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4 reasons to check-raise the flop in poker tournaments

4 reasons to check-raise the flop in poker tournaments

Back in the old days, check-raising in poker was not a common play.

In his 1979 book Super/System, Doyle Brunson suggests you should only check-raise very rarely in no limit hold’em (NLHE), arguing that you’ll make more money by simply betting your strong hands instead of hoping your opponent bets. If they don’t, you’ve given them a chance to see free cards.

But he also argued that check-raising makes it obvious to your opponent that you have a strong hand, which in turns makes it a strong bluff technique.

Brunson was the best player in the world back in the late seventies, but these days–with the use of solvers–poker strategy is far more sophisticated.

In Jonathan “apestyles” Van Fleet’s webinar bundle, he outlines four reasons why we should consider check-raising on the flop when out of position.

Let’s go through them.

It increases the pot for your value hands

“The main reason for raising is to get money in with our good hands,” says apestyles. This doesn’t need much explaining.

So let’s take a look at a (fictional) hand where someone could have check-raised but didn’t.

In the classic final hand of Rounders, Mike McDermott flops the nut straight against Teddy KGB and “all night he check, check, check”.

Check-calling three times worked out wonderfully in this instance. McDermott knows KGB is a super aggressive player (after all, KGB bet $2,000 into a pot of $400 on the flop) so he can afford to check it all the way knowing KGB will build a huge pot for him.

But situations like that one don’t come up too often. Often you’ll need to build a pot yourself and check-raising flops is a great way to do it.

In the old days KGB might have instantly put McDermott on a straight or two pair (after all, would he really check-raise on a draw back in 1998 when the film was released?). Today, however, it’s common to see players check-raise hands like J8 or J9 in this spot.


It increases fold equity with the bottom of your range

Check-raising allows you to take down pots with your weaker hands which can improve on the turn.

“This means we get to play more aggressively with our gutshots, backdoors etc,” says apestyles. “Normally we’re going to choose hands that don’t have a lot of equity but can turn big hands or turn additional outs.”

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We avoid playing OOP with a capped range

By just check-calling, McDermott’s range becomes capped. Would he really just call with two pair when there’s three to a straight on board? Probably not. By calling, it’s more likely he just has a top pair which KGB can apply pressure on the turn, whether he has a hand or not.

“By check-raising, we avoid playing those annoying spots where we have to figure out how often someone is going to be bluffing against us,” says apestyles. “You give up the polarisation advantage when you check-call.”

When you check-raise, your range can become polarised to either very strong hands (like the nut straight McDermott has) or bluffs (gutshots, for example).

When in doubt, be aggressive!

“This just refers to an attacking style of play,” says apestyles. “Small check-raises are rarely the wrong way to go.”

If you’ve ever watched apestyles on Twitch, you’ll know the man is fearless. Check-raising can be risky (“Sometimes you’re going to be raising and making the pot too big with a weird part of your range that you shouldn’t be doing out of position,” he says) but in general, giving your opponent the ability to fold is a great strategy.

We want to put our opponents in tough spots as much as possible.

“People think check-raising is a super risky play but let’s say someone is betting 30 into a pot of 100,” says apestyles. “They’re betting 30% of the pot. If we check-raise 3x, we’re risking 90 to win 130. That’s not too much of a risk. In fact, there’s a very good price on our bluff. I tend to be a little bluff happy with my check-raises.”

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