Check raising is a play in poker that will either win or lose you a lot of money, depending upon when and how you use it. Check raises are most common among players with strong hands, but this is hardly the only instance where this particular move can turn a profit. A major obstacle with check raising is the ability to properly identify profitable spots vs. unprofitable spots. For example, check raising with a flush draw on the flop could very well be profitable, but it could be a terrible move at the same time. There are a number of common scenarios where a check raise can be effectively implemented. Read about the common check raising spots below and learn how to play your hands to their fullest potential.
Flop Check Raises
Flop check raises will either occur on a bluff, a semi bluff (with a drawing hand), or with a very strong hand. The exact situation that you are in is going to make the difference between how you should play your hand. For example, a flopped draw is going to be played very differently than a flopped set. Beyond this, your game plan beyond the initial check raise needs to be well outlined. If you don’t know what you are going to do after your check raise, you have already lost half the battle. Many check raises will not end on the spot, so you need to be able to aptly adjust to any moves that your opponents make.
A complete bluff check raise on the flop should have a high success rate. This is the type of check raise that is least advisable. The drawback to making bluff check raises on the flop is that you are going to be stuck in a world of hurt on the turn, or even on the flop if you face further opposition. Beyond the fact that they will fail a large portion of the time, a bluff check raise on the flop doesn’t really have a lot to offer. If you are going to risk a decent raise in an effort to push your opponent(s) off their hand, you should be expecting something reasonable in return. If there was a lot of pre-flop action, regardless of whether you were the initial aggressor, there should be a decent pot worth fighting for. Along with this action, though, comes an increased likelihood that your opponent has a strong hand, making it tougher to force folds. In the end, a check raise with absolutely nothing is going to be a pretty big mistake. Yes, it will work on occasion, but the ultimate reward just doesn’t equate to the sizable risk.
-Semi Bluffs and Draws
Semi bluff and draw type hands, which are often times one in the same, are among the best type of hands for successful flop check raises. If you flop a hand like an ace high flush draw on a queen high board, you can make your money by either pushing your opponent out of the pot on the flop, or instead by hitting your hand.
The only real trouble with check raising while holding a draw is that you are prone to issues further down the line. Say that you check raise with Jh 9h on a flop of 8h Kh 6d. A check raise in this spot will put you in an awfully bad position if your opponent decides to come over the top. Re-shoving all in would be a mistake since you will be drawing only to a flush, and for all you know, your opponent might even have a better flush draw. The time where this play would work wonderfully, however, would be if you were holding the ace high flush draw. On an unpaired board like this, you are drawing to the nuts and will have outs no matter what the other player is holding. In addition, the reverse of the above situation holds true, where you could have your opponent totally dominated if they are holding a weaker flush draw.
Further still is the fact that you have an over card to the board. If your opponent happens to have a big over pair or just one pair, this would give you a few additional outs to the winning hand. Check raises with draws on the flop are fantastic plays, but you need to be prepared for what will happen after you make them. If you don’t have a complete game plan prepared, the better play is to slow down the action. You don’t need to and shouldn’t want to be building massive pots with hands that have a long way to go, and might even be losing when they do hit.
Strong hands are “ok” to check raise with, but they will often times sacrifice a lot of the inherent value of any given holding. For example, getting 77 all in on a flop of 7A4 is just not going to happen very often against a random ace. If, however, you played the hand more slowly, you would be able to extract value one street at a time. Using this example, a set of 7s could lead out on the flop, bet or check raise the turn, and even bet the river. By check raising the flop with such a strong hand, you are handicapping your chances of winning your opponent’s entire stack. The ultimate goal of any strong hand on the flop is to extract value; check raising can easily scare opponents away.
The exception to the rule of not check raising with very strong hands on the flop is when the board is draw heavy. Draw heavy boards are tough to play on no matter what, and you want your opponent to put as much money as possible in the middle before they hit their hand, not after. Aggressive play with 77 on a 7s 8s Qh board is entirely different than on a board of 7s Ah 3d. On the first board, a number of turn or river cards could spell disaster, where the second board has a good shot of you either improving or maintaining your lead in the hand. Check raising with strength is good when your opponent is strong and also a threat to beat you.
Turn and River Check Raises
Turn and river check raises are very different animals than flop check raises. On the flop, it is very likely that a player would check raise with nothing, a weak hand, or a strong hand. On the turn and river, however, it usually means a very strong hand, and occasionally nothing at all; there really isn’t any middle ground. Analyzing an opponents check raise is usually not all that difficult to do, but the real danger comes when you make a move that is super high risk. Turn check raises and river check raises are a situation where it is all or nothing, very much high risk and high reward. If you are prepared for some variance, turn bluff check raises can be profitable, but you will need to pick your spots very selectively.
The most risky move in almost any hand is a bluff, but the risks are even more elevated when you check raise the turn or the river. The simple fact that you have gotten to the turn or the river means that you have gotten past pre-flop and flop play. Once you get to this stage in a hand, it means that bet sizes are growing larger and larger.
It is hard to say which types of hands are ideal for turn or river check raise bluffs, as these moves are more dependent on opponents rather than the board or hand itself. Experience and history with a player can go a long way towards success with turn or river check raise bluffs. As a general rule, though, a bad time to check raise bluff is on a draw heavy board that bricked. One of the most transparent river check raises is when a flop is draw heavy, you check call twice, and then check raise the river after everything has missed. Your check raise needs to tell a believable story, and this type of move is much too transparent. If you are in the micro stakes, players are less likely to fold their hands. As a result, it is much more effective to make a river check raise with made hands. In small stakes and medium stakes games, however, you will be able to force a number of folds with these high risk, high reward plays. You should have a lot of experience and really know what you are doing if you are going to try and take down pots with bluffs via check raises on the turn or river.
Strong hands are the ideal river check raise hand, but they can be very see through on the turn. A turn check raise is one of the biggest indicators of monster strength in poker. Think about how many times you had an opponent check raise you on the turn with anything less than a monster. If you catch someone bluffing, it will definitely be the rare exception. Strong hands are good for check raises on the river because they can very well assume the identity of a bluff. If you played your hand like it was on a draw, or got lucky on the river with an unsuspecting hand, a check raise can get you paid off. If your hand is not something that your opponent would be able to reasonably put you on, you probably have a hand that would be great for a river check raise.