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Check-Raising Part 2
Part one of this two-parter focused on check-raising with the best hand and why not to do it. Part two will explore check-raising as a bluff plus check-raising in Limit Hold'em.
Even more so live than online, table image is one of the most crucial aspects of playing winning poker.
Check-raising can affect your image - the way your table perceives you. Players view check-raises, especially being check-raised, as hostile. It makes you appear crafty, strong, aggressive and unfriendly.
Typically this table image is not one that will serve you well at the tables. The more fun players are having at a table, the more money you're going to be able to extract from them.
If check-raising is only an option, and not specifically the best line to take with the hand, it's usually better for your image to choose a less hostile line of play.
Check-Raising with a Bluff
There are three different types of bluffs to explore here. The first is the naked bluff. This means you have absolutely no pair, no draw and no way to win the hand other than by making the other player/players fold.
Since check-raising displays so much strength (as discussed in part 1), using a check-raise as a bluff can be a highly successful endeavor - "successful" meaning the rate of calls versus folds as a result of the play.
Unfortunately this ratio is irrelevant to us poker players; all we need to know is whether the play is profitable. For simplicity, we'll keep all our example pots heads-up.
When you check the flop your opponent has two options - each one will mean something dramatically different for you. First, say your opponent bets. Thanks to your opponent's bet, you can now make your check-raise bluff.
After you raise, you've left your opponent with three options. If they fold you've made one bet; if they reraise you've lost three bets (assuming you're raising 3x their bet). If they call, you're now going to the turn, and your best options will be situation-specific.
If, after your flop check, your opponent checks behind you, you're on a turn showing weakness. Bluffing at this point is going to be far more difficult, since they will assume that if you had anything such as top pair on the flop, you would have bet it then.
Only a scare card will increase your chances of making a strong bluff at this point. If a scare card does come, it can make for an easy steal (this move is sometimes referred to as a floater).
So far check-raising has seemed to be a losing bet, especially when we compare it to open-betting the flop.
In the same situation, when you open-bet the flop, you leave your opponent with three options. They fold (you make zero bets, but take pre-flop action); they raise (you lose one bet); they call.
If they call your bet, you're going to a turn as the aggressor. You now have control of the pot, and a smaller pot than you would have going to the turn after getting called check-raising.
Unless you're good enough to read the situation and fire second and third barrels when you can take down the pot, check-raising with a naked bluff is always -EV.
If you're a strong enough player to take down pots while acting on weakness, you can make bluff check-raising profitable by picking up enough pots to make up for the lost bets when your check-raises go bad.
One trick most pros will take out of their bag every now and again is check-raising on a draw. It's basically a check-raise free card play.
If your opponent checks behind you on the flop, you get to see a turn for free. If your opponent bets out and you do get to make a check-raise, checking the turn will make your opponent wary of being raised again.
Unless they have a monster, chances are your opponent is going to check behind you, giving you a free card to the river.
Check-Raising and Limit Hold'em
Playing Limit Hold'em requires a completely different skill set and approach to the game than No-Limit. Check-raising in a Limit game can be one of the best ways to pump a pot and set up a bluff.
In a game where it's next to impossible to not have more than sufficient pot odds for most any hand, bluffing or taking a pot before showdown becomes purely about a show of strength.
You have to make your opponent believe that you have them beat to the point of odds being irrelevant. If you can only bet a maximum of $10 into a $120 pot, check-raising may be one of your only options for making a move at the pot.
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