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The Check-Raise: Getting Burned from Giving Free Cards

Up until now, we’ve discussed when it’s appropriate to use the check-raise, walked through several examples and discussed the advantage of getting free cards once you’ve got an established reputation as a check-raiser. All is not roses with the check-raise, however, there can be a down-side to using it, and hence one must proceed with caution when utilizing this weapon.

The reason? If you check with the intent of raising later on in the same round of betting, but nobody bets, a terrible thing has happened: you have given a free card in a situation where you may have been better off making your opponents pay your bet to see another card.

In fact, in his book Super System, poker legend Doyle Brunson contends that he uses the check-raise very rarely in No-Limit Texas Hold 'Em. He states that it is more profitable to simply bet a quality hand, regardless of whether his opponent will try to bluff, precisely because a check-raise gives other players the chance to see free cards, which may improve their hand.

That same reputation that you get for check-raising can work to your disadvantage – people are unwilling to bet for fear that you will check-raise! As we discussed in the previous article, this is great when you have a bad hand with which you'd like to get a free card. And, generally, you could use a free card more often than you have a check-raising hand, so it’s mostly to your advantage that your opponents are intimidated. But when you have a good hand and want to check-raise, nobody betting behind you is very bad. If you want your check-raise to work, you must be confident that at least one of your opponents is prepared to bet.

In addition, check-raising also makes it obvious to other players that you may have a very strong hand. In many cases, you want to conceal the fact that you have a monster so as not to scare off your opponents.

Finally, while the check-raise can be used as a strong bluff technique, your opponent – sniffing some deception on your part – could put in a re-raise and scare you off of your bluff.

All of these potential dangers increase the importance of understanding your opponents and how they might react to your moves. In situations where you would really like to check-raise, if you reason that the alternatives are betting out immediately or having it checked around the table, then of course you should bet. Therefore, when you decide to check-raise, you must be fairly certain that somebody behind you will bet.

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