Check Raising in Live Poker
Check raising is one of the most basic moves in all of poker. You can check raise for value, as a bluff, and even some hands in between. In live play, a check raise carries a lot more weight than it does online. You aren't going to encounter nearly as many bluff check raises and you are going to be forced to implement and use them in different ways.
The types of opponents that you'll typically face in a live environment just don't cater towards profitability with this move unless your goal is to extract value. There are many different ways that you can both use check raises yourself and read into what this play might mean from others. The premise of this article is twofold in that it aims to explore both sides of the fence in an effort to best analyze the play as a whole.
As a player, you are probably most used to check raising when you have a big hand. Since you are trying to get paid off as best as possible, this move is efficient since it's able to quickly build pots. The real trouble with check raising in live play is usually found when it's done by your opponents. Even though you know that a check raise usually means strength, it can be very easy to trick yourself into thinking that a player is bluffing or making a move.
The reason for this train of thought is simple: the pot is now more substantial and I now want to win it more than ever before. If you allow yourself to get caught up in this type of thinking, it won't be long before you are paying off big value check raises and getting burned. How you pick apart a check raise will determine how successful you are in playing against them.
Your Check Raises
How and when you make check raises is totally up to you. While you'll be forced to react and adjust based on what other players are doing when they make this move, you don't need to put yourself in this spot unless you want. You should understand that, at least in live poker, a check raise should be used as an instrument for extracting value more than anything else. There may be some rare situations where it could have some use as a bluff, but they are going to be quite infrequent.
Pre-flop is the absolute worst time to check raise unless you are playing against very incompetent players who are dying for action. In just about any other circumstance, a pre-flop check raise is going to be very obvious as an attempt to build a pot. Why would you check raise pre-flop with a decent hand or a bad hand? It doesn't make sense with a decent hand and it's wasting money with a bad hand. Your plan should be to open and/or continue the action with big hands pre-flop, not to make the situation way more difficult than it needs to be.
Post-flop is when you'll be able to get a little bit more creative with your check raises. Again, however, you should be using this play to build big pots when you have a strong hand more than anything else. The first thing that you should remember is that players are much more likely to call a flop check raise than they are to call one on the turn.
The problem with a flop check raise is that you are going to get a lot of check backs on the turn (unless you lead out) and folds when you do decide to lead the turn. This is the reason why checking the turn tends to be more valuable if you are able to get to this stage. Of course, you need to analyze and look at each hand independently of the ones before and after. You might be able to play a set slower on a safe board than you would on one that was full of draws. These are the types of considerations that you'll need to keep in mind at all times.
The reason that check raises as bluffs don't work is very simple: live poker players tend to hate folding. You could be in the most optimal spot in the world for a check bluff raise, but if the other player won't fold king high, making a great play means very little. It cannot be emphasized enough that you should shy away from check raising for any reason other than value betting. Now, if you have found a particular opponent who you feel is outside of this demographic and is indeed capable of folding, it's a different story altogether, but just remember that these types of players are far and few between in live poker.
Opponent Check Raises
Just as you need to be aware of how to properly make a check raise yourself, you should also understand what a check raise is likely to mean from an opponent. As is the case with your own plays, a check raise from another player is most likely to mean a big hand. This is much truer in live poker than it is online. Players don't normally have the courage or even the skill required to make gutsy check raises in the majority of poker rooms, but of course they are often times justified because they fail all too often.
The worst thing that you can do when facing a check raise is to talk yourself into making what you know is a bad call. This is perhaps most prevalent among players who find themselves in a tough spot on the river. They have called the flop, called the turn, and now they bet the river only to be check raised. Yes, they know that they are likely behind now, but so much money has already been invested. At a certain point it's better to cut your losses than it is to chase after a slim chance at winning. Sometimes it will still be correct to call a check raise even if you are likely beat, but the odds need to be in place. Don't call a bet out of pure desperation.
The easiest way to look at check raises is to consider what your opponent likely wants. If a player check raises on the river, they should know that there's a good chance of you calling. With that in mind, they probably aren't bluffing. By contrast, most players know that flop and even turn check raises are prone to forcing folds. Knowing this, there's an increased chance that this player is weak. While piecing a story together is imperative, you still need to be sure that you have a very solid read before you call a check raise down. Unless you have a super strong hand, you are going to be beat more often than not.
Author: Jonathan Wanchalk
Updated: March 2015
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