Check raising is somewhat of a counterintuitive move in poker. You passed the action over to your opponent without betting; but once you face a bet, you opt to raise. In low stakes cash games, especially in live poker, you can find players who simply never make that move. In turn, if you encounter someone at a low stakes table who does go for a check raise, you can attribute at least a menial level of competence to them.
However, for a strong, winning player at all stakes, it is crucial that they develop a check raise strategy. Why? There’s multiple reasons for that.
Why is a Check Raise Strategy Important?
First off, please note that you can only have a check raise strategy when you’re playing out of position. If you’re in position, it’s impossible for you to check raise, as if you can check, then you’re the one closing the action. Thus check raising is a good way to mitigate your positional disadvantage.
When you’re out of position, your opponent has the advantage of knowing what you want to do with your hand. In other words, they have additional information about your hand.
However, if you check most of your hands out of position (which you should), then check fold some of your range, and either check call or check raise the rest of your range, your opponent now has much less clear information.
Even if you check, they can’t now blindly bet into a perceived weak range, as they’re going to get check raised some portion of the time.
For this reason, a good check raise strategy is especially important in out of position 3-bet or 4-bet pots.
In hands where multiple raises have been made before the flop, pre-flop ranges are a lot more narrow than in single raised pots. Therefore, if you were to split your range into a checking and a leading range on the flop, a competent opponent could narrow your possible hands to just a few. However, if you check 100% of your hands out of position, that advantage disappears for them. You can still get money in the pot with your strong hands, or go for a bluff by check raising.
Another reason a good check raise strategy is beneficial is that it helps you avoid aggression from your opponents.
If they know there’s a good chance they’re going to face a sizable check raise, they will be a lot less likely to c-bet the flop. This will lead to you seeing a lot more cheap showdowns with your marginal made hands.
In addition, please note that on every level, a check raise indicates a strong range. That range is stronger than a standard open. After all, you are raising into a player who just indicated some strength by betting themselves.
This can work in your favor if you’re playing against a weak, straightforward player in a low stakes game. If this type of player decides to bet, you can assume they have a strong hand they’re not willing to fold, even to a big check raise. In this case, this move is a good way to get additional money in the pot with a strong hand – however, you should decrease the number of bluffs in your range, as your opponent is very unlikely to fold.
Now that we’ve gone through why check raising is important, let’s see what hands you should include in your check raise strategy.
What Hands to Include in Your Check Riase Strategy?
Your check raising range should always be narrow and polarized. This means it should contain premium made hands and good draws that lack showdown value. This also means that check raising is generally a low frequency play, as you won’t have these hands often. Also, when you do have them, your opponent will just check back sometimes, taking away your ability to check raise.
What exact hand you should check raise with mainly depends on two factors. The factors are what’s on the board, and what your opponent’s tendencies are.
Generally speaking, players tend to check raise hands for values that are better than the top pair. The reason is that there aren’t many weaker hands that would call a check raise, especially since you block a big part of the other player’s continuing range with your top pair. That is why the best hands for value are two pairs and sets that only pair the bottom cards.
However, if your opponent is overly aggressive, and bets virtually every time they get checked to, you can get away with check raising top pair-good kicker for value – in fact, it may be more profitable than betting it yourself.
As for the board structure, you should avoid check raising on boards that heavily favor your opponents – be it value betting or a bluff. A classic example is when you defend your big blind against a single raise and the flop comes all high cards, for example, AK10. Your opponent has all the nut hands in their range, while you don’t, since you presumably would have 3-bet with them. In this case, it is acceptable to not have a check raise range at all.