Owner and Lead Pro
Professional Cash game trainer Bart Hanson has been producing strategy content for over fifteen years. He first started on Live at the Bike! back in 2005, then moved on to host "Cash Plays" on Poker Road, then "Deuce Plays" on Deuces Cracked and then to CrushLivePoker in 2012.
In his career as a professional poker player, Bart Hanson has:
-6 WSOP Final Tables
-Over 15 years of experience at the table
-Over $1,000,000 in tournament earnings
-Multiple appearances on ESPN and Poker Night in America
-4th place finish in 2019 WSOP Monster Stack
If you play low stakes cash games, getting tricky with turn and river check-raises can sometimes be a disaster. This is due to the fact that most players at low stakes will tend to be super nitty, often just showing down the river with hands that should bet. However, there are definitely still situations where a check-raise line makes a lot of sense. Today we’ll dive into two examples demonstrating when you should look to check-raise, and when it might make more sense to bet or raise for value yourself.
We’re playing $1/$3, with $150 effective stacks.
7 players limp, Hero checks in the Big Blind with 2♣ 2♠.
The flop is A♥ 2♥ 6♦ ($24).
Hero bets $10, only the Hijack calls.
The turn is the 4♠, making the board A♥ 2♥ 6♦ 4♠ ($44).
Hero bets $15, Hijack raises to $40, Hero calls.
This is a spot where getting sneaky and just calling the turn is a bad idea. If our plan is to call turn planning to check-raise the river, we’re giving our opponent too good an opportunity to make a nitty check back with two pair combos and Ax holdings. Players at low stakes are notorious for being “showdown monkeys” and checking back hands on the river that definitely should be going for value.
On the turn when we get raised, the Hijack is telling us they have a hand that wants to get stacks in when they raise with so little behind. With just $150 effective stacks preflop, our opponent’s turn raise screams strength, and we won’t be generating too many folds on the turn by jamming. Why would we not want to maximize our value on the turn by getting it in, when cards can come that kill our action or weaken our hand on the river?
There is an old school theorem at low stakes that whenever someone raises postflop, they’re usually going to go with their hand regardless of how much we raise them. In this case it makes a ton of sense for us to ship all the chips in on the turn, to make sure we’re not getting nitty river check-backs from our opponents. If we have a strong hand, and our opponent wants all the chips in the middle, why would we not give them that opportunity right now? Let’s look at another example.
We’re playing $2/$5, with $1k effective stacks.
4 players limp, Hero checks in the bb with Q:d 5:d.
The flop is 8♦ 6♣ 5♣ ($25).
Action checks around.
The turn is the Q:s, making the board 8♦ 6♣ 5♣ Q♠ ($25).
Hero leads out for $15, Cutoff raises to $40, Hero calls.
Heads up to a river Q♥, making the board 8♦ 6♣ 5♣ Q♠ Q♥ ($105).
Take a second to think about it, should our Hero lead out first with queens full, or try to check-raise the river for value?
Let’s take a moment to think about what our opponent’s range could consist of. Most sets that our opponent could have would usually bet the flop, so the fact that flop checked through eliminates most of those hands. They could certainly have some Qx holdings that raised on the turn trying to take the betting lead and just showdown on the river. They could also have plenty of bluffs such as club draws, straight draws with a 7, or possibly a very nutted hand such as 97 that trapped the flop.
Given this assigned range that mainly consists of either rivered trips or air, going for a check-raise here makes a lot of sense. Our opponent’s bluffs will be incentivised to try to steal the pot, and our opponent’s value range is mainly trip queens or better, meaning we will almost certainly generate a value bet once we check.
When you’re calling the turn with a hand like our’s that is more vulnerable and wants to check-evaluate on the river, you’re playing what we call a “5th street chicken” strategy. Your hand is obviously too strong to fold the turn, but the board is pretty connected, and you’ll just want to check the river and see what your opponent does (check-evaluate).
As a general rule, when you’re playing “5th street chicken,” and you improve to a very nutted hand, you’ll generally want to go for a check-raise. Your opponent will likely have a strong range of value hands that will continue on the river, and all their bluffs will be incentivized to bet.
All poker theories like this have exceptions, but we can usually make the decision to check-raise or bet by looking at our opponent’s value range. If their range consists mainly of two pair holdings, we may want to bet out ourselves to avoid nitty check- backs. If their range is more like our most recent example and includes mainly trips or better holdings, we can safely employ a check-raise strategy, since usually opponents will choose to bet trips for value once checked to.
Hopefully this article helped you gain a basic understanding of how to think about check-raising decisions. If you’d like to learn more, check out the full breakdown in CLP Podcast Episode #549: Breaking Down Post Flop Check Raising.
You should have a very good reason to go for a check raise on the river. A lot of players don’t valu...
By Bart Hanson
Posted Nov 01, 2015