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Home arrow Poker Strategies arrow Raising in Pokerarrow Check-Raising

Check-raising and slow playing are two ways of playing a strong hand weakly to trap your opponents and win more money from them. However, they are not identical. Check-raising is checking your hand with the intention of raising on the same round after an opponent bets. Slow playing, which we discuss in more detail in the next page, is playing your hand in a way that gives your opponents no idea of its strength. It may be checking and then just calling an opponent who bets, or it may be calling a person who bets ahead of you. When you slow play a hand, you are using deception to keep people in for a while in order to make your move in a later round. Clearly, then, a hand you slow play has to be much stronger than a hand with which you check-raise. Check-raising can drive opponents out and may even win the pot right there, while slow playing gives opponents either a free card or a relatively cheap card.

The Ethics of Check-Raising

There are some amateur poker players who find something reprehensible about check-raising. They find it devious and deceitful and consider people who use it to be less than well-bred. Well, check-raising is devious and it is deceitful, but being devious and deceitful is precisely what one wants to be in a poker game, as is implied by the Fundamental Theorem of Online Poker Games.

Checking with the intention of raising is one way to do that. In a sense, check-raising and slow playing are the opposites of bluffing, in which you play a weak hand strongly. If check-raising and slow playing were not permitted, the games of poker would lose just about as much as it would if bluffing and semi-bluffing were not permitted. Indeed the two types of play complement one another, and a good player should be adept at both of them. The check-raise is a powerful weapon. It is simply another tool with which a poker player practices his art. Not allowing check-raising in your home games is something like not allowing, say the hit and run in a baseball games or the option pass in a football games. Without it poker loses a significant portion of its strategy, which, apart from winning money, is what makes the games fun. I'm much more willing to congratulate an opponent for trapping me in a check-raise than for drawing out on me on a call he shouldn't have made in the first place - and if I am angry at anyone, it is at myself for falling into the trap.

Necessary Conditions for Check-Raising

Two conditions are needed to check-raise for value - that is, when you expect you might be called by a worse hand. First, you must think you have the best hand, but not such a great hand that a slow play would be proper. Second, you must be quite sure someone behind you will bet if you check. Let's say on fourth street in seven-card stud someone bets with showing, and with you're getting sufficient pot odds to call. Now on fifth street you catch a king to make kings up. Here you might check-raise if you are pretty sure the player representing queens will bet.

This second condition - namely, that someone behind you will bet after you check - is very important. When you plan to check-raise, you should always keep in mind that you could be making a serious, double-edged mistake if you check and no one bets behind you. You are giving a free card to opponents who would have folded your bet, and in addition you are losing a bet from those who would have called. So you had better be very sure the check-raise will work before you try it.

Check-Raising and Position

When you plan to check-raise with several players still in the pot, you need to consider the position of the player you expect will bet because that position determines the kind of hand you check-raise with, to a large extent. Let's say you have made hidden kings up on Fifth Street, and the player representing queens is to your right. Kings up is a fairly good hand but not a great hand, and you'd like to get everybody out so they don't draw out on your two pair. You check, and when the player with queens bets, you raise. You are forcing everyone else in the hand to call a double bet, the original bet and your immediate raise, and they will almost certainly fold. You don't mind the queens calling your raise, for you're a big favorite over that player. However, if he folds, that's fine too.

Now we'll place the player representing queens to your left instead of to your right. In this case you should bet with kings up even though you know the player with queens will bet if you check and even though you think you have the best hand. When you bet in this spot, you are hoping the queens will raise so that the double bet will drive out the other players in the pot, just as your check-raise was meant to do in the other instance. And if that opponent does raise, you can now re-raise.

Suppose that instead of kings up, the king on Fifth Street gives you three kings. Now you are much stronger than you were with two pair, and your hand can tolerate callers. Therefore, you would use the opposite strategy you employed with kings up. With the probable bettor to your right, you should bet, and after everyone calls, you hope that bettor raises so that people will be calling a single bet twice (which they are much more likely to do than to call a double bet once). On the other hand, if the probable bettor is to your left, then you check the three kings, and after that player bets and everyone calls, you raise. Once again, you are inviting your opponents to call a single bet twice and not a double bet once.

To remember, the way you bet or check-raise depends on the strength of your hand in relation to what you can see of the other hands and the position of the player you expect to bet or raise behind you when you check or bet. With a fairly good hand, like kings up or aces up in seven stud, you try to make opponents call a double bet because you'd like to drive them out. With a very good hand like three kings or three aces you play to induce your opponents to call a single bet; then you confront them with having to call another single bet. In this case, you don't mind their staying in since you're a big favorite over them.

Check-Raising With a Second-Best Hand

While you generally check-raise because you think you have the best hand, it is frequently correct to check-raise with a second-best hand if the play will drive other opponents out. The principle here is identical to the principle of raising with what you think is the second-best hand. If the probable best hand is to your immediate right, you can check, wait for that player to bet, then raise so that the rest of the table will fold rather than call a double bet. While you may not be the favorite, you have still increased your chances of winning the pot, and you have the extra equity of whatever dead money is in the pot from earlier betting rounds.

Sometimes you can check-raise with come hand like a four-flush if there are many people in the pot already and you don't expect a reraise; for you are getting good enough odds, especially if you have a couple of cards to come. This play should usually be made only when the probable bettor is to your immediate left; then the other players will call that bettor before they realize you are putting in a raise. You do not want to drive players out because you want to get the correct odds for your raise.


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