There are certain board types that work extremely well for a check-raise. One we have already seen is the low card board. People typically do not raise with small cards. They want to make big pairs with big cards. As simple as that sounds it is still a fact that many people look at a board such as 7-5-4, see that they missed, and move on. They do not stop to think about what really hit this board in their opponent’s range and, save for the sets and over-pairs, they’ve largely bricked.
Another board that is great is one high card with two low cards and a flush
draw. A board such as K♥-3♠-6♠ is wonderful to check-raise because our opponent will have missed most of the time, and we can credibly represent a
number of hands. We would normally check-raise with a set and a nut flush draw. If the stacks are 25–35BB, as they frequently are in tournament poker, you could plausibly have flush draws and top pairs as well.
The other attractive facet of this board is that many people fold their pocket pairs on it. If they think your range is a top pair, a nut flush draw, or a set they likely won’t want to go to war with 7-7, 8-8, 9-9, 10-10, or J-J. If we get the villain to fold these hands then they are bet/folding 60%+ of the time.
Some of you at this point are no doubt asking yourself, “Why would I want to check-raise that board? Our opponent could easily have a king! What if I went after a board like a 3-3-2 rainbow?” A 3-3-2 rainbow is a fine board to check- raise. Our opponent will not have a pair or draw 70%+ of the time. The problem is when your opponent starts to question what you would have. Would you really check-raise with a 3 there when it’s so hard for your opponent to have anything? For this reason I refer to these textures as “chicken boards.” Everyone at the table and on the rail knows no one usually has anything.
If your opponent becomes suspicious he could potentially 3-bet or call you down, showing that he’s playing much more than we previously expected by just counting pairs in his continuation betting range. That doesn’t mean you should never attack a chicken board, it just means that you need to pick the spot well. A good time to apply pressure is when your opponent’s flat will be a significant amount of his chips, and a 3-bet will commit all of his chips. People still are not eager to table ace high when their 3-bet jam gets called, so we can focus on 25– 40BB effective stacks more often when we check-raise; these stacks give us the most opportunities to exact this kind of inflection point bet.
Hands for Check Raising
Many people do not consider their hand at any great length when they are check- raising. If they think they see a profitable situation they attack. They only start thinking about whether they should have used the particular hand once they’re called and they hit a goofy top pair on the turn, which could easily be dominated.
Not all hands play the same when check-raised. If you have an ace in your hand, for example, that’s not a good thing. An ace blocker is good to have preflop, but not for a postflop bluff. Why? Because your opponents most likely bet/folding combinations involve A-x. There are 12 of each one of these, and only four combinations of each pair. So it takes all the combinations of 8-8 and 9-9 to account for one A-Jo combination wise. Multiply that by every A-x combo, and you can see they are plentiful. You are blocking every single one of them with an ace in your hand. That makes it much more likely your opponent has a made hand. Aces are better jammed preflop or played for a re-raise.
We can see this in these Flopzilla analyses. First, let’s look at our opponents combinations if he opened a 21% range and continuation bet the entirety of it on a J♣-7♣-3 board. If we check-raise and he defends with middle pair or better, we can see that he will be defending 46.8% of the time (Figure 68).
Figure 69 shows what happens to the filtered percentage if we put a solitary ace in the dead cards section.
You’ll notice now that our opponent has a middle pair or better 49% of the time, more than the previous 46.8% of the time. In simpler terms, you would be better off here if the dealer did not deal you a hand.
There is one exception to this rule. That is when you have the ace that blocks the nut flush draw, as you can see in the Flopzilla analysis shown in Figure 70.
Now there are a number of combinations you just took away from your opponent. He will be hard pressed to 3-bet jam into you when he doesn’t have the nut flush draws available. So this analysis begs another question: other than the sole ace blocker of the flush draw, what should we check-raise with?
My favorite cards to check-raise with (especially on low flops) are the broadways, as they do not block the A-x combinations I want to bet/fold, and they have great over-card potential. If I hit my pair it’s unlikely I will have
incredible reverse implied odds. For example, say the board is 5♥-2♥-4♦. If I check-raise A-10, get called, and hit the ace on the turn I could be in deep
trouble. A-5s, A-2s, and A-4s are likely hands in my opponent’s range. While I just made a good top pair he just made two pair. Things are about to get real pricey.
If I check-raise J-10, however, and hit the jack it’s unlikely my opponent has J-5, J-2, or J-4. It’s going to be very difficult for him to put me on a jack. Things are more likely to get pricey for him now. It’s even better if you have one heart
in your hand, in our 5♥-2♥-4♦ board. A backdoor draw might not sound like much, but it does give you 10 cards you can continue to fire on the turn. The additional flush equity makes it so that your turn bluff bet doesn’t need to work nearly as often.
Another hand which can work very well as a check-raising hand is a small pair. Unlike the bare ace blocker there’s no reverse implied odds. You either drill your set on the turn or you do not. If you have less than third pair with your 6-6 it’s fairly easily to fold. If you hit your set you can get the money in. It’s hard to misplay with such clear cut standards.
No one ever puts you on the turned set either. Often your card looks fairly innocuous. Say you flatted with 5-5, and check-raised on the J-9-4 board. You get called, and the turn is a 5. Who on Earth is going to think that’s a bad card for them? If they called you on the flop they’re likely going to the river, and they’re not going to like what they see.
Again, your main emphasis here should be the check-raise. Analyze whether the bet is sound, and use these hand guidelines to decide whether to do the play on the borderline decisions.
Finally, a note on when you get caught: it is going to happen. You are going to turn over some absurd hands when you finally get called down and you backdoor something. Never tell people what you were thinking. Never ever snap fold after you check-raise, either. Always make up a hand that a recreational player would play. If the board comes J-8-4 and you check-raise bluff with 10-6, do not immediately fold if you get 3-bet. Show the 10 and go “10s, wanted to see where I was at.” Now you sound like a dolt as opposed to someone who knew how to check-raise bluff. Beautiful.
One time, the best online tournament No Limit Hold ‘Em player in the world said something to me, and it’s stuck with me ever since. It was so freakishly simple that it pissed me off I didn’t say it: “Alex, when people bet small on coordinated boards, do they ever have a big hand? Ever?”
I thought about a typical coordinated board. Let’s take a very coordinated
one. Say 7♦-6♦-5♥. Does anyone bet small with an 8-9? No. They’re worried about getting sucked out on. They want to get the money in now. Do they bet
small with a set? Two pair? Nope. Again, the same worries, and they want to get the money in. Every time they bet small there it’s one pair. Even if it’s an over- pair they’re going to have a hell of a time if you check-raise and keep firing into them.
I’m always amazed at the times people randomly launch a bluff that seems without logic. This is one of the rare boards where you can have the world and your opponent might have indicated he has nothing. Focusing our bluffing efforts here makes more sense.
I’m not a big believer in balancing. I find most of the people who kept bandying that word about are trying to sound like high-stakes regulars. They never seem to be around a few years later. Yes, when Phil Galfond plays Isildur1, he needs to be very aware of balance. In normal MTTs when your experience with a player will often cap out at a couple of hundred hands let’s assume he’s playing his game more than yours. He has so many players to deal with and so many tables, it is a natural survival instinct for him to just control this game. He might make a good deal of money continuation betting 80%+ of the time, especially if most people just fold. His style could work against 95% of pros on a particularly soft site. It’s just on you to make sure you’re the 5%.
Versus the players who are a bit more wary I’d advise not to check-raise whenever the board is simply favorable to you. Yes, he’s likely to have missed 60% of the time. That’s true for most boards. It’s hard to make a hand in No Limit Hold ‘Em. If you attack every single time that he continuation bets soon you’re going to break the ATM. Everyone will know you just like to check-raise boards, and no one at the table is going to believe you in later levels, when those chips become really precious. To avoid this unfavorable scenario I’d advise making sure you have something when you check-raise. A backdoor flush draw might be all you need to make your check-raising range harder to understand. Try to focus on the hands we discussed in the previous section: broadway cards, aces that block the nut flush draw, backdoor draws, and the like.
If you let the cards determine when you’ll check-raise you’ll be harder to read. However “random” you think your check-raising timing is it’s probably riddled with emotion. A good regular is going to know when you feel like entering the game or not. He isn’t going to know what’s in your hand.
You need to be aware whether it seems as if you’re check-raising every hand, and maybe start folding your worst backdoor draws, but in general fire out at people when you can follow up on a few turns. This randomizes the timing, and allows you to fold them out on the turn occasionally if the flop bet doesn’t work, and of course this also means they don’t get to see your hand, which keeps the air of mystery around what exactly you’re doing this with.
If you ever get caught check-raising with air notice carefully who is paying attention. Make a note on that player. The next time you’re against him and you hit a good top pair you can check-raise it. He’s very likely to try and 3-bet you off the hand or call you down. A great time to do this is when you flop an ace. Say the board is A-6-4 and you have A-Q. If you check with the intention to call and he has a weaker ace he might bet the flop, but it’s likely he’ll check the turn for pot control if you check again on the turn. If you check-raise the flop he’ll be confused. Who really check-raises an ace there? It’s hard to have a set or two pair. He just saw you doing this with air. Now, he’s along for the ride. He’ll call down much more than he should. Furthermore, if he had Q-Q, J-J, 10-10, or another under-pair it’s likely he would have bet once and given up. Now he’s incredulous about your check-raise. You might get three bets out of him!
Be sure you don’t only check-raise dry boards with the top pairs to “balance.” You have to get out there and play chicken with some players, otherwise you’ll be horribly readable. If they’re prolific pot controllers realize their favorite boards to check back on are the boards with no flush draws, because there’s little that can catch up with them on the turn. If they’re continuation betting you can rule out some pairs, and check-raise their mostly air range more boisterously.