vs check-raise thumb

Playing Versus Check-Raise | Upswing Poker Level-Up #28



This article is a transcription of the Level-Up Podcast, hosted by Upswing VP Mike Brady with Gary Blackwood. You can watch or listen to the entire episode via the links above or read on if you prefer a written version.


Mike Brady (00:00):

What’s up? Let’s give your poker game a quick level up. I’m Mike Brady and I’m joined by Poker Pro and vlogger Gary Blackwood.

Gary Blackwood (00:07):

Thanks as ever for joining us guys and girls. Today we’re going to be looking at what to do when your opponent check raises you. We’ll be looking at the types of hands that want to call, the types of hands that want to fold and some of the types of hands that want to three bet.

Mike Brady (00:18):

We’ll start by talking about a fundamental factor that should be the very first thing you consider whenever you’re facing a check raise. From there we’ll dive into four example flop types using Upswing Poker’s upcoming tool, the Lucid GTO Trainer and Explorer.

By the end of this episode, you’ll be well prepared to face check raises in your games.

Bet & Raise Sizing Considerations

The first thing to consider is sizing, both the raise size of your opponent and the cbet size that you used initially. Gary, how does your opponent’s raise size impact how you should respond to the check raise?

Gary Blackwood (00:48):

So this is something that very much applies to all parts of poker, not just our specific topic today. When your opponent uses larger sizes, you will defend at a lower frequency and when your opponent uses smaller sizes, you defend wider. So when your opponent check raises for a small size, you’re going to call much wider and when they check raise for a larger size, your range is going to get much narrower. Again, really important to reiterate that that can be applied to all parts of the game tree, not just specifically what we’re talking about today.

Mike Brady (01:16):

Yeah, really fundamental stuff there. It’s just pot odds. Taking a step back in the game tree now. How does the cbet size that you used initially play a role when you’re facing a check raise?

Gary Blackwood (01:27):

Our cbet size matters because as we’ve just alluded to, it’s going to impact how our opponent responds. So if we use a smaller cbet, they’re going to check raise at a much higher frequency and if we use a larger cbet, they’re going to check raise less frequently. We can really force that in the next question to give you guys a great example of the difference in raise frequencies between a smaller cbet and a larger cbet for those of you that are watching on YouTube today.

In terms of how that affects your opponent’s check raising range, you’ll find that the big blind will check raise roughly the same range just at a lower frequency. For example, on King Seven Deuce, if we think about all the really strong hands that the big blind has like pocket deuces, pocket sevens, king seven, king deuce, et cetera, they basically always raise versus a smaller bet size, they’re more inclined to sort of bloat the pot because of that smaller cbet size. They want to start to get money at the pot. But if you force the button to use a larger bet size, they will still raise, but not always. They’ll raise at a lower frequency.


There’s less of a rush to bloat the pot because of that bigger cbet size and therefore they call a little more often than they elect to raise. In terms of bluffs that our opponent has on King seven deuce, the bottom pairs, the four deuce suited, the three deuce suited, the backdoor hands like eight six suited, we’ll see them still raising versus a bigger cbet but a lot less often. So to summarize, the raising range is really similar versus a big bet versus a small bet. It’s the frequency that changes.

Mike Brady (02:54):

I want to throw in a key exploitative consideration too, and this is really relevant for anyone who plays in games with generally soft competition. Maybe you play low stakes live, maybe you play in a home game, something like that.

When you use a larger bet size, oftentimes inexperienced players, less studied players are going to treat that bet size with a lot more fear. They’re going to be a lot less willing to check raise against that size with a non super strong hand. So if you bet big on a flop like King seven two and your inexperienced opponent check raises, it’s probably just because they have a strong hand. They’re not going to mess around with you so much after you use a big bet, they’re going to be a little bit afraid. If you go on the smaller side though, they might be messing with you.


They might be check raising with just a middle pair, they might be check raising with a weaker top pair, something like that. But I know if I’m playing in a live low stakes game and I’m playing an inexperienced player and I bet pot sized or 75% pot on the flop and then they put in a big check raise, I’m generally just going to put that player on a very strong hand and react accordingly by playing very tight against their check raise.

Facing Check-Raise on Dry, Uncoordinated Flops (K-7-2)


Let’s get into the meat and potatoes of this episode. We’re going to go over four example flop types and we’ll discuss the range of hands You should expect your opponent to check raise on each. We’ll also talk about how you should respond to said check raise.

First we’re going to talk about a dry and uncoordinated flop, king seven two rainbow.

We’re going to leverage the Lucid GTO Explorer coming soon to Upswing Poker to talk about this and the rest of the boards. If you’re watching on YouTube, you’re going to have a nice visual supplement watching us use the Lucid GTO Explorer here. If you’re listening on an audio platform though, I don’t think you’re going to lose too much, but if you do want that visual aid, head over to the Upswing Poker YouTube and check it out.

So Gary, what are the key considerations when it comes to facing a check raise on this King seven two board?

Gary Blackwood (04:44):

So before I answer the question, I just want to very quickly talk about exploit similarly to what Mike has just done. We’re all about learning how to play correctly from a theory perspective, but there are a lot of situations where our opponent won’t be anywhere near aggressive enough, certainly not close to how aggressive the solver can be, and as a result we need to be mindful of playing a little more exploitative than a little more theory-based. And this specific topic is very much one of those scenarios.


First example here, the big blind is supposed to check raise 24% of the time on king seven deuce rainbow. So if we’re playing against weaker regs, recreational players, a lot of players at low stakes live poker, it’s really important that we acknowledge that they won’t have all these combos that we’re about to list and our response to their check raise must be tighter.


So their range is going to be stronger and therefore we need to strengthen our range. It’s really important that we understand that when our opponent is not going to be as loose or as aggressive as the solver and their range is going to be much stronger, we need to tighten up and we need to make our range much stronger. We’re going to talk about some of the hands that want to see that and then float versus a check raise that might be optimal versus a good solid thinking player, but versus weak players, versus nits, versus recreational players, we don’t get to float as wide. Because their range is stronger, our range must be stronger as well.


So looking at this button versus big blind scenario, king seven deuce rainbow, the big blind has no natural bluffs here and what I mean by that is bluffs with immediate equity.


There are no straight draws possible, there are no flush draws possible, so the big blind needs to get really creative. Mike and I have spoken about this in depth in a previous podcast episode. If you guys are looking to touch up on that, I’d strongly recommend going back and looking at that episode. So the big blind’s range is going to contain a lot of bottom pair hands. Hands like three deuce suited, four deuce suited, some second pair hands and many, many backdoor straight and flush draw combos, hands like eight six suited, nine eight suited, four three suited. All these types of hands love to check raise here and continue to barrel on the turn when they pick up equity. So we can see that the big blind check raising range is really wide here and our calling range will be really wide. As a result, we fold these marginal hands like Ace nine offsuit, queen jack offsuit, jack six suited, but anything with a backdoor straight draw and the backdoor flush draw is going to be in there.


We’re going to have hands like jack eight suited, queen nine suited, eight six suited, even five four suited is betting and then floating versus a check raise for several different reasons. Firstly, it’s really important that we understand that we’re in position, which means we get to float much wider. If this is small blind versus big blind, we don’t get to float anywhere near as wide. Secondly, we can turn a bunch of equity, so we’ve got hands that can turn straight and flush draws, as mentioned, which will then be able to stand the heat, when our opponent barrels on the turn, we’ll be able to continue with that picked up equity. Third, as mentioned, our opponent is going to check raise really wide versus our cbet, but they’re going to give up a lot once they check raise and they don’t pick up equity. So if we look at the queen of hearts on the turn here, eight six of diamonds has check raised the flop and is now just a pure give up and therefore our five four of diamonds, our five four of hearts, our five four of clubs that have cbet and called that check raise, they get the chance to stab and win the pot now.


So it’s really important we acknowledge that our opponent’s check raising range is really wide and we get to float that because we’re in position they’re going to give up a lot and we can sort of take the pot away from them, but if they do continue to barrel on the turn, we can continue when we’ve picked up that equity. So we’ve seen a really wide check raising range with lots and lots of air here. Let’s fight fire with fire and be really wide ourselves for the reasons stated. As mentioned earlier, our opponent will check raise less frequently versus a bigger bet. So we’ve got two different sims to look at here. If we look at the small cbet on King seven deuce Rainbow, which is theoretically correct, we’ll see that our opponent check raises 24% of the time, lots of hands like eight six suited, four deuce suited, five deuce suited and so on.


Whilst it’s not theoretically correct, we can of course force the button to use a larger cbet here and we can see that the [check-raise] frequency drastically decreases to only around 12%, but the range is really quite similar. We can look at four deuce suited, five deuce suited, eight six suited, all these hands are still in there. The frequency just decreases. So just to reiterate that point, the range that check raises is really quite similar between when we use a smaller cbet and when we use a larger cbet. It’s just a frequency that decreases when we use that larger cbet.

Mike Brady (09:06):

If you want to learn more about that whole concept, because I found that really fascinating that largely the specific hands that check raises the same versus all cbet sizes, but the frequency is really the thing that changes. We covered that in depth in our very first episode of the Upswing Poker Level Up podcast called check raising. So go check that one out if you want to learn how to play as the actual check raiser.

Facing Check-Raise on Draw-Heavy Flops (T-9-3 Flush Draw)


Now let’s move on to a draw heavy flop with a ton of potential semi bluffs. We’re going to do 10 9 3 two-tone. So 10 of clubs, nine of diamonds, three of clubs for example. This board is obviously a lot different from the last board in that there are a lot of natural bluffs. On the previous board, you had to get really creative as the check raiser to bluff. On this board, not so much. Gary, what is the difference between how we approach this flop compared to the last one when we’re facing a check raise?

Gary Blackwood (09:56):

A great example here, we’re going to use a bigger cbet on this board and we’ll see a much more ABC strategy from both players. Many more natural bluffs in the big blind check raising range here and a whole lot less backdoor type hands compared to the king seven deuce that we just saw where 8-6, 9-6, all those types of hands were optimal check raises. If the button uses the optimal overbet cbet size here, we can see that the big blind check raises a mere 5% and every raise has immediate equity. Now, there are no three card straight, three card flushes like we’ve just seen in the last example.


So how do we respond to that? Well, firstly, our value is more inclined to fast play. There are more higher equity hands in our opponent’s range that we can get value from and given the bloatedness of the pot, we we’re much more inclined to just go ahead and fast play with certain parts of our range.


We see hands like pocket Kings, pocket Jacks, nine eight of clubs, which is a high equity hand. They’re much more inclined to just go ahead and fast play. In terms of our range that wants to continue in the form of the call, it’s much more condensed, much more equity driven. We’re kind of responding to the big blind’s range. When the big blind has tons of air in its range, we get to have a lot of air in our range, but when the big blinds range is much more equity driven, our range has got to be much stronger as a result.

Facing Check-Raise on Coordinated Flops (T-8-7)

Mike Brady (11:14):

Let’s move on to a flop that already has a straight possible, it’s kind of a lockdown board where the hand that is currently the nuts is very likely to remain the nuts by the river — fairly likely to remain the nuts by the river.

We’re going to do ten eight seven rainbow. Gary, how do things change on this board when it comes to playing versus a check raise button versus big blind?

Gary Blackwood (11:35):

So, hopefully at the end of the answer to this question, the picture becomes very clear. For those of us listening and watching, let’s ask ourselves “when we bet the flop and our opponent raises, have they got a lot of air in their range or is it much more likely that their range is very equity driven?” We can take a look and see lots and lots of open-ended straight draws, a few gutshots, but again, really equity driven here. Very few just complete air balls similar to what we saw in the King seven deuce rainbow. So that tells us how our range is going to respond. Similarly to the big blind’s range, we’re going to have lots and lots of equity and just no air ball floats. All your ace king, your ace queen, your low pocket pairs, even some naked gutshots like King Jack Offsuit.


King Jack Offsuit folding is really telling here. It shows us just how ABC we want to play versus this raise. We’re just letting go of all of our marginal hands here and continuing with a much stronger range. So the exercise that we sort of perform is that we ask ourselves, “is our opponents range full of air? Is it really quite weak? Is it very backdoor heavy?” And then we take it from there.


If the answer is yes, we fight far with fire as I said earlier, and we float really wide. If our opponents range is much stronger and much more equity driven, our range has to mirror that and be much stronger as a result. So if there’s lots of air in our opponent’s range, we get to float really wide. If it’s much more equity driven, like on ten nine three flush draw or jack eight seven rainbow, our range has to be very similar to that and it must be much stronger.

Facing Check-Raise on Paired Flops

Mike Brady (13:01):

Finally, paired flops. Gary, how are you reacting to a check raise on a flop like 7 2 2 and paired flops in general,

Gary Blackwood (13:09):

A really nice way for us to finish up here. We’re going to ask ourselves the same question. What does the big blind’s raising range look like?


Mike and I have discussed in depth paired boards in previous episodes and in those episodes we see that the big blind’s raising range on paired boards, big blind versus button is extremely wide. Tons of backdoor equity type hands. So our range is going to mirror that and respond very similarly. We’re going to float much wider on a board like seven deuce deuce or a board like King King six compared to a board where our opponents range is much more equity driven, like the Jack eight nine that we saw or the 10 9 3 two-tone, all those types of boards. So when our opponent’s range is really wide and has lots of backdoor equity, we get to float really wide ourselves.


A board like seven deuce deuce, obviously we’re going to have a lot of flush draws, a lot of backdoor flush draws, a lot of hands like nine eight suited that have two over cars to the seven. They can turn a straight draw. All those types of hands are really nice for us to bet and then call a raise because our range can justify it because our opponent’s range, the big blind’s range, is really wide and really backdoor, heavily driven.


There are a lot of hands in there like Ace King, which is just never going to fold because it’s the best hand really, really often on seven Deuce Deuce. If your opponent is check raising eight six with backdoor straight draw, your Ace king is so far ahead of so many types of hands like that that it’s really important that we float really wide as a result. So when you see bet and you get raised, ask yourself, is my opponent’s range really equity driven? Is it really wide and full of air and you respond accordingly?


And I want to reiterate that point one more time. If we’re playing against weak players and we cbet on King King five and they check raise us, that Queen nine suited, Jack 10 suited, theory wise is fine to call that raise. On seven deuce deuce, the nine eight suited with a backdoor straight draw, really fine to call that raise theory wise.


But if you’re up against a nit or a weaker player who’s just going to have trips or a full house, you can’t float as wide. It’s really important that we understand if we’re playing against good players, we get to implement this strategy. But if we’re up against tighter players, we just can’t. We just cannot float as wide as the solver is because it’s not going to end very well for us at all.

Mike Brady (15:23):

The key takeaway for this episode is really to think about how narrow or wide your opponent’s check raising range is and then you respond in kind.


We’ve covered four different boards on two of the boards. The big blind is going to be check raising very, very wide and we respond with a very wide calling range against that check raise. We also covered two boards. It was the ten eight seven and the ten nine three, where the opponent’s check raising range is really narrow, really strong, really equity driven, and on those boards we respond with a very strong, equity driven range.


Another thing to consider that we’ve harped on throughout this episode is your opponent’s tendencies. If you’re up against a very, very tight player, even if it is one of these boards where, in theory you’d play very loose, if they’re playing tight, you have to respond with a fairly tight range yourself.


You don’t want to be calling check raises with a hand like nine eight on 7 2 2 against a player who is only check raising with trips are better. It’s not going to go very well for you.


You should now have a pretty damn good idea how to respond to check raises properly. We did not cover monotone flops, which are kind of their own beast. So if you do want to learn more about how to play monotone flops against check raises and just how they work in general, go back and check out our monotone Flops episode. I think it’s a handful back. You shouldn’t have to scroll too far.


And if you’re interested in the Lucid GTO trainer and Explorer, we’re going to be doing a closed early access period. So if you kind of want to be along for the ride with us as we iterate on this tool and make it better and better and eventually release it to everyone, go ahead and register for that early access period right here.


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