The check-raise is one of the most popular deceptive moves in the poker play book. It owes its notoriety to its easy execution and effective outcome. The way it works is simple: you check early in a round of betting in hopes someone else will open and then, if and when this happens, you raise once the betting round comes back around to you. The intended result? You’ve squeezed some money into the pot and managed to push your opponent out.
The Check-Raise: How Popularity Can Breed Insipidity
The check raise is a fairly easy poker ploy, so it is often over and misused. Consider this: when you strip this move of its name, you are basically left with the very definition of trapping. You lead your opponent to believe one thing (i.e. that you have nothing, hence the check) and then you come down heavy with an ACME anvil-sized bet on their butt (i.e. the raise). As you can imagine, this sort of move could be seen as deceitful (and it is - but so are most poker plays) and tacky (some casinos and cardrooms ban it entirely based on its nefarious ‘merits’).
As we said, however, a great many poker plays rely on trapping and by-the-book ‘dishonesty’, including broader strategies like bluffing and semi-bluffing, to more specific plays like double barrelling, c-betting, floating, slow playing, 3-betting, the squeeze play and blind stealing. They are ALL, essentially, forms of trapping. Still, none of these strategies actually constitute cheating, so they fly at the tables. Poker is, after all, a game of subtle manipulation and you need to learn how to manipulate as well as recognize manipulation if you want to win. It’s a delicate balance.
Like all poker strategies, the check-raise has to be employed tactfully and wisely if you want to see it pan out. You'll need:
Hallelujah! Finally, a poker strategy where it can pay to act first. For fairly evident reasons, you are going to want to be the first person to make a move if you want to guarantee you can check. Anything less than earliest position means you are at the mercy of the people acting in front of you - and you don't want to put your fate in the hands of your competition if you want to guarantee this play. (Though, of course, you may be able to check-raise from an early-ish position, granted none of the people who are acting before you have the same idea.)
In a similar fashion to all kinds of bluffing, the check-raise works best against a single opponent. Too many opponents mean too many variables - and you can only account for so much in the relatively quick time it takes to decide to execute a play.
A Clear Read
You're also going to want to have a pretty solid read on your opponent's hand. If you have an opponent who's holding the nuts, there's very little chance you're going to get him to fold. You want to be fairly certain your opponent will back down.
You can usually get a feel for your opponent's hand by simply paying attention to the way he’s played earlier rounds. If you’ve noted that your opponent often bets with a lousy hand (or no hand) after the action has been checked to him, then you stand a much better chance of pulling off the check-raise.
A Strong Bet
When it comes to the check-raise, a smaller pot is better. We know you want to milk the situation for all it’s worth, but a bigger pot means you are giving your opponent better pot odds. If the pot is on the smaller side, however, the amount your opponent is going to have to front (i.e. call) to see the subsequent card will be relatively large, which means they’ll be confronted with unattractive odds in the event they want to play on.
Yes, you are bluffing, but the check-raise is more of a semi-bluff. You shouldn't be making a bet with no hope. For the check-raise to work ideally, make sure you have a drawing hand that stands a decent chance of improving. After all, your opponent may not fold to your bet so the makings of draw will help protect your bankroll in case you're called. If this happens and you have no hand whatsoever, you've just put a dent in your chip stack. If you have an attractive drawing hand, however, you’ll stand the chance of taking the whole, hefty pot.
BONUS: You are also more likely to score a free card if you check-raise on the flop. This is because the competition will be far less confident betting into you in subsequent rounds and you will have more chances to draw to completion.
While most players will implement their check-raise on the flop, the move is not confined to this street. In the event there is no betting on the flop, you can employ this move on the turn with an equal degree to success. You’ll still have all the money in pot from the pre-flop betting and you can raise a bet made on the turn.
Go with the flow...
When it comes to executing poker plays, 99.9% of the time you won't be going into a hand with the intention of employing any strategy in particular. The check-raise is certainly no exception. The opportunity to make a move will simply present itself to you and you have to be astute and savvy enough to recognize it and then hammer it home. Practice makes perfect, so hit the tables!