When Is A Good Time to Checkraise?
In poker there are a lot of strategy-questions where the right answer is “it depends.” In fact, one could argue there are a vastly larger number of those types of questions than ones with precise answers.
Which hands should I three-bet? It depends.
Which hands should I continuation-bet? It depends.
Which hands should limp? It depends.
But perhaps the most confusing element of poker for beginning players attempting to learn how to play, and one of the worst-offenders of the ‘it depends’ answer also happens to be one of the most powerful tools in a poker player’s arsenal: the checkraise! Nowhere is the lack of a cohesive strategy more apparent in an inexperienced player’s game than in their checkraising ranges, and unfortunately there are very few skillsets more difficult to correct in the span of a single article. But difficult does not mean impossible! So today, we’re going to look at the theory behind profitable checkraising, as well as a couple of practical examples that will hopefully provide more context for your game than another ‘it depends’ ever could.
Let’s begin with the easiest question of the bunch: why do we even need to checkraise in the first place?
Well, for starters, how else would we win a pot when our opponent has the betting lead? By calling down every hand and praying to have the best of it at showdown? That’s unlikely to be a profitable strategy in the long-run, as value hands simply don’t come around often enough to overcome the blinds, especially once your opponents recognize your strategy and reduce their bluff frequencies while value-betting you straight to an early visit to the cage. So, since we can’t ‘calling-station’ our way to victory, what about taking the betting lead and firing into the aggressor ourselves? Sure, that might work once or twice, but since the majority of our opponents know there aren’t enough value-hands warranting that type of aggression, they’ll be able to make fairly simple strategy adjustments – such as religiously floating flop and turn bets before shoving rivers, that put us into even deeper hot-water than had we just reverted to our initial calling-station strategy. So, if we can’t win by just calling down, and we can’t win by just forcing our way into the betting lead, what then? Well, the answer should be clear by now: we must add the wonderfully powerful check-raise to our poker toolbox and learn exactly when, and how, to pull it out.
Three Strategy Tips for Checkraising At the Poker Table
1. Attack Tendencies
Regardless whether your opponents are too aggressive or too passive, the checkraise can be an incredible tool to stop them in their tracks. Facing a loose opponent who continuation-bets 100% of their hands? Show’em a checkraise. Playing against an aggressive opponent who fires every time you forgo a turn cbet opportunity? Show’em a checkraise. Facing a weak opponent who’s shown an affinity for folding? Show’em a checkraise! The struggle shouldn’t be to find the perfect opponent to checkraise against, but to figure how to do it against all player-types.
2. Follow the Storyline
Every single time a player at the poker table takes an action, it is as if he or she has added another chapter to the story that is their hand. When I raise in first position at a solid table, for example, it’s fair to say that my opponents can assume my story doesn’t include A2o or 85s. However, when I’m calling an open-raise from the small-blind while in the big-blind, it would be foolish for my opponent to exclude those hands from my range (defined as the entire collection of hands I could have in any given situation). Likewise, if the big-blind flats my button open and then checkraises an K99 board, his story instantly becomes suspect. Are there any kings that he doesn’t three-bet preflop but then decides to check-raise on this flop? And would he really checkraise a 9 on such a dry board and risk losing his only customer? The answer, of course, can be yes, but in poker we’re rarely dealing in absolutes. Instead, the point is to listen to the story your opponent is trying to sell you and, absent of any inside information on that player, and trusting population tendencies (or what most people do or don’t do in such a scenario).
Conversely, when checkraising opponents, always ensure it makes sense for your story based on board texture and position. So rather than checkraising from the big blind on a board like the one above, wait for one that connects much better to your perceived range (the collection of hands your opponents think you’re likely to have in that situation) such as, for example a 659 board with 2 cards of the same suit.
Which brings us to our final and most important tip for profitable checkraising:
3. Choose Equity!
There are very few more welcoming sights at the poker table than seeing an opponent bluff early in the hand with no real equity. Because while there are spots one can, and should, bluff the river with a dead hand, the same can rarely be said on the flop or even turn. Because bluffing any old hand based purely on the fact your opponent “bets too much and can’t possibly have it” is more of an ego play than a poker one and should generally be left to the professionals on TV who likely have much more in-depth reasoning for their actions. Instead, the key is to balance your value check-raising ranges by adding in some equity-heavy hands that have more paths to victory than simply expecting our opponent to fold. So rather than check-raising a hand like J9 on a Q74 board, or whatever other crazy combinations you see daily on the poker table, saving that same J9 for a board like 67T where not only do we have gutshot to the nuts (which we make with an 8), but we also have the added equity of hitting top pair with our J. And if that J9 is suited with one of those suits present on the board, thereby giving us a backdoor flush-draw, even better!
By doing these 3 simple things, attacking the right tendencies in the right situations, paying close attention to both your and your opponents’ storylines, and choosing equity-heavy bluffs when employing checkraises early in the hand, the likelihood of succeeding with those bets increases ten-fold.
Best of luck!
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