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
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.
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