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The Check-Raise: When to Use It

A check-raise is simply checking and then raising on the same round after an opponent bets behind you. Check-raising, like its cousin slow-playing, is a special kind of deception: when you bluffing, you represent a weak hand as a strong one, but when you check with the intention of raising later on, you represent a strong hand as a weak one.

The Controversy Behind the Check-Raise

Some people say that check-raising is improper and reprehensible poker. They find it devious and deceitful and consider players who use it to be dirty. Playing on your conscience or attacking your integrity may be one way for such players to get you to remove a powerful weapon from your arsenal.

The problem is that without the check-raise possibility, the advantage of late position is overwhelming. Check-raising most certainly is deceptive and that what’s precisely what playing poker is all about. Bluffing, semi-bluffing and slow-playing are all examples of the tools of deceit in poker and they are all allowed and should be practiced to perfection.

When is it appropriate?

Ok, so when should you use this move? There are a couple of situations in which the check-raise can be an appropriate tactic.

  1. Eliminating the opposition – If you have a good hand - one that may be the best right now, but is susceptible to being beaten if other players make their hands – then you would clearly like to eliminate as many opponents from the pot as possible. In particular, the combination of a big pot, many pre-flop callers and early position puts you in a bad situation when you have a hand that could be run down later on. If you make your opponents pay two bets rather than one to continue playing, you may get some players to back down off of their draws or if they insist on calling, you are making their odds much less attractive and tempting them to make a serious mathematical mistake by calling.

  2. Jamming the pot – Many times you do want your opponents to make that call in order to get more money in the pot when you are sure you have and can maintain the lead and you are sure that someone behind you will bet if you check. For instance, someone has tipped you off that they are confident that they are leading but you have reason to believe that they are wrong. Say they raised pre-flop with a big pair and you made a sneaky flush or a straight, you want to give them a chance to bet big and then try to milk them further. 

  3. Bluff / Semi-Bluff – The check-raise is a bold move to make as a bluff. In fact, because the bluffer is putting so much at risk by making a check-raise, it functions as a very strong bluff. Much more than a continuation bet, it appears to your opponents that you hold a legitimately strong hand and they may crack under the pressure of such a strong declaration of strength on your part.

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