What do small check raises mean?

We have all been in the sticky situation of holding an overpair on the flop facing a raise. Is our opponent bluffing? Do...

Posted Oct 16, 2012


Bart Hanson BW2

Bart Hanson

Owner and Lead Pro

We have all been in the sticky situation of holding an overpair on the flop facing a raise. Is our opponent bluffing? Does he think he has the best hand but doesn't realize that we are actually strong? Answering these questions can be a daunting task especially at the lower levels where people do not necessarily understand hand strength.

The point of this tweet is to make you realize that these decisions are usually the most difficult on the flop. The flop is where the highest rate of bluffing occurs and where people commonly overplay hands. It is very rare to see someone check raise the turn on a draw or over play a one pair holding. For some reason players are less scared when the board only contains three cards and are more likely to push marginal hands or think you have missed.

We can combat this flop aggression by calling raises with the intention of seeing what our opponents will do on the next street. Say for example we continuation bet with KK on a Q53 rainbow board. Our opponent, who called us out of the big blind, check raises. We can easily call here with the intention of seeing what he does on the turn. Most of the time, if he slows down, we can bet for value. One of the more common lines you will see is a check raise followed by a small bet on the turn and a check on the river. This then becomes an easy bet for us with a value hand especially if a front door draw misses.

Where you must gage strength, however, is when the raise comes on a later street like the turn or the river. Take the above example and say that our opponent check calls the flop and then check raises an off suit 8 turn. He is really representing a strong hand now and will almost never show up with a hand like KQ. He also will rarely wait until the turn to pull a check raise semi bluff with a hand like 34.

You have to adjust, especially in smaller stakes capped games, to this common pattern. Let us say that we hold QQ and we raise from early position to $10 in a $1-2 no limit game. Three players call including the big blind. The board comes out 8 8 4. It gets checked to us and we bet $25. Both players in position fold and the big blind check raises all in for $150. This is an easy call as the all in player could have a flush draw or be overplaying a hand like JJ. If we are deeper stacked we can call with position to see what our opponent does on the turn.

Let's change this around now and say that the big blind calls our $25 bet and then check raises a 9 turn with $400 effective stacks. It is much more likely that he is strong as turn check raising as a semibluff is extremely uncommon at the lower levels. It is also very rare that a player would wait until the turn to make a big move with JJ or TT as he is more likely to just call you down. Check out my podcast Deuce Plays for further examination of this concept.

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