In this episode, I discuss the aggressive check-raise play. This is great for both value and bluff raises, but like everything else in poker, it’s success is dependent upon the situation you’re in.
In episode 144, I discussed my Observation HUD which I use to help train myself to be more observant of my opponent’s actions and showdowns.
What is the Check-raise? (3:00)
The check-raise is an aggressive post-flop action. It’s a way to nullify the positional advantage your opponents have. You make it when you’re out of position versus a bet or a cbet. First you check, your opponent bets, then you raise.
This is a very effective way to steal pots on the flop especially against frequent cbettors. And, it can also be used to gain extra value when you flop a killer hand against a player who won’t be folding in this spot. It’s very important to note that, like any type of raise, you should be reasonably sure that it will yield the result you want because it’s very costly.
In a normal 2bet, HU pot, the pot size on the flop might be 7 big blinds. Your opponent’s cbet could be 5 big blinds. If you make a check-raise to 2 ½x, then you’re making a 12-13 big blinds. Much more costly than just check calling the 5 big blinds.
The 7 Elements of the Check-Raise (4:20)
1. It looks very strong
When I see a check-raise, I often assume it’s two pair or better. Of course, that’s not always the case, but that’s the first thing that goes through my head. That’s why these are so effective is bluffs.
2. You are choosing to bloat the pot
Most ranges only hit something worth bloating the pot 10% of the time or less. Normally, that’s something like 2p, a set, a straight, etc. Test this for yourself. Whip out Flopzilla, enter in any range, and see how often it hits two pair or better. For example, a 25% open raising range hits two pair or better only 6% of the time.
3. You know your intent; bluff or value
If you’re bluffing you should have a reasonable assumption that your opponent will fold. You should be able to name the better hands in their range that will fold to your check-raise. If you’re going for value, you should have an idea of the worse hands that they can call with. Being super clear with your intent will help you make more successful check-raises.
4. Ranges Matter
If you called pre-flop and the board comes JsTs9c and you check-raise, your pre-flop calling range can easily hit 2p, sets, a straight or even a good pair + draw combo. But let’s say you were the pre-flop raiser from EP, how many strong hands do you have here worth check-raising? Maybe you have JJ, TT or 99 for the sets, but do you have many 2p or straight hands? Nope. As you know ranges are based upon pre-flop actions and you narrow their range as the streets progress. Make sure you take your opponent’s and your own pre-flop actions into account before you check-raise, or before you defend against the check-raise.
5. Images and Stats matter
You must consider the check raiser’s image and their stats (for yourself as well). If the person is known as an aggro bluffer or a check-raise bluffer or just an aggressive donk, then the check-raise won’t to be taken seriously. But if the check-raiser is a nit or a flop honest player, then the check-raise should be taken seriously. Your notes and stats on your opponents will help you understand their check-raise.
6. The sizings involved matter
The sizing you use will depend on your intent as well as how you think your opponent will respond. A minimum check-raise commits the minimum but they don’t work is often for bluffs. Making it a 2½ to 3x check-raise will work more often, but you’re risking more chips. Like all bet sizing choices, the sizing you use is a balancing act. You want to risk the minimum with your bluffs while maximizing your fold equity. And at the same time, you want to get the maximum value out of your strong hands without forcing your opponent to fold. It’s a good idea to test out different sizing’s and make note on the sizing’s your opponents use.
7. Good check-raise bluff spots are often bad double barrel bluff spots
So, you check-raised with the intent to bluff. Everything looked right:
- his range doesn’t interact well with the board
- he’s foldy by nature
- his stats told you he’s likely to fold
- your bet sizing should’ve scared him off
- maybe even his initial bet sizing screamed weakness.
So, you pulled the trigger and made the bluff check-raise. Good job. But he went against what you thought he would and called. Now, unless you have a read on this kind of play from your opponent, you’ve got to assume he has a piece of the board and he’s not afraid of the pot bloating check-raise. Sure, he could be on a draw or even have top pair weak kicker. But as already mentioned, check-raises scream strength and he’s showing no fear. Most of the time assume he likes his hand. If the turn card doesn’t help your range, then give up on the double-barrel bluff unless you know he could be floating you with weakness and is capable folding to a barrel.
Making the Check-raise (9:10)
A note about ranges: If you’re the pre-flop raiser whether 2betting or 3betting you have the stronger range. You have less suited connectors, gappers and Broadway’s and probably more aces and pocket pairs in your range. If you’re the pre-flop caller, you have the weaker range. You have plenty of suited connectors, gappers, Broadway’s, suited aces and small and medium pocket pairs.
Check-raising with 77 on AT5ss
I opened under the gun with 77 and a TAG player with only 48 hands called from the MP. Everyone else folded. The flop came down AT5ss. I hated this flop and I just checked because I didn’t want to cbet bluff versus this tight aggressive unknown player. And then he made a terrible mistake of min-bluffing into the 8bb pot. I saw this as a great opportunity to check-raise bluff, so I raised it to 6x and he folded.
What was my intent?
Initially, I was planning on check-folding on this scary non-friendly board. But then as soon as my opponent showed weakness by minbetting, my intent was to check-raise bluff him off his hand. I chose a specific sizing that I felt he could fold to even if he had bottom pair or week flush draw. This was absolutely not a value bet because I would’ve hated a call and would've folded to a 3bet.
Range and Board Interaction
His pre-flop range hits this board pretty well. If we plug this into Flopzilla we can say that he is calling 20% of hands pre-flop. On the AT5ss board, the 20% range hits TP+ and FD’s 32% of the time. So, there’s a decent chance he hit, but his IP minbet tells me that he might have had an under pair or suited connector or a suited King or Queen that just didn’t connect here. Check-raising here was a more +EV play then check calling and letting him set his own price for the turn, and better than check-folding.
History & Stats to Focus On
Over 48 hands he was a 13/6 player. Pretty nitty so far, and nitty = foldy. Other than those player type reads I didn’t have many stats to look at. But in this instance these stats could’ve helped:
- Flop Bet– in this situation, just the general flop bet stat can tell you how honest they are on the flop. If they’re betting anything over 65% they are not that honest and you can assume a good portion of their range is bluffing.
- Fold to Check-Raise– the higher this number is the more likely they will fold to your check-raise. This is great if you’re bluffing, but not so good if you’re going for value. And conversely, the lower it is the more value you can get out of them, but the less often your check-raise bluff will work. Consider 60% to be the cutoff level for Fold to Check-raise.
Check-raising with 77 on 875r
77 again. It was an UTG open and a loose passive CO player just called. The flop comes down 857r. I loved my mid-set on this middle card board. It hits this passive caller’s range pretty hard. So, I decided to take a chance and go for the check-raise. Yes, he could’ve checked behind, causing me to miss a street of value. But thankfully, he obliged with a half pot bet and then called my check-raise.
The Queen on the turn didn’t help his range but the fact that he called my check-raise meant it’s time for me to go for extra value. I bet $5 into the $6.35 pot. He went and responded with the most beautiful thing ever by raising me all-in for 80 big blinds. I called, and he had a combo draw of a pair plus an open-ender. He bricked and I took down a 175 big blind pot.
What was my intent?
This was a total value check-raise. I would’ve been happy if he had bet three bet shoved on the flop, or even if he just bet called then called down all three streets. I had a great hand and, barring a 9 or a 4 on the turn or river, I was going for max value with it all the way.
Range and Board Interaction
If we think about my range, this was another UTG open. So, I had a rather tight 15% range in this 6max game. On this flop, I have all the sets in my range as well as over cards and of course all the over pairs. My check-raise probably looked like a set or an over pair, and he wasn’t scared of either of those.
When we think about my opponent’s range, he’s super passive at 43/2 and he called me in position. He has every suited connector, suited gapper, Ax hands, suited King’s, small to medium pocket pairs; all things that could’ve potentially continued on this board. This was a great spot for me to get maximum value out of the 43/2 calling station and I took full advantage of it.
History & Stats to Focus On
With this hand, I was relying on my opponent’s general passivity to gain max value. If he was a tighter player, then I probably would’ve raised half pot or even less to get him to call or to commit on the turn. My flop check-raise sizing might’ve been smaller as well. And, when it comes to specific stats to use here, this is a combo that I really like:
- Fold to Raise After Cbet (or Bet) In Position vs OOP– In general the Fold to Raise after Bet stat is quite useful. Anything over 70% should be bluffed frequently. Between 50 and 70 is kind of a gray zone, and below 50 should rarely be bluffed, especially with a check-raise because you’re out of position.
- Additionally, when you look at this stat in position versus out of position, it’s even more telling. If they fold to raises way less frequently IP than OOP, you should not bluff them with the check-raise.
- For example, you’ll find players who fold IP to the raise only 40% of the time but out of position 80%. These players understand the benefit of position and will try to use it against you on the next street by betting when you check.
Check-raising with KK on Q54ss
A super LAG player opened UTG and I 3bet from the SB with KK. He called and the flop comes down Qc5d4c. I checked with intent to raise for value. Over 467 hands, his flop cbet was 83% and turn cbet was 93%. He loved to get aggressive post-flop. So, I checked-raised to almost 3x and he called.
The pot was really big at $23 on the turn and we both had $24 behind. The turn comes an off-suit K giving me a set. I made the major mistake of checking here. He called my huge check-raise on the flop so I should’ve bet again here to get maximum value. Instead, I checked, he checked behind, and the river comes a third club. 3 clubs and this guy could have come along with the flush draw. I checked, he shoved, I tanked and then called. He turns over the 8c6c for the rivered flush, cracking my set of Kings.
What was my intent?
I was absolutely going for value here. I knew this LAG was capable of continuing with a very wide range. That was a pretty wet flop versus him, so it was a great spot to get max value. I should’ve kept up with the value betting on the turn. He called a big check-raise on the flop with two cards to come, and he still would’ve given me value on the turn with one card to go. But, if he whiffed the river I would’ve gotten no more value out of his draws. Major lesson here: Get value while the gettin’s good.
Range and Board Interaction
With my OOP 3bet pre-flop, my range is super strong. I have mostly overpairs on the flop with my check-raise. I showed weakness on the turn though with my check but because my opponent had nothing but a draw at this time he checked behind got a free river.
My opponent’s range on the other hand is very wide. He's capable of bet-calling a wide range pre-flop, especially b/c he has position. He’s going to bet this flop with a huge part of his range, but he is likely only calling my check-raise with a pair or some kind of a good draw. I should’ve realized this and continued to fire the turn, charging all of his draws to see that river. The fact that he checked behind makes it even more likely he was on a draw. So, when the draw completed and he shoved the river, I should’ve folded.
History & Stats to Focus On
Up to this point I had some pretty good history on the player. 467 hands and his stats equaled an obvious donk. One of my notes on him said “capable of overly aggressive plays when check to-check for max value”. That’s what I did here with the strong overpair on the flop. I got that value but didn’t continue for more. Also, when it comes to specific stats to use here, this is a pretty telling one:
- Float Flop– within PokerTracker 4 the float is defined as a bet in position after the pre-flop raiser checks. So, if the float flop percentages high (like 50% plus) then there is a high likelihood they will bet once you check. This allows you to check call, check fold or check-raise. The choice is up to you depending on what your intent is with the hand. For this player, his Float Flop percentage was 54%. I like my check with intent to check-raise here for max value.
Defending Against the Check-raise (25:30)
So, you’re in position on the flop you bet and you get check-raised. The first thing to remember is that all 7 of the Check-Raising elements still apply to when you are the one getting check-raised.
The next aspect to defending against the check-raise is to always expect it. If you are surprised by the check-raise, you failed to plan for the hand before you made the bet. Have two plans in place before you bet when checked to on the flop:
- Have a plan for the turn in case your opponent check-calls you.
- Know how you’ll respond to your opponent’s check-raise. Are you going to fold, call or reraise? They are all valid responses, and your choice depends on your original betting intent and what you think your opponent is up to.
Before you can choose your response to the check-raise, you have to first understand what your original intent was with the cbet or bet. Did you bet for value or as a bluff?
The Original Bet was for Value
So, you bet for value and got raised. Great! Now you must assess whether or not your opponent has a better hand that they’re check-raising with.
- If their hand is likely better, then your best option is to just fold unless you have a great backup draw. You were betting for value, so if they’re check-raising with an even better hand, you’re not to get them to fold by coming over the top right now.
- If their hand is likely worse but willing to give you extra value then go ahead in 3bet here.
- If you think they’re check-raising on a draw, then you have to assess how likely they could hit on the next street. You could slow play by just calling here, but you run the risk (like I did) of them catching up on the next street. Most likely the best thing is for you is to bet again on the turn for max value from their draws or marginal hands that are willing to call. And if they fold their hand, so be it. You can’t control what they stay in with, you can only control your choices to get the max value out of your opponents.
The Original Bet was a Bluff
Now, let’s say you were bluff betting in the first place and got check-raised.
- If they’re check-raising for value you’re better off just folding. Unless you see a great opportunity to bluff or hit a strong draw on a future street , this is the time to get out and save your chips.
- If you believe they’re check-raise bluffing, then you need to assess whether a reraise bluff right now will work, or possibly calling here and then betting the turn when they check to you.
Remember: range and board interaction is super important when dealing with check raises. If you continue in the hand versus a check-raise without considering your opponent’s range and flop interaction, then you’re progressing in the hand blindly.
Stats to Help Understand the Check-raise:
- Check-Raise– This is the first stat you should look at. Anything over 10% is suspect over a good-sized sample. And the higher it is the more suspect it is. Below 10% is mostly value-oriented, but it’s especially value-oriented at <5%.
- Raised Cbet OOP vs IP– The difference between these two numbers is very striking. Just like I discussed before with Fold to Raise After Cbet, if their Raised Cbet OOP is much lower than IP, their check-raise is more likely for value.
- Fold to Cbet OOP– If their fold to cbet is very high out of position, like 70% or higher, then you should put massive weight behind the check-raise. They fold most of the time, so believe that check-raise.
Become a Student of the Check-raise (29:50)
Let me tell you, you aren’t going to learn everything you need to know about the check-raise from this episode. In fact, you won’t learn everything about any play from any one podcast or video or course or book or whatever. What you need to do is learn as much as you can from this podcast, then you need to get some real-world experience using it, and you need to put time into understanding your opponents and how they use it.
The idea I want to impart on you right now is that learning anything sufficiently comes from knowledge + action + analysis.
Learning = Knowledge + Action + Analysis
Today you've picked up some additional KNOWLEDGE about the check-raise. But don’t stop here. Go online to find tons of additional resources from articles, podcasts, videos and even chapters in books that discuss further details about the check-raise. You should spend a little more time and gather additional information from other sources.
Next, it’s time for ACTION. In your next three sessions, I want you to practice using the check-raise. Create a hand tag within PokerTracker 4 that simply says “CheckRaise”. And for every time you spot a good check-raising opportunity, make sure you tag that hand whether or not you employ the check-raise. “Test it, tag it and note it” is your mantra when practicing the check-raise. Not only are you testing it for yourself, but pay attention to when your opponents use the check-raise. Take a note of the situation and any showdowns you see. Your goal here is to become adept at using the check-raise and to become adept at understanding why your opponent s check-raise.
The next step is ANALYSIS. Spend some time off the tables with PokerTracker 4 and Flopzilla and analyze all your tagged hands. Use your hand reading skills and narrow your opponent’s range street by street to see if you’re putting to use what you learned. Making mistakes is part and parcel of this whole check-raise mastery thing, so don’t be bummed out by negative results. Just keep up the process of practicing, tagging, noting and analyzing these check-raise spots.
Here’s my challenge to you for this episode: Become a student of the check-raise. Take the knowledge you’ve learned today and gather a little bit more on your own. Then, over the next 3 sessions put the “book knowledge” you’ve gained to use in your play sessions. Remember the mantra: “Test it, tag it and note it”. Then analyze all the check-raise spots you’ve experienced, learn from them, then put that newfound knowledge to the test again.
Now it’s your turn to take action and do something positive for your poker game.
Got a couple of poker people willing to improve their online game by purchasing my Smart HUD for PokerTracker 4 – Tim Green, Liam McDonald – thanks much, fellas! Get your copy here: https://www.smartpokerstudy.com/SmartHUD