How Should You React to a Check-Raiser on the Flop?

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BetMGM Sep 16, 2023, 11:46 AM

Unless you are a complete beginner to online poker, you’ll know how important it is to tailor your personal poker strategy to that of your opponents. There are a great many different poker player types out there, each one with a particular style that presents its own challenges at the table.

Some players make it easy for you to decide whether to adopt an aggressive or defensive poker strategy. Against an extremely tight player, for instance, you would adjust your play according to the poker hand strength that they project. Other players are more tricky to deal with because they balance their ranges to keep you guessing. One of the toughest customers you’ll come up against is the check-raiser. This is an opponent who knows how and when to check-raise from out of position, either to grow the pot or bluff other players into folding. Learn how to play poker successfully in this scenario.

What Does Check-Raising Mean?

Before you can understand how check-raisers think and beat them at their own game, you need to have a solid grasp of what check-raising is all about. The basic concept is country simple. Say you’re railing a six-handed game at your local casino. The cards are dealt, the first two players fold, the cutoff open raises, the button calls, the small blind folds, and the big blind calls. The flop comes, and the big blind (now out of position) checks. The cutoff makes a continuation bet, the button calls — and the big blind raises. It’s almost like an ambush. By checking on the flop, the big blind projected a low poker hand strength, but by coming over the top with a confident raise, they will put their opponents into a state of doubt.

Now, they have to grapple with two possible scenarios. Either the big blind has a strong hand and has tricked them into growing the pot, or they’re bluffing in the hope that players with middling or weak hands will fold under the pressure. So, how should they respond? It’s the kind of dilemma you’ll grow familiar with when you learn how to play poker at a higher level.

Check-Raising for Value

Check-raising is a way for OOP (out-of-position) players to turn the tables. In fact, not check-raising for value is one of the biggest OOP mistakes. Here’s how it works. Say you’re the big blind, and a player in late position raises. Holding 6 of diamonds and 6 of hearts, you call. The flop comes king of diamonds, 9 of clubs, 6 of spades. You’ve flopped a set. This is a very strong hand, but you don’t necessarily want to bet out. This would telegraph a very high poker hand strength, so players who missed the flop might just fold. Instead, you check, inviting the preflop-raiser to make a continuation bet and grow that pot. If there are other players in the pot and they call, the pot grows even bigger, which is what you want. When it checks back to you, you spring the trap and raise.

Check-Raising To Bluff

Most players will check-raise from a position of strength, but some will do it as a bluff. This takes a great deal of skill. Assuming that your opponent’s hand is stronger, you probably won’t win at showdown, so you have to tell a believable story with your bluff — hopefully one that will earn you a fold. Imagine you’re in the big blind once more, holding a jack of hearts and 10 of hearts. A late position player raises before the flop, and you call. The flop comes 7 of clubs, 6 of diamonds, 5 of spades. You check, and the preflop raiser makes a c-bet.

This aggressive play signals a strong hand, and your hand has limited potential. In fact, the best way to play your hand straight would be to fold. But good players don’t play their hands — they play their ranges. In this case, the flop isn’t all that great for an opponent with big pocket cards. If you check-raise and all they have is ace- or king-high, it might be scary enough for them to fold. Of course, it’s better if you can play a semi-bluff (say with the ace of hearts and 8 of hearts instead of the jack and the 10.) That way, you stand a chance to improve to a draw if your opponent calls your bluff.

Reacting to Value Check-Raises

So, how are you going to react to poker players who check-raise? Suppose your opponent in the big blind is check-raising for value on the same flop as in the previous example. If you run that spot through a poker solver, you’ll find that the optimal poker strategy is to call most of the time with made hands, ace-highs, and backdoor flush draws, almost always call with straight and flush draws, and play a mixed strategy with other strong hands. This assumes that the big blind is raising approximately 22.5% of the time, with a range consisting of various frequencies of underpairs, middle pairs, overpairs, trips, flush, backdoor flush, and straight draws.

That’s how it looks in theory. In practice, only the most loose-aggressive poker player types are likely to play such a broad range. A more realistic check-raising range would include the strongest sets, higher backdoor flush and straight draws (e.g., 9–8 off suit and better,) flush draws with backdoor straights (e.g., 10–8 suited,) as well as all open-ended straight draws. Against this range, the best action is to fold almost 50% of the time. Only call or re-raise if you’re confident that you have the stronger hand.

Reacting to Check-Raise Bluffs

What if you come up against one of those loose-aggressive players who do check-raise more than a fifth of the time, in line with optimal poker strategy theory? Well, loose-aggressive players, by definition, often bet and raise with sub-par hands, so you’ll often be able to catch them out with a bluff-catcher hand. This is a weak hand that can only win by calling an opponent’s bluff — typically, weak pairs (good enough to beat ace-high or worse) or even ace-high (good enough to beat king-high or worse.) If a loose-aggressive player check-raises from the big blind with an inviting bet size, calling with a bluff-catcher is a statistically profitable play. If you know your opponent well, of course, you might pick up on a tell, such as double-checking hole cards, in which case your bluff-catcher is much more likely to win.

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Our BetMGM editors and authors are casino experts with a wealth of knowledge of the online casino industry at all levels. Their coverage includes company news, game reviews, how-to instructional articles, strategy guides, and editorials showcasing BetMGM’s superior product and game library.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are casino experts with a wealth of knowledge of the online casino industry at all levels. Their coverage includes company news, game reviews, how-to instructional articles, strategy guides, and editorials showcasing BetMGM’s superior product and game library.