check/raise the flop and get called, we should typically be barrelling the following as a semi-bluff.
- Nut-flush-draws (including turned nut-flush-draws. Remember that non-nut-draws will not be raising the flop in most cases).
- Oesds. (Remember that FDs and OESDs are strong enough to barrel on almost all turn cards, regardless of whether the board pairs or a flush-draw completes.)
- Nut gutshots with at least one over. (Gutshots weaker than this can go into our turn check/folding range).
Note that this is actually pretty simple.
In most games there is no need to barrel turn cards for contrived or complicated reasons. “This is a scare card”, or “my perceived range is strong”, or “this turn card connects with my range harder than his”. If you’ve ever said any of the following when deciding to barrel the turn then you are probably levelling yourself or making it harder than it needs to be.
10 points for sounding intelligent though.
Check-Raising with Initiative
The idea here is that we make use of a tricky play which helps us to defend our checking range.
The majority of players will be check/folding way too frequently after they skip their cbet OOP. This is because any time they have a hand they would like to continue with they put it into their cbetting ange. So skipping cbet OOP as the PFR is like holding up a white flag that says “you can bet, I’m definitely folding”.
This is naturally quite exploitable, and the theoretically correct way to defend against this is to make sure that we are actually checking some hands that we intend to continue with. So while something like a back-door nut draw, or a nut flush-draw is a great hand to cbet with, we should occasionally be checking for deception and going for a check-raise. A good regular in a low-limit game will be stabbing extremely frequently when we skip our cbet OOP and is actually very vulnerable to facing a check-raise. In many cases this is a lot better than cbetting because...
- Our opponent continues with a well constructed range assuming we cbet, but fires too frequently if we check.
- Our opponent puts additional chips in to the pot which we can win assuming we check.
Notice that the biggest problem here is not necessarily that our checking range is under-defended if we cbet our entire continuing range. A far larger problem is that we are routinely missing out on an exploitative opportunity to win additional chips.
It's useful at this stage to check our stats for Skip flop cbet and check-raise + Skip flop cbet and check-call.
If either of these stats are super low then we are missing out on good exploitative opportunities in the majority of cases.
It's not uncommon to see a player with a Skip flop cbet and check-raise stat of 2 or 3% (it should be 15%). Skip flop cbet and check-call should be 35% but is often considerably lower.
Putting it Together
Naturally this is not even close to an exhaustive guide, and instead really just constitutes general guidelines for check-raising. If we truly want to master check-raising it is necessary to break the situation down into all the possible scenarios where we have the opportunity to check-raise. There are many different variables to be factored in such as -
- Our opponent's tendencies
- The effective stacks
- Our position
- Our opponents position
- Whether we have initiative
- The size of our opponents bet
Given there are so many variables, it's rare we will be able to know exactly when we should check raise in our poker strategy – but it's something that will improve with time and deliberate practice.