If Bluffing is the Cadillac of poker moves, then the check-raise is the Aston Martin. Classier, more of a classic and guaranteed to get you places quicker than its flashier friend. Check-raising in poker often looks stronger than Rocky Balboa in the 12th round. But when is it best to use this famous poker move and, perhaps more importantly, why?
Play the Player
One of the best reasons to check-raise is because you have a read on the player or players you are up against. The reason check-raise is such a feared poker move is because at its very heart is deception. It is used out of position, making it a far less common move than others post-flop, too. This breeds fear in opponents like nothing else in the game and for good reason. If you are out of position, check to your opponent(s) and then raise the bet you’re faced with, the immediate implication is that you saw their move coming and were always prepared to move over the top of it. Unless your opponent has the nuts, this is likely to give them pause no matter their hand-strength.
Show Hand Strength
The check-raise may be feared, but unlike the all-in move (a move that is used far more in general gameplay) it does not risk all of your chips all of the time. The very fact that such a strong move is not an all-in can cause suspicion to germinate in your opponent’s mind. This can be a hindrance if you’re making a check-raise for value, as often it can scare off an opponent with a decent draw, like for example a flush draw on the flop. If they make a bet to build the pot and then are faced with a chunky check-raise from you, they may believe you have an absolute monster hand or a better flush draw than them and get out of the way. Be mindful of who you’re making the move against, and tailor your action accordingly. However, the advantage of the check-raise is that it can win you a lot of pots without showdown and post-flop should frighten off top pairs with weak kickers or middle pairs with combo draws. It can be crucial at building your own table image, too, and for that reason alone is worth adopting into your repertoire.
Pre-flop, the check-raise is seldom used. But while a ‘squeeze’ is designed to scare off two (or more) players and take down the pot, a check-raise can be a more effective way of isolating a particular player you believe to have a fairly wide calling range, while pushing a player that recognizes strength out of the way. Taking on an opponent out of position is tricky business, but establishing control of the betting action by using such a strong move as check-raising pre-flop can give you the edge at taking on loose opponents. Be wary of the fact that to win these kind of pots, you may well be going to showdown more and this means revealing the hand that you check-raised with to opponents such as the one you forced off the pot pre-flop. This may induce more four-bets in the future, but being aware of this can give you a further edge in anticipating how opponents will play back at you given the opportunity. Isolating in itself is a highly dominant poker move.
One of the most common reasons we do anything at a poker table is to get our opponent to fold. We don’t have to show our cards and we win chips. It’s the ideal poker play-out. If you have a weaker hand against an opponent you believe you can push off the pot, then the check-raise is a weapon which, if stored up like arrows in your quiver, can be devastating. Declaring this entirely false show of strength with your check-raise will get plenty of opponents to fold, but the check-raise bluff is also useful if you’re protecting a strong hand. If you have a good hand that is vulnerable to draws on turn or river, then check-raising against a player who may be feathering the nest for a river raid is a good idea. Should you make your check-raise move on the flop, you will need to think very carefully about what to do on the turn should your opponent follow you that far. Are they super-strong and bleeding you for value themselves by leading you into another check-raise? Or would they be too afraid to call a second similar move on 4th street because of what they may mean for them on the river? Use your judgement to build a picture of your opponent in other hands before you take them on.
Build the Pot
Finally, one of the best reasons to make a check-raise can be to build the pot yourself. While c-betting flush draws or hands that may turn into a straight with two over-cards is sensible and can be done from a leading position, there’s nothing to say that you can’t build the pot by check-raising against opponents you actually hope will call to plump up your eventual pay-off. Of course, many of the player types who will do this may be chasing draws too, so you must be mindful of your hand’s strength compared to your opponent’s holding. But if you think you’ll get a bet by checking, place your hand above others at the table due to the range you put your opponents on and have a strong hand yourself, then why not make the move? Should you flop a small set or nut flush draw, depending on what you put your opponent on, you can use their potential opinion that they’re trapping you to build a big pay-off on the river.
The check-raise is a fun move to make, whether you’re at a live table or crushing online. It builds image, wins pots and often without showdown. But the most prevalent thought when considering whether to check-raise should always be the reason you’re doing it for, and what you think will be the result of making the action. Take notes online on what you think will happen each time you make a check-raise if you’re new to the move and consult those notes after a session – it’ll help you adjust to the perfect balance of when to rev your engines and put your foot down!