It sucks to get check-raised, especially when you’re not totally sure how to react.
It’s easy if your opponent is a tight player who rarely bluffs, against whom you should fold all but your strongest hands. But what to do when a tough player — someone capable of bluffing — check-raises you?
After reading this article, you’ll be better equipped to defend your c-betting range against such players. We’ll discuss the strategy behind facing check-raises from both a theoretical and practical point of view.
Featured image credit: theborgata.com (edited from original)
Not All Flop Check-Raises Are Created Equal
There are a few different situations in which a flop check-raise can happen, and each should be played differently based on the stack-to-pot ratio (SPR) and ranges at play. Here are the 4 most common:
- The preflop caller can check-raise in a single raised pot
- The preflop raiser can check-raise in a single raised pot
- The preflop caller can check-raise in a 3-bet pot
- The preflop raiser can check-raise in a 3-bet pot
Let’s take a look at the differences between the numbers behind single raised pots and 3-bet pots (assuming 100bb starting stacks):
The parameters here are very different, which means that the optimal way to play each spot will be very different as well.
We’re going to focus on the scenario you will run into most frequently: a flop check-raise by the big blind versus the button in a single raised pot. Of the 4 scenarios above, this one will have by far the largest impact on your win-rate.
Playing Versus Check-Raises: Theory and Practice
We’re going to use PioSolver to study how this spot is played best played in theory, which we can use to build our more practical strategy. If you’re unfamiliar with solver software, don’t worry — we’ll explain what you’re looking at in plain English.
First, we have to choose a specific flop to study, and I think a paired board will make for some interesting analysis. We’ll walk through the process of figuring out which hands to continue with versus a check-raise. Then, if you’re solver-savvy, you can apply this same process to the other board textures on your own.
Consider the following hand:
Online $1/$2. 6-Handed. Effective Stacks $200.
Hero is dealt two cards on the button
3 folds. Hero raises to $5. SB folds. BB calls.
Flop ($11): 7♠ 7♦ 4♠
BB checks. Hero bets $4. BB raises to $13.50
Which hands would you continue with versus this check-raise?
Let’s see how PioSolver suggests playing this spot (and keep in mind that it assumes the BB is trying to play optimally):
The solver’s continue range is comprised like this:
- All made hands should call most of the time.
- Most ace-highs should call most of the time.
- Some strong hands (A7, 88, etc.) should play a mixed strategy, re-raising a small percentage of the time.
- Most backdoor flush draws should call most of the time (except offsuit Qx and lower).
- Straight draws and flush draws should almost always call.
Notice that you are not supposed to re-raise much against an optimal BB check-raising range. This is a pattern that you will observe across all possible board textures.
That’s a lot of hands to defend, in theory. Let’s dive a little deeper and try to figure out why the solver thinks some weak hands, like T♦ 6♦, are still marginally winning calls.
Here’s the BB’s solver-suggested check-raise range:
The BB should be raising a whopping 22.5% of the time! This range is incredibly diverse, containing (at mixed frequencies) underpairs, middle pairs, overpairs, trips, flush draws, backdoor flush draws, and straight draws.
It’s very safe to say that the vast majority of players are not going to be so wild in this spot, and will instead have a toned-down check-raise frequency that contains more obvious bluffing combinations — mainly draws and backdoor draws.
So, here is a mock, quasi-balanced range that your average opponent might check-raise with:
This range includes:
- The strongest trips
- Some backdoor flush and straight draw hands (like 98o, T9o, etc.)
- Some flush draws with backdoor straight draws (T♠8♠, J♠8♠)
- Some straight draws (all open-ended straight draws and gut shots).
Of course, this range is not perfect. But I think it’s a much closer representation of how someone might actually play at the table.
Against such a range, your defense should look a lot different:
There are three big differences between this solution and one against an optimal opponent:
- You can profitably c-bet 100% of the time because his check-raise strategy is so much less aggressive.
- You should fold ~47% of the time versus check-raise (up from ~34%).
- You are only 3-betting ~1% of the time (down from ~6%), which might as well just be a conversion error.
These are the three adjustments you should make against any player who doesn’t check-raise aggressively enough (which is almost all players). Let’s talk a bit more about why each of them work so well — both generally and in the example above.
Since your opponent is now raising substantially less on the flop, you are now incentivized to c-bet more marginal hands on the flop in order to deny equity. These hands deny just as much equity as before, but won’t be forced to fold versus a check-raise — surrendering their own equity — nearly as often.
You can fold at such a high rate because your opponent’s bluffs are much more equity driven than before (i.e., he is bluffing with stronger hands). Consequently, his check-raising range will be better equipped to barrel on the turn, leaving you with fewer opportunities to take away the pot on later streets.
The reason why you don’t want to 3-bet here is that your opponent’s range is polarized to either trips or semi-bluffs. Against such a range you have very few hands that can extract value (trips top or second kicker and full houses). The impacts of blockers also make check-raises a lot worse:
- When you do hold the 7, he’s less likely to call because you heavily block his value range.
- When you bluff with a draw or backdoor draw, he’s more likely to call because you block his bluffing range.
Additionally, by calling you will be able to control the pot and take advantage of your positional advantage.
Although this article only covers one specific spot, you can use the same methodology to experiment on different boards and against different opponents. This methodology applies to all possible flop raise scenarios.
Now, I know that many of you have probably never used a solver. They are costly and not easy to use. But if you are willing to put in a serious time investment, toying around with a solver may be a good idea for you.
That’s all for this article. If you have any questions or feedback don’t hesitate to use the comment section down below.
Want to put your skills to the test? Take this 10-hand “Versus Check-Raise” quiz >>
Till’ next time—good luck, grinders!
Read more from Upswing Poker:
- 3 Poker Study Techniques That Will Make You a Stronger Player
- How to Take Advantage of (And Protect Your Own) Capped Ranges