For the beginner player, this is one of the most fun new moves you will learn. There is something very satisfying about the check raise because it is like springing a surprise ambush on your opponent. Often your image goes from weakness to strength in a moment. Never-the-less, there are factors to consider when using check raises but successfully using them keeps your poker dynamic and unpredictable.
In theory, the check raise is a fairly simple move. It involves checking to your opponents. When your opponents bet, you re-raise. This re-raise has the element of surprise because the initial check shows weakness while the re-raise indicates a lot of strength. This can be interpreted by your opponent in a few ways but normally it indicates that you have a strong hand. The check-raise is a move that only makes sense out of position.
Increasing your EV
The check-raise carries risks, but assuming a tight aggressive player is behind you. You have made top two pair. You know that if you make a reasonable sized bet, this player is likely to fold unless he has a strong hand as well. This reduces the profits from the hand. Instead you could use a check raise to increase the payoff. The logic is that, the player is going to fold if you bet but the player has a tendency to bet into every checked flop, so there is a good chance he will bet if you check. In this case, you have a chance at taking the pot PLUS his little feeler bet. Against aggressive players, the tester bet would be around 50-100% of the pot. So that’s a considerable increase in your potential winnings in the hand.
Apart from winning a particular hand, check-raises are a good way to keep aggressive players on your left off-balance and in line. Players that are constantly betting into you will have to think twice in the future before running too many reckless bluffs. This helps narrow the range of hands in future bets, since they are likely to adjust. It is never bad for your table image when players fear you.
The risk to the check raise is that the players behind you could just check as well, giving them a free card and a chance to outdraw you. As an example, you are holding a medium PP and make middle trips on the flop. This is a great opportunity for a strong check-raise. But you need to consider what kind of cards your opponents have and their tendencies to bluffing. You are likely to have the best hand but if there are draws on the board there is a risk that you will be outdrawn. So in considering whether to bet your hand or to check it, you need consider the probability that your opponents behind you will bet and also the probability that a potential free card could break your hand.
Mix things up
The ideal overall strategy is to keep the check-raise in your arsenal but do not overuse it, you ideally want to avoid falling into particular patterns that good players will pick up on. Instead by mixing it in with other plays, you keep your opponents playing the guessing game. You can also be even more tricky and continue calling the flop and turn waiting for the re-raise on the river, you can do this when flops give the nuts. There is nothing more fun than making the nuts on the flop and having a fool betting the flop, turn and river. Take’em to the cleaners!