The text below is based on Episode 1 of the Level-Up Podcast, hosted by Upswing Poker coach Gary “GazzyB” Blackwood and Upswing VP Mike Brady. You can watch or listen to the entire episode via the links above or by searching “Upswing Level Up” on your preferred podcast platform.
A solid check-raising strategy from the big blind is essential to a winning poker strategy.
You’ll often find yourself in situations where a player raises preflop and you call from the big blind. The flop comes, you check, and your opponent continuation bets.
What situations call for a check-raise in this scenario? Let’s consider the most critical factors that should impact how often you check-raise and which hands you should use.
Opponent’s Bet Sizing
From the big blind, you should check-raise much more often versus a small c-bet from your opponent, and less often versus a large c-bet. However, the opponent’s bet size doesn’t really effect the type of hands with which you should check-raise.
Here’s a look at an example, using a TT2 rainbow board as an example:
Whether you’re facing a small c-bet (25-33% pot) or a large c-bet (70-100% pot), the hands you check-raise with don’t change. But you should adjust the frequency at which you check-raise those hands — more often versus smaller bets and less often versus bigger bets.
All board textures call for a check-raising range from the big blind, but some boards warrant a more frequent check-raising than others. Specifically, you should check-raise more frequently on boards that are better for your range and not so good for your opponent’s range.
For example, the following boards favor the preflop aggressor and this you should check-raise relatively infrequently:
Conversely, the following boards favor the preflop caller, and in the big blind you’ll want to check-raise on these textures more often:
Blackwood on how flop texture affects check-raising strategy:
Paired boards the solver plays very aggressively. We talked about the TT2, that’s a board you should be check-raising 28 percent of the time on average. But other boards that are really middling and connected, you’ve got lots of natural bluffs on.
As we’ve already mentioned, one of the main factors that determines how often you want to raise is your opponent’s c-bet size. Because on a board like K83, we don’t have a lot of natural check-raise bluffs. But we’ll find plenty of check-raises from the big blind versus the button on that type of board — you just have to be a little more creative in the types of bluffs that you find.
Hand Selection On High-Frequency Check-Raise Boards
Don’t be afraid of “losing your customer” by raising with your nutted hands on a high-frequency check-raise board. In Blackwood’s words:
One of the biggest leaks I want to talk about straight off the bat — people have this fear of losing their customer if they raise some of their nutted hands. This is a huge problem, particularly in single-raised pots.
Because the pot is very small, and if you’ve got a set, or top two pair, you really want to start building the pot as soon as possible. Your opponent will, of course, fold to your raise sometimes, but when they do continue you end up winning a much larger pot, so it’s much higher EV to make that raise on the flop.
On high-frequency boards, look to check-raise with:
- Value – Nutted hands
- Bluffs – High-equity bluffs (nut flush draw, open-ended straight draws, etc.)
You don’t always want to raise your high-equity draws, however, as Brady explains:
If you always check-raised your “natural bluffs,” which are those open-enders, those gutshots, those flush draws, then when you do just check-call, and the turn completes a draw, you’re never going to have that turned strong hand.
When deciding when to check-raise with a drawing hand, consider the board texture. On high-frequency boards, you can check-raise with natural bluffs more often, and you’ll want to dial down the check-raise frequency with your bluffs on low-frequency boards.
Also consider prioritizing check-raise bluffs with hands that have extra outs (i.e. on a 9♠7♣2♦ board, you can favor T♣8♣ over 8♣6♣, as T♣8♣ has an overcard plus the draw).
When check-raising with a nut flush draw or second nut flush draw, look favor those that have a low kicker. For example on 9♠7♠2♦, A♠3♠ is a better check-raise hand than A♠J♠, as the J♠ blocks potential lower flush draws that your opponent might call with.
You want your opponent to have weaker flush draws in their range, because you can get value from those hands plus you’ll likely win a huge pot if the flush completes.
Let’s take a look at potential check-raise candidates for value and bluffs on a high-frequency board like J♠6♠4♥:
A board like K♦8♠3♣, another high-frequency board, doesn’t offer as many natural check-raise bluffs as J♠6♠4♥, but your raising strategy could look like this:
You may have noticed some bottom pair hands included in that check-raise “bluff” range. Consider Brady’s thoughts on check-raising with bottom pairs on boards that lack natural bluffs:
When you check-raise one of those bottom pairs, and get called, kind of indicating your opponent has top pair, or an overpair, or something like that, and then you bang off the trips, or the two pair on the turn.
You have a super-disguised strong hand that you’re now going to barrel off on the turn, barrel off on the river for value, and maybe even win a stack from a hand like pocket aces. It’s basically a five-out bluff.
Additionally, check-raising with bottom pair will force your opponent to fold hands with equity such as JT on the K83 flop. That’s a huge win because those two overcard hands have around 30% equity, so it’s like you’re stealing 30% of the pot from your opponent.
Hand Selection On Low-Frequency Check-Raise Boards
The following board textures are extremely favorable for the preflop raiser, and as the big blind caller your check-raise frequency goes down considerably:
Consider the following check-raise strategy with value and bluffs on A♦K♦7♣:
Since you would have 3-bet preflop with AA, KK, and AK, there’s only a couple hands that you will want to check-raise for value on this flop. Therefore you must also bluff fairly infrequently.
Blackwood recommends the following simplifications for choosing a bet size when you check-raise from the big blind:
- Use a 3.2x raise vs. larger c-bets
- Use a 3.2x raise on paired boards
- Use a 3.2x raise on broadway boards vs. the button
- Use a 4.5x raise vs. smaller c-bets
- Use a 4.5x raise on low-frequency boards
- Use a 4.5x raise when your range is polarized (e.g. vs. EP/MP on K83)
Blackwood explains more on why each of these sizes is best in the podcast, so give it a listen for more details on these size options.
Some players c-bet certain board textures too often. For example, Blackwood finds that many players c-bet the following situations/flops seemingly 100% of the time:
- SB vs. BB – SB often c-bets too often on K♦7♦6♣ (SB should c-bet 40% of the time)
- BTN vs. BB – BTN often c-bets too often on A♥6♦2♣ (BTN should c-bet 65% of the time)
As the BB, you can punish these opponents with an aggressive check-raising strategy. They won’t call your check-raises as much as they should, and you’ll make money when your opponent overfolds on the flop.
When these opponents do call the flop, their turn range is stronger than it should be because of how tight they play versus check-raise. Because of this, you should proceed with caution on the turn and only continue bluffing with your high-equity draws.
About The Upswing Poker Level-Up Podcast
This lesson on check-raising from the big blind marks episode #1 of the new Upswing Poker Level-Up Podcast.
Hosted by cash game specialist Gary Blackwood and Upswing Poker VP Mike Brady, Level-Up aims to help players improve their skills and make more money in episodes that are less than 30 minutes.
You can suggest new topics for the podcast on Twitter using the hashtag #uplevelup.