Players that don’t check-raise are easy to beat.
If you won’t check-raise me, there are only two possible outcomes when I bet:
You therefore fold away all of your equity, or allow me to realize all of mine. Neither of these options are great for you. And it gets worse if I know you won’t check-raise — I can exploit you with a substantial frequency of value bets and bluffs.
Players with a well-structured check-raising strategy in their post-flop arsenal are tough to beat. If I have to factor in your aggressive check-raising tendencies, I might think twice before opening light on your big blind.
I’m going to focus on check-raising from the big blind in this article, as it’s perhaps the most important position to be able to check-raise from.
3 Concepts You Need to Know Before Check-Raising
1. Range Considerations
The first thing to consider is how each player’s range interacts with the cards on the flop. Avoid check-raising on flops that heavily favor your opponent’s range, and attack boards that favor your own range. For instance, consider how ranges contrast when the Big Blind flats an open-raise from UTG.
The UTG pre-flop aggressor has far more strong hands in their range than the Big Blind, which gives UTG a notable range advantage going into the flop. However, a typical Big Blind defend range has hands the UTG opener would never play — hands like 97s or 43s. The presence of these hands in the Big Blind’s range leads to a range advantage on some board textures, but most boards favor the in position pre-flop aggressor.
Here are a few examples of flops that should never be check-raised by the Big Blind because they heavily favor the in position pre-flop aggressor:
- K♣ J♥ T♠
- Q♥ J♦ T♠
- A♥ A♠ K♥
On the other hand, here are a couple flops that call for a check-raise range from the Big Blind:
- 9♥ 7♠ 5♥
- 6♠ 4♦ 3♥
- T♦ 6♠ 4♥
2. C-Bet Frequencies And Sizes
Your opponent’s c-bet size and frequency greatly impacts what your check-raise range should look like.
If your opponent c-bets relatively infrequently, respond by check-raising conservatively. If your opponent c-bets often or uses a small c-bet size, check-raise with a wider-than-usual range.
The bet size matters a lot too. Small c-bet sizes are often indicative of a relatively wide and merged range, which allows the Big Blind to check-raise more often. Large c-bet sizes usually coincide with a more polarized range, which is best countered with either a call or fold– not a raise.
3. Having a Balanced Check-Raising Strategy
It’s important to have a well-balanced check-raising strategy–the correct ratio of value bets to bluffs in order to remain unexploitable–especially against tough competition.
Consider an extreme example: a player in the Big Blind that check-raises with strong value hands and nothing else. This player opens themselves up to exploitation in multiple ways:
- The in position player can confidently make hero folds whenever he gets check-raised, continuing with only his strongest hands
- When the Big Blind check-calls, the in position player can barrel the turn and river at a high frequency
To avoid getting exploited like this, you need to focus on balancing your check-raise range with both value bets and bluffs.
Check-Raise Example – Cutoff Open vs Big Blind Call
Now let’s run through an example to see these concepts in action:
Hero is in the Big Blind with:
4 folds. CO raises 2.5BB. 2 folds. Hero calls.
Consider both players’ ranges:
To get a better sense of how ranges compare on this board texture, let’s take a look at what a CO opening range looks like versus a BB flatting range.
On T♦–6♠-4♥, Hero in the Big Blind has more very strong hands(two pair+) in their range than the CO opener. Granted, the original raiser is slightly more likely to have top set(since Hero may choose to 3 bet TT pre-flop), but that’s at most only 3 combinations. Meanwhile, Hero has 4 more two-pair combinations (64s and T6s) than the CO. As a result, Hero can establish a check-raise range without becoming exploitable.
How to Check-Raise Versus a Polarized C-Bet Range
If the CO employs a polarized c-betting strategy(pictured below) with a relatively large bet size, Hero should respond with a narrow and polarized check-raising range.
How to Check-Raise Versus a 100% C-Bet Range
Players that c-bet a true 100% are rare, but it is relatively common to face opponents that c-bet a wide range using a small size(25%-33% pot). Considering what range we would use vs the former extreme example will help us better understand the latter.
Against a CO that c-bets their entire range, Hero can profitably check-raise a wide range containing more value bets and bluffs. Here is a reasonable check-raise range for Hero to use versus such a player:
Hero has almost 3x as many value combinations in this range compared with his check-raising range against a polarized c-bettor. We now include some strong Tx combos, as well as some medium strength top pair combos(T7o). Check-raising with some medium top pairs helps to further balance all of our ranges across all streets. We choose T7o because it has the best backdoor potential of any top pair.
T7o may seem a little on the loose side, but it works out well as a check-raise vs a super high c-bet frequency. Take a look at the equity of T7o versus our opponent’s betting range:
T7o is almost a 2-to-1 favorite over the CO’s c-bet range. Not only does Hero’s check-raise extract value when CO calls with a worse hand, it also denies the CO his equity when he folds.
If we allow our opponent to bet small without the fear of getting raised, they get to realize their equity with near-impunity.
When it comes to choosing our bluffs, using hands with little showdown value that can draw to the nuts is a good starting point. The CO will usually struggle to defend as often as needed with such a wide range, which allows us to bluff at a higher-than-usual frequency. This accounts for the high number of bluffs we have in this spot (48 combos of bluffs versus 37 of value hands).
If we get called, we’ll want to use a mixed strategy depending on what the turn card is. Weak and medium strength top pairs(T7o) are definite turn checks, and including some of our nutted hands (like 66) helps protect our check range. Giving up with some of our weakest draws and pure bluffs is appropriate as well.
We can continue barreling the turn for value with our strong Tx, two pair and set combinations. We can balance this range by bluffing with hands that either flopped a lot of equity or picked up equity on the turn.
Well thought out mixed strategies are difficult to exploit. Checking some nutted hands protects our entire checking range, and betting a mix of value hands and bluffs on the turn ensures a balanced betting range.
Next time you’re considering establishing a check-raise range on the flop, go over this checklist and adjust your range accordingly:
- Examine the board texture and judge which player’s range has the advantage
- Consider the bet size used by your opponent and their c-bet frequency(if available)
- Balance your check-raising range with the appropriate number of value bets and bluffs given the size of your raise
With these points in mind, you should have no trouble structuring your own check-raising ranges in the appropriate spots.
(Note: Learn and master the strategies behind the world class poker players’ successes in The Poker Lab— a poker training course developed by Doug Polk & Ryan Fee. Click here or below to learn more.)
More poker strategy content from Ryan Fee and UpswingPoker:
- Learn how to approach one of the trickiest board texture in poker with Paired Boards: 4 Examples That Reveal The Optimal Approach
- Don’t let aggressive check-raisers get the best of you by using the c-bet strategy outlined in Print Money with Your C-Bets In and Out of Position
- Go back to the top of this check-raise article