TEXAS HOLD’EM: CHECK-RAISING IN POKER WITH NOTHING … REALLY?
Often when you are out of position and check after the flop the player who took the lead pre-flop will bet into you. You think “should I call or fold?” One thing that separates good players from beginners is their willingness to take aggressive action when the situation warrants it. You should consider also asking yourself “should I raise” even if your hand doesn’t immediately warrant it. You may end up raising as a bluff or semi-bluff.
Suppose pre-flop you are in early position with Q J of diamonds. You limped or made a small raise pre-flop only to have a solid player in middle position raise or re-raise, which you called. You go into the flop heads up. When the flop comes 10, 8, 4 rainbow with one diamond, you have a backdoor flush draw, a straight draw and two overcards. You check.
The pre-flop raiser bets and you think you are behind but before folding you pause to consider the odds of calling to see if one of your draws improves. At first, you don’t think about raising. But as you start to put your opponent on a hand, you consider whether his bet is a continuation bet with overcards (probably stronger overcards than yours) or whether he is protecting a pair or better. You know that pairs are less common for starting hands than his other possible hands, like AK – AJ, all of which missed the flop. Even if he has a pair it might be an under pair and the 10 on the flop may make him nervous and ready to give up, although he may wonder why you didn’t bet it after the flop. Given how he has played, you think he probably did not raise with an unpaired 10 pre-flop so maybe it’s time to think about check-raising.
Check-raising is a very strong move in poker, and sends a clear message that you think you are ahead. By check-raising you are putting a great deal of pressure on your opponent to decide whether continuing with the hand makes sense. They have to consider not only the chips needed to call, but what may happen after the turn, when you possibly bet again. You also have to consider your own table image in calculating the odds of whether they will believe your check-raise is strong and fold. You will have to make the same calculations after the turn if they call your check-raise. Of course, if you check-raise and get re-raised you will know where you stand. In addition, if you do check-raise here and then give up your hand to a re-raise, next time you check-raise with a monster, you may get called or re-raised.
One thing to consider when check-raising as a bluff or semi-bluff is how much money you will have left in your stack after the raise. You must be careful check-raising when short-stacked. Without the threat of more bets to come your bluff will be less powerful, and you may find yourself committed to the pot with a marginal hand.
So while in most cases I would fold in this situation and not continue to play this hand out of position, if you think you have a good read on your opponent, check-raising can be the right move.