Using Check Raises
Check raises are a move that many players perceive as incredibly deceptive. While there's little arguing that check raises do have their time and place, there are many players who misuse them over and over again. Each stage of a hand will usually tell something different about a check raise. A check raise on the flop isn't the same thing as on the river. The most common signal is strength, but bluffs aren't wildly rare either. In the end, a check raise is most often a sign of extreme strength or weakness, with few hands falling into the middle. It's most important that you understand how your opponents will view your check raise so that you can best implement them into your own game.
If the year was 2004, check raising would arguably be the best way to get max value out of a number of made hands. Today, however, the game has changed dramatically. Many players are able to pick up on the (not so) hidden value in a check raise, which has in turn deflated its effectiveness. Any move in poker is only going to be useful so long as you can manipulate and manage the way that your opponent will react to it. If you are making see-through check raises on a repeated basis, you shouldn't expect much of a return on your efforts.
Pre-Flop Check Raises
A pre-flop check raise is the most obvious of all check raises. Unlike plays post-flop, a check raise before the flop is almost guaranteed to be a big hand. Think about it, why would a player check raise pre-flop with anything other than a hand that they wanted extra value from? If they get re-raised, they would be forced to fold if they had a weak hand. A check raise with a big hand also expects a lot of calls at a higher price, because it's the least likely time for players to fold. This isn't to say that check raises with weak hands never happen, because they certainly do, but they aren't at all an advisable play.
If you are contemplating a check raise, you'll need to have the exact right situation in place. Ideally, a pre-flop check raise would take place in a game where players are aggressive but also incredibly loose. You'll need to all but bank on a raise from one of your opponents, because otherwise you'll be in a multi-way limped pot. In addition to this, you'll also need to be pretty sure that the other players will call a big raise. If all of these factors aren't in play, check raising pre-flop is a terrible idea. You need to ensure that your big hands are getting the value they demand during pre-flop action, and risking a limped pot is the best way to lose a lot of money and to put your big hands at risk of being out flopped.
One important thing to note beyond the obvious factors in pre-flop check raises is the simple fact that your hand will be extremely transparent. You may get some calls pre-flop, but you can bet that many of these players are going to immediately shut down if they brick the flop. One of the most glaring flaws with a pre-flop check raise is found in its inability to get three streets of value.
Flop Check Raises
Flop check raises are great because they serve multiple purposes. You can get away with value or bluffs when you check raise on the flop. Another dimension of flop check raises is the opportunity to make moves with big draws. These three different hand ranges make flop check raises the most versatile of all times to make a move.
If you are check raising the flop for value, you shouldn't expect to get a ton of big calls on the turn and river. Check raises tend to scare even the tightest of players, so this will make it difficult to attract any further action.
Check raises as bluffs work on the flop, but only against the right opponent. If you want to check raise with air, the turn will be the better time to do it. Of course, this will also entail more risk.
The most ideal time to check raise on the flop is when you have a big draw. When you check raise with these types of hands, you'll get calls that give you a chance to still make your hand, you'll get folds that take down the pot on the spot, and you may get raised giving you a chance to put the pressure on your opponent. Though a fold is the most desirable, there aren't too many bad outcomes when you make this play.
Turn Check Raises
Turn check raises are the scariest of all. They will let your opponent know that you probably aren't going anywhere, and that if they call they will need to be in it for the long haul. For this reason, bluff turn check raises work very well. This is the time in a hand where players will fold for fear of losing a monster pot. Though your risk is going to be much higher due to the increased amount of money at stake, you should also find the highest success rate in terms of the number of folds that you are able to force from your opponents.
Check raising on the turn for value is also a viable strategy and will allow you to get all of the money in once the river is dealt. The one drawback to this strategy is that you'll get a lot of folds, but this is balanced out by the times that you get calls. If you are facing a check raise on the turn, you should assume that it means you are up against a very strong hand as many players don't have the guts to bluff in this spot.
River Check Raises
River check raises are made almost exclusively for value. As backwards as it might seem, a lot less players will fold to a river check raise than will fold to a turn check raise. The line of thinking is that, if they have already put this much money into the pot, what is the point in folding now? Though this is usually a flawed approach, it's the very reason why check raises work so often.
If you are going to check raise the river in an attempt to stack your opponent, you should either be in a situation where it is the only way to get all of the money in the middle, or you should think that the other player is super weak. If you think your opponent has a big hand but is more likely to flat call your bet, over betting is not the best plan. They will feel committed to call if you check raise, and this is usually the only way to inflate the pot size enough to get all of the money.
If your opponent has nothing at all, they should be folding to most of your river bets. If they are aggressive, they will bet when you check to them on the river in a last ditch effort to take down the pot. This will allow you to add a little bit extra to your stack that you otherwise would not have. When on the opposite end of the stick, safely assume that a river check raise is a donation of your money if you choose to call (without a super strong hand). Only players near the highest levels of the game will ever attempt river check raises as bluffs.
Author: Jonathan Wanchalk
Updated: March 2015
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