QuickFact 23: When Considering A Check-Raise, Look For Boards That Are Difficult To Flop Equity On, And That People C-Bet With A High Frequency.
I find it strange how the entryways for most of the poker rooms in Las Vegas have a sign that reads, “Check-raising is permitted in this poker room.” What the hell is that all about? Was there seriously a time when players weren’t allowed to check-raise? They probably outlawed it because all the nitty old men got bitter when tourists came into the game and check-raised them too much.
Fortunately for us, we’re allowed to check-raise however much we want to in PLO, which is good because when used properly, check-raising makes you much tougher to play against. Similar to the floating strategy described earlier, the main players to target are the ones who c-bet too much. Check-raising against these players makes sense because when you pull the trigger and take down the pot, you collect dead money from their c-bet in the process.
Another benefit of check-raising is that it allows you to get the money in much faster than smooth-calling. In Chapter 2, we talked about how the positional advantage decreases as the SPR gets smaller. In this case, check-raising and getting the money in quick prevents us from making a mistake on later streets, while supplementing some fold equity with our semi-bluffs. As a result, we gain more long-term profit.
What’s more, check-raising buys you free cards in the future. The natural adjustment against frequent check-raisers is to check back the flop more often. This works to our advantage, because once they start checking back more flops, they’re allowing you to realize equity OOP, which is something you’re not supposed to be able to do. We’ll talk more about check-raising the turn in Chapter 12, but for now realize it’s very important that opponents know you’re capable of check-raising later streets for this exact reason.
With regard to check-raising, the number of opponents in the hand makes a big difference for both if and how often you check-raise, along with what hands you choose to do it with. Heads-up pots are good opportunities to check-raise bluff. Not only are c-bet frequencies higher, the amount of equity flopped is lower too. On the other hand, the majority of check-raises in multi-way pots are to get the money in fast with strong made hands, or because you have a big draw and are trying to maximize fold equity.
Board Textures to Check-Raise
Now that we know why check-raising is profitable and which opponent types to target, what kind of board textures should we fire away on? To be clear, in this context we’re only talking about check-raise bluffing, not check-raising when we have the stones. It’s not that check-raising with the stones is incorrect on these boards, but I want to save that part for later on.
Monotone boards are good to check-raise because non-flushes are drawing practically dead, which translates into most players giving up easily when faced with aggression. Likewise, paired boards are good to check-raise bluff because beside trips, there are few hands with enough equity to peel (that is, assuming they think you have trips). Similar to monotone boards, the dynamic on paired boards changes once history is developed with a player.
Check-raising with a set on monotone boards is also a good option, because these are one of the few opportunities to semi-bluff on monotone boards. Accompanied by the fold equity from a check-raise, this can be a very profitable line to take.
Something else that’s important to note is how the dynamic on monotone boards changes as you develop history with someone. As we learned in Chapter 8, the play dynamic on static boards is very frequency driven, so once two players get to the level where they both know the other probably doesn’t have a flush, they are forced to take more creative lines to make them fold.
What other boards should we be check-raise bluffing on? We’re looking for boards that players c-bet with a high frequency, but flop minimal equity on. High/low/low boards (e.g. K♥4♠5♣, K♥8♠6♦, Q♠5♥7♦) fit these requirements perfectly, and although these boards provide more equity than the textures covered last section, there are still wide ranges of hands people will fold. Any pair below the top card is drawing poorly against the top pair with side cards, and additionally, players are weary of peeling with a wide range due to the threat of future bets.
High/low/low boards are much different from high/high/low boards, because the latter contains straight draws likely to connect with the ranges of hands players open with pre-flop, or is what we call “heavier”. It’s also important to note that you’re not limited to check-raising only air on these boards. For example, if you have a pair and a straight draw on any of these boards, both check-raising and donk-betting on these boards is a good line to take depending on the opponent’s c-betting tendencies.
Lockdown boards are good candidates for check-raising too, which as explained by Phil Galfond, are boards where there are very few hands that have equity against the current nuts (e.g. 5♦6♠9♣, 4♠5♦8♣).
Check-Raising With Equity
So far we’ve spent ample time discussing when to check-raise with air, but we don’t always need air to check-raise do we? What about the times when we’re OOP and flop a small piece, or have some backdoor equity that we want to realize? Should we check-raise then?
The short answer to all of those questions is yes, absolutely. Especially when we hold nut-blockers, or backdoor draws to go along with a pair on the board, check-raising is a viable option. As always, bluffing with equity is infinitely better than bluffing without equity.
For example, say we have K♦Q♠J♦T♣ on a T♣4♦5♥ board. Especially in heads-up pots, these are the type of boards that get c-bet frequently, but there are few hands that can continue against a check-raise. Even overpairs are in a difficult spot facing a check-raise, because you’re representing a set, a big draw, or two pair, which they’re either flipping or slightly ahead of. In other words, you’re forcing them to make a mistake by folding away their equity, but on the other hand calling the check-raise puts them in many awkward turn spots because most people don’t check-raise and then check-fold the turn very often. Put more simply, the threat of future bets is very powerful. Besides, even if we get called, any diamond T, 9, 8, A, K, Q, or J are cards that give us more equity, and allow us to keep barreling away.
Similarly, say we hold A♥J♦T♥5♦ on a 9♣4♥3♦ board. This time we lack a pair, yet we still have a wide range of cards we can continue to barrel on. Again, the main point to focus on is how board textures like these get c-bet a high percentage of the time, but the opponent’s continuing ranges are narrow facing a check-raise. Like the last hand, there are a variety of turn cards we can continue aggression on. Any diamond, heart, 2, A, 8, J, or T are good for us. Add this on top of our fold equity and you have a very profitable check-raise scenario.