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A "check raise" consists of a check (in early position) followed by a raise after a later position player bets.

In my opinion, check-raising seems to be viewed in rather a pejorative way.

I understand of course that in the EP on full ring you risk missing out on a larger pot if nobody behind you bets. Apart from this though, the strategy would appear to be sound to me - especially in faster forms of online poker e.g. Zoom (Pokerstars) and Rush (Full Tilt) where table image isn't so much of an issue.

So what is the rationale behind a check-raise in poker? Why use this tactic?

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Downvoter: Is the question itself poor or does it just need more clarity/detail? –  Robbie Dee Dec 13 '13 at 16:25
    
[nb. Wasn't my downvote.] One issue with this question is that it could be answered in numerous, conflicting ways. Eg. "It's good/bad in this/that situations vs these/those players" etc. It's difficult to answer in this form I feel. Perhaps being more specific regarding game type (Fast vs. Normal poker),stack sizing issues... It depends on what you want to gain from the type of answer you get I suppose, but in this state it's seems overly broad. I'm inclined to close it, sorry Robbie :( Can you improve it at all? –  Toby Booth Dec 15 '13 at 0:17
    
OK, thanks Toby. The question really came from the fact that I couldn't find any resource that recommended a check-raise over a vanilla raise in any given situation at all which seemed to me a little strange given that there are stock situations where I use it with great success. I'm a little confused by the reticence as it would seem to be just a plain bluff in reverse: you're underplaying your hand strength rather than overplaying it. –  Robbie Dee Dec 17 '13 at 11:51
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It seems a reasonable question to me. I'd ask you to think about what happens if you check and always check fold or check call. It basically says "I'm always weak when I check" and allows anyone half observant to take advantage. You need some proportion of check-raises in your game in order to properly balance your plays. –  tom Dec 19 '13 at 19:48
    
@TobyBooth: I have edited the question to make in clearer and more objective. Apparently you edited my editing. Can it be reopened in its current form? –  Tom Au Dec 20 '13 at 2:37

6 Answers 6

Check raising can be used to punish people who auto-bet in position too often. It's also good for semi-bluffing or building a pot when you've got a made hand vs normal betting frequencies.

It's part of a balanced strategy. If every time you have a hand you donk and every time you check you either check-call or check-fold then your opponents can take advantage of this, knowing you're weak when you check.

Check-raising on the river generally polarises a range. Meaning it's either an amazing hand or nothing. Turn check raises include some percentage of semi-bluffs, where the raiser has enough fold equity + pot equity to make it profitable.

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Real nice opening sentence. I enjoy punishing aggro-donks with the check raise. :) –  user Dec 22 '13 at 2:05
    
@Dominic: If the only reason you are check-raising someone is to punish them or teach them a lesson, you are check-raising for the wrong reasons. –  John Dibling Dec 31 '13 at 15:25
    
@JohnDibling thanks for the advice, though I'm well aware of that and in fact I also use it for extracting value and shutting down risky hands. –  user Dec 31 '13 at 18:32

The books I have read by professional poker players discuss the check raise as part of a balanced strategy and discuss its use. The authors specifically point out that is perfectly acceptable. I surmise that those who object simply don't like having to cope with this particular tactic. If its a game among family or friends and someone objects, you might wish to graciously accept their prejudice. Otherwise I would ignore any naysayers.

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Welcome to the site. An upvote for a pretty good answer. –  Tom Au Dec 28 '13 at 18:34

This has to do with the fact that late-position players in a poker hand have an advantage, having seen what early position players did, or didn't do.

A check raise represents an attempt by an early position player to reverse the order. That is, he will wait for the late position player to bet first, before showing his strength. If a player never check raised from early position, but bet with strong cards and checked with weak ones, he'd be too easy to read.

An occasional check raise means that you can't assume that the player has a weak hand just because he checked. You can still bet from late position, but realize that you will sometimes run into a raise if you do so.

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It's not just home games that view check-raising as "pejorative" as you say. Most of the lowball games spread in Southern California flat-out banned check-raising. The other answers are generally correct... the reasons you would check-raise are the same as why you would bet out. Sometimes, though, check-raising makes a lot more sense than just betting out your hand.

Two of the best uses of check-raises are as follows :

(1) In a large multi-way pot, where you have a vulnerable hand that is probably best, a check-raise can force out opponents who would otherwise have the correct odds to call with a draw. Imagine sitting on 98s in the SB with five opponents in a limped pot. The flop comes out 833. There is every reason for you to think that a pair of eights are good here. Unfortunately, a player with AJo is often getting the right odds to make the call if you bet out. That same player will be getting the wrong odds to call and forced to fold, though, if you can successfully get a check raise in and he's facing two bets (and possibly more if he gets stuck in the middle of a raising war) instead of just one.

(2) In a tournament, when you are in the Big Blind and a late position player puts in a minimum raise. If you call, you'll be going headsup against the raiser. Assuming no antes, you are getting 3.5:1 to make the call. However, you can usually count on a c-bet from the late position player. So by calling with the intention of check-raising if you hit your hand, you are increasing your odds from 3.5:1 to 4.5:1 (not counting reverse-implied odds). You get that extra bet by check-raising than if you were to just bet out and your opponent folds.

Also, in my experience, check-raising as a bluff doesn't happen often... ESPECIALLY on the turn or river. While you'll see plenty of check-raise semi bluffs where there are a decent number of outs, you just don't see a lot of check-raise bluffs where the guy has no chance of winning unless you fold. Probably because they aren't as successful, since a player is less likely to fold the more they have committed themselves to a pot.

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It's a real pleasure to have a player of your calibre on here Dutch. Thanks for taking the time to answer. –  Toby Booth Mar 12 at 3:52
    
Thanks Toby. Appreciate the compliment. –  Dutch.Boyd Mar 15 at 9:19

that is good question. I was thinking about this as well. I found it useful in some scenarios. Consider this: you got very strong hand and at first you don't know if your opponent(s) are interested in playing further, so you don't bet allowing them to see free card and extract some value on further streets. But as soon as one of the opponent bets - that means there is a possibility of him having a hand and it is possible that he will pay back your raise. That is one situation I find check-raising useful. From the same reason it might be good when bluffing...

Further more you need to keep in mind that successful check-raise creates bigger pot then just a bet.

I want to also add 1 scenario when it is useful. Imagine you are drawing to a nut-flush (with chances like 50%) and that the simply calling a bet would leave you with very few chips. So - you don't want to convert your draw into a bluff at first (you still drawing), but when your opponent bets you don't want to fold your hand (you want to gamble). So it is like all-or-nothing situation (+ you getting a chance that your opponent would fold to a raise).

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The reasons to check-raise are exactly the same as the reasons to bet, and there are only two:

  1. For value.
  2. As a bluff

There is also a continuation bet, or a bet to take down dead money, but that really should be viewed as a combination of both a bet for value and a bet as a bluff.

If you consider a check-raise in this context, a few tactical patterns emerge.

From the perspective of a value bet, a check-raise is designed to get the most money in the middle as fast as possible. This is often done when you are certain that an opponent behind will bet if you check, and that by checking you do not put yourself in a difficult position where you have more opponents than you want. Because of these limitations, check-raising for value is rarely the correct play. Indeed, as I have said elsewhere, the best way to make money with a good hand is to bet, bet, bet.

Check-raising as a bluff is somewhat more common, but still unusual, and very strongly relies on your ability to understand your opponent. In particular, you must have a good understanding of both the relative strength of his hand and how he will react to a check-raise. You also need your check-raise to tell a convincing story. Since the default reason for a check-raise is generally for value, your check-raise must plausibly project great strength. If you have acted weak the entire hand and there is no indication on the board that your situation has changed (ie check-raising a 4H when the flop came KSTS2C), your check-raise will not be believable and often be perceived as a bluff.

As far as the ethics of a check-raise is concerned, there are no qualms: a check-raise is not an unethical play any more than any bluff of value-bet is unethical. Some house games impose a "no check-raise" rule and that's fine. Obey that rule. These games often try to cultivate a friendly atmosphere -- don't be That Guy who ruins a perfectly good time.

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