There are a handful of special moves that, when mastered, can make the difference between winning a little, and winning a lot.
In this ten-part beginner poker strategy series we’re going to show you exactly how to use these powerful poker moves to make more money.
Today we’re talking about the check-raise, a move that’s one of the most basic yet powerful tactics you can add to your poker arsenal. By checking and raising your opponent’s bet you can use his position against him to get more money into the pot when you’re holding the nuts, and make him throw away the best hand when you’re bluffing.
The check-raise is a technique you should be using in every poker session, but it’s extremely important to understand the move and how to use it so it doesn’t become a serious leak.
The What: A check-raise in poker consists of checking when the action's on you, and raising after a player behind you has bet. The check-raise is a trapping move.
The Why: Check-raising can be done for two reasons. Either you are check-raising for value, to get more money into the pot when you think you have the best hand, or check-raising as a bluff, to make your opponent throw away the best hand.
Check-raising must be used with caution if you play Negreanu's small-ball style.
The When: The check-raise is an essential Texas Hold’em move that is right at home in any poker game on the planet. It’s equally effective in cash games, tournaments and sit and gos.
The Where: Since you must check in order to check-raise, this move only works when you’re out of position.
Check-Raising Done Right
Since this is a beginner poker strategy series, moves like the check-raise must be handled with care.
While the check-raise is definitely an essential move and deserves a spot in every poker player’s toolbox, if you start firing off check-raises willy nilly it’s only going to get you into trouble.
The first thing you need to know when check-raising is why you’re doing it. Poker is a game of planning and the check-raise is a prime example. Unless you know what you’re trying to accomplish by check-raising you’ll just be burning money.
Check-raising is done in two main ways. Either you’re holding what you think is the best hand and you check-raise for value, to get more money into the pot, or you think your opponent has the best hand and you’re check-raising as a bluff to make your opponent fold.
Check-raising also serves to balance your checking range, meaning that by raising some of the times when you check, your opponent won’t automatically know you have a weak hand when you check to them.
Check-Raising for Value
As a beginner the vast majority of the times you check-raise should be for value.
When you think you have the best hand you need to get as many chips into the pot as possible. The better your hand, the more comfortable you should be putting all your chips at risk.
Check-raising for value gives you another way to entice your opponent into putting money into the pot.
By checking and signaling weakness your opponent will bet a wider range of hands, trying to use position to win the pot with weak holdings.
Check-raising will make your strategy less predictable against talented, thinking players.
By check-raising, you can either force your opponent into making a mistake by calling with the worst hand, or you can induce and all-in shove from drawing hands and second-best made hands.
Here are a few key points to keep in mind when check-raising for value:
- You must be first to act.
- Your opponent must be aggressive enough that he will bet with a wide variety of hands when checked to.
- Check-raising with a monster for value can be especially effective in multi-way pots.
But remember, check-raising is a powerful move and can force your opponent into laying down even moderately strong hands. So if you hold the nuts, be cautious of overplaying your hand and forcing your opponent into folding before putting all his money in the pot.
Check-Raising as a Bluff or Semi-Bluff
Because check-raising is such a powerful poker move it should come as no surprise that it’s one of the most effective bluffing tactics out there.
By taking advantage of a few common Hold’em situations, you can use the check-raise to knock players off pots regardless of the cards you’re holding.
The most common situation where the check-raise can be used as a bluff is in a heads-up pot when you’ve called out of position. Because even most beginner poker players know they should be continuation-betting the majority of the time when they raise preflop, you can turn the tables on them with a well-timed check-raise.
In this situation you can use your opponent’s knowledge of c-betting to your advantage.
If your opponent decides to c-bet a 4♥ 5♥ 6♠ flop, you can check-raise as a bluff to represent a hand you’d be likely to just flat-call with preflop, a pocket pair that hit a set or suited connectors that flopped big.
Check-raising as a semi-bluff is also a great way to add strength to the way you play your drawing hands. Next time you flop a flush draw, check-raise instead of check-call and give yourself a second way to win the pot.
Check-Raising in Action
If you're still unconvinced about the power of the check-raise, check out the video below.
Listen to Gus Hansen teach you about check-raising in a clip that looks more like a kidnapping ransom video than a poker strategy tutorial. We particularly like the monotone delivery.
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