The Check-Raise & Check-Raise Bluff: Overrated Plays

Check Raise

Back in my day when we first started playing poker in our home lagoons, no one really tried the check-raise move. It wasn't that we always played a straightforward poker game, but we used more effective ways to deceive or bluff our opponents. Of course, we also tried to play an unreadable and well-rounded game, so we eventually used the check-raise as one tool in our arsenal of poker weapons.

Personally, I view it as a weak move if not done properly and if you check-raise as a bluff, it is usually just a costly error.

These days, with internet poker being all the rage, the check-raise is a common play by opponents who are either trying to impress the table with their poker prowess (a poor play), extract extra bets from their opponents (a good play if done properly), or act strong with a weak hand (a poor way to accomplish this). Listen to me, rambling on about "back in my day" and how much things have changed with the internet poker rage. You'd think I was one of those old blue whales sitting on a submarine stop somewhere, droning on to any ray, whale, or even jellyfish in sight about how the good 'ole days had come and gone. Hey, I'm not getting old! It's just tough to see things change in poker when you're a 7,300 year old hammerhead shark. Anyway, let's talk about why you don't need to rely on check-raising at your poker table.

Defining the check-raise play, you must have at least one opponent acting after you on the flop and there can't be any bets before you (obviously, or else you would be calling and not checking). You just check you hand hoping that at least one of your opponents behind you will bet. When you consider using the check-raise play, it is usually for the best of intentions. You just flopped a big hand and you don't want to chase away your opponents. You'd rather try to act weak and induce a bet from your opponent, trapping him for more than he bargained for. While this is a perfectly sound goal, I don't usually think that check-raising is the best way to accomplish it for a couple of reasons.

First of all, a lot of online players take a big risk when they try to check-raise one or two opponents. If there wasn't a raise before the flop and you are out of position on the flop, what makes you think that your opponents will bet? They might check right behind you and get a free card, which would be a disaster if there is a potential draw on the board. A check-raise is a form of slowplaying your hand, which has the same dangers. You might ask, what if I have an unbeatable hand that isn't vulnerable to draws? Can I check-raise in that situation? You can, and it is certainly less dangerous, but is it really the right play in that situation?

The Check-Call

In a lot of situations that players tend to check-raise, I would recommend a check-call instead. Please note that I don't recommend this strategy if your hand is vulnerable and could be beaten with an extra card. Let's suppose that you're heads-up on the flop. If you do have a nut hand like top full house or an Ace-high flush, it is an excellent play. Why? You're giving your opponent the illusion that he is in control. You should even hesitate before you finally click the button to just call. You look unsure, and you did just check and call instead of betting yourself. You're just asking him to try and bluff. Plus, if you have a nut hand, maybe he'll improve and pay you off even more.

On the turn, you should try check-calling again. With this betting pattern of weak checks and slow calls, you look like you're on a draw. On the turn, your opponent will be betting to try to discourage your draw, or to take advantage of your weak play. Of course, this is exactly what you want. You could also try a check-raise on the turn, but why drive him out of the pot if he's just bluffing? If he checks behind you on the turn, there really isn't a reason to bet on the river. By his check, he's shown you that his bet on the flop was a bluff and that he doesn't have a strong hand. If you bet on the river, he's probably just going to fold. Give him another opportunity to bluff. On the river, you can try a bet, or take a chance and try to check again if you think he's bluffing. This time, you want to check-raise because it's your last opportunity to make extra money on this hand.

Do you see how you've made more money by check-calling rather than check-raising on the flop? A lot of the time, if you get too aggressive with your check-raise on the flop, you'll just win a little bit of extra money when everyone folds to your raise. If you check-call against an opponent or two with a great hand, you are dragging them through 2 extra betting rounds, and you can make a lot more off of them. If your hand isn't strong enough not to get drawn out on, I think that you'd be better off just betting into your opponents rather than hoping to check-raise them.

Check-Raising as a Bluff

Other players like to use the check-raise as a bluff. They didn't really improve, but they want their opponents to figure, "If he's trying to trap me, he's got to have a pretty good hand," while they lay down their top pair. I think this is one of the worst bluffs you can make, especially the way that a lot of online players do it. I can't count how many times I've seen a check-raise bluff in no-limit games where the bluffer only doubles his opponent's bet. Are you crazy? Do you really think that you're intimidating your opponent with a puny bet like that? It might work once in a while, but it's a very weak play. I'd rarely fold to a double-bet if I led out on the flop. Unless you really want to get called, I don't see any reason for a minimum raise in no-limit games. If you're trying to trap, why not just call and hope that you get raised down the line?

If you're going to bluff, I'll use one of your human sayings: "Don't send in a boy to do a man's work." Bet the heck out of it if you really want to win the pot. Well, don't obviously over-bet the pot, but make a solid raise. It also makes more sense to be the first one to bet, rather than bluff on a check-raise because it saves you money. Let's say that the pot is at $20 and you're heads-up on the flop. If you're going to bet, try to bet out $10 or $15 first. Let's say that you check-raise bluff instead. You check, he bets $10, and you raise him to $30 or $40. It's costing you double the money, plus you need to consider the possibility that he actually has a hand and will call or reraise you.

Everyone needs to check-raise once in a while to keep your opponents on their toes and keep your play varied. However, don't do it as often as your opponents. As I've laid out, you're taking more of a risk and probably making less money than if you check-call or just bet out. As for trying a check-raise for a bluff, just don't try it. It's a costly type of bluff that isn't very effective. If you still don't believe me, find that old blue whale on the submarine stop - he's kind of boring, but usually right about life. Well, maybe not that part about swimming against the current both ways to school and backů

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