Perfecting the Check-Raise in No Limit Holdem
A lot of the time when I hit a monster hand against a loose-aggressive I’ll decide to check-raise out of position in order to get more chips in the pot. For example, if villain raises pre-flop from MP and I call with from BB with 10J. The flop brings JJ5. This is a good time to check-raise because since my opponent was the pre-flop raiser, he’s probably going to think that he still has the best hand and to continue the initiative in the pot by raising me after I checked. I can then re-raise him however, and put more money into the pot.
You do need to throw caution to the wind when applying the check-raise, since if done wrongly you can end up giving your opponent a free card and losing extra calling value from your big hands. In order to do a check-raise profitably you need to be certain that your opponent has a good enough hand to raise you with or that he is aggressive enough to try and bluff the pot after you have shown weakness. For instance, against a tight-passive player who misses the flop or catch some sort of draw like JQo on a 9105 flop, he is not going to raise you and will want to see the turn cheaply. On the other hand, against a proper LAG with 30/20 stats and a high c-bet%, you can check down your big hands like TPTK and re-raise your opponent who is most likely bluffing with air.
I don’t recommend check-raising your monsters early on the in the pot (e.g. before the turn) because I believe it gives away too much information about the strength of your hand. Especially in the low stakes games, players will generally fold very easily to a check-raise and are unlikely to call flops even with bottom pair or a decent draw. Of course, there is a counter argument to this at the higher stakes since you can check-raise more as a bluff and a means of balancing your hand range, but generally I don’t like check-raising the flop as a rule right there. Imagine for instance that you hit a trips on the board 66Q with 56 from MP. Now your opponent could raise your check with a number of hands including Qx/Ax/KJ/pocket pairs etc, but how many of these hands is he really going to call a check-raise with? He might call with Qx but that’s virtually it, so if you fold him not you remove the possibility of extracting more value from dominated hands later in the pot. When using the check-raise you also have to be wary of your table image, since if you are perceived as too tight and strong then you’ll probably fold a lot of weaker hands around that you’d actually prefer to remain in the pot. There are a ton of hands such as AK or pocket pairs that opponents can afford to call lightly with a c-bet, but not be able to call a re-raise.
The Check-Raise Semi-Bluff
I definitely think that you should be check-raising your semi-bluff hands much more than you normally would. There are so many reasons why it’s profitable to check-raise your semi-bluffs rather than checking or raising them first out of position. For starters, when you check-raise with a semi-bluff like 67s on a Ks-6d-5s board you not only give yourself added fold equity but you also receive implied odds which means you can check-raise for value as oppose to just bluffing. In other words you’ll be happy for other opponents to call you. Check-raising on a semi-bluff will also fold a lot of hands that are ahead of you. On a Ks-6d-5s board you could be folding Ax/6x/5x and possibly a few pocket pairs like 1010. Hence, the fold equity that you get from raising marginal hands gives you added incentive and equity in the pot. Overcards to small boards like QJ to 836 are great for semi-bluffing and check-raising. A typical TAG who raises pre-flop for example will find it very hard to connect with middling boards. He’s probably c-betting a lot of his AJ+ type hands but you can make these fold with a check-raise. The final reason to check-raise with a marginal holding is because check-raising out of position can buy you a positional advantage. By forcing your opponent to decide whether or not to call your raise on that particular street, it makes it much more difficult and forces him to fold a lot of his bluffing hands/weaker hands.