First things first. I may have “stole” some of this material from a number of poker books. At this point, I have read so much and forgot even more, so I no longer remember which ideas are my own and which ideas I learned from the greats. Also, I make no promises that this is all bulletproof advice. Just like anyone, I have leaks in my game. Some of what I do might work for me because of my image and may not work for you. Some of what I do probably doesn’t work for me and I don’t know any better. If you think an idea is nuts, feel free to me why either here or at ITH. I’m always happy when I learn something new.
For the most part, I use the flop check-raise from the BB, usually when I have defended my blind against a single raiser (or sometimes when a raiser raised a limper who has tagged along). The limper who tagged along is usually a bozo and doesn’t change too much.Â You should not be heads-up from the SB too often, because usually you should be 3 betting form the SB when you intend to play, especially against a loose raiser or when you have a vulnerable hand like 77.Â Sometimes, I might have a hand like A6s where I just call from the SB and the BB folds anyhow and I would be in the same situation, but usually I’m 3 betting or folding from the SB.Â There are a few other “standard” check-raise situations that you should probably know about.
For instance, if you have seen a flop with multiple limpers from a blind and the flop is relatively harmless, you often are correct to raise if it checks around to the button (or the virtual button, whoever is last to act) and he bets. Any good aggressive player is going to be tempted to bet in position when the entire field checks. If the flop is dry and raggy, he probably didn’t connect with it. You can profitably check-raise any two quite frequently in this spot. Other limpers who checked once are rarely going to be willing to call two cold here, especially if you have chosen a dry flop that doesn’t give many draw-chasers a shot. People love to chase overcards for one bet on the flop, but two bets cause them to back away quite nicely. If the Button just calls you, you pretty much have to fire away at the turn again. That will take it down a ridiculous percentage of the time.
The other classic check-raise situation is a very big hand or very big draw when you act immediately before the pre-flop raiser. You know he is going to bet and you can usually trap the field for two (or maybe even three!) bets. Use this for big flush draws and sets and the like. Don’t misunderstand the relative strength of your hand. With two pair, you are vulnerable and would usually rather bet into the raiser and see him raise it up and chase away the other players.
But these aren’t the situations I want to discuss. I’m interested here in blind defense against a single raiser. If your games don’t put you in this situation very often, you aren’t going to find this series that useful. I’m jealous, because games where you find multiple players seeing every flop are much better games than the games I play, but the dynamics of those tables are different. In my games, the guys in late position are going to find something worth raising nearly all the time. I’m usually going to be defending my blind with a extremely wide range against these guys, because they are raising me with a similarly wide range. Against early positions raisers I will tighten up, but basically I’m adjusting to their projected range. PokerTracker says I fold my BB to a steal about 30% of the time and my VP$IP in the BB is about 45%, so I’m probably looser than you in the BB. My W$WSF is 36% from the BB and I lose about 0.22 BB/hand from that seat.
So, when do you check-raise? Obviously, we start out with those hands where we connect with the flop. In general, if I catch a piece of the board, I’m looking to check-raise. It would give away too much information to the more observant opponents if I only did this with medium hands and played my monsters differently, so I’m going to have to handle both of them the same. If I started with a pocket pair, I’ll be check-raising pretty much every flop. There are exceptions which are based on the other players range and how it connects with the flop. If the other player is very tight pre-flop and very showdown bound, then holding 22 on a board of A98 is a pretty bad situation against an EP raise. If you believe his range from UTG is something like AA-TT/AK, then you should just check-fold there. In general, on Ace-high flops against tight raisers, I will not checkraise unless I believe that they can be scared off of a hand like JJ by aggression. In my games, people who call down with AJ unimproved are much more common than people who fold JJ, so it won’t happen that often. Even against looser late position raisers, Ace high flops are mostly bad news. Until someone’s pre-flop raise percentage goes up to extremely high levels, they will still be very heavily weighted towards Aces.
Heads-up, I absolutely never donk bet. I will check-call, check-fold and check-raise, with a strong preference for the latter two. We’ve discussed check-raising when you hit the flop (with a few exceptions), but if you check-fold when you miss and check-raise when you hit, you are going to be pretty easy to play against. Worse than that, if you start with unpaired and unsuited cards, you are going to miss about 67% of the time. So we’re going to have to mix in some bluffs as well. The most obvious spot is to check-raise when you pick up a draw. Any flush draw or open-ended straight draw is a clear spot for the check-raise. Any gutshot plus an overcard or two is a good spot. However, even just check-raising the draws is not enough, in my opinion. This is where you have to consider how likely the flop was to fit in with the aggressor’s range. If he raised UTG, you tend to give up easier (and call fewer hands pre-flop). If he raised on the Button, you tend to raise a lot more, because his range includes a whole lot of crap. A non-intuitive concept is that you are usually better off check-raising King or Queen high boards than all rags. If the board is all rags he is more likely to hold overcards and more likely to correctly peel one and hope to catch. The pair that you are representing make not scare him that much. If you do check-raise the raggy flop, you have to be careful if the turn brings an overcard. A King-high flop is a lot better most of the time. If he raised with suited connectors that whiffed, he may figure that his outs are no good against your likely pair of Kings. Additionally, a King is not that likely to help him. I like to bluff on Queen high boards against loose raisers as well. As I have advocated before, time spent playing around with pre-flop raise percentages and how they fit with various boards is often helpful. If the player is especially loose, I’ll take a shot at monotone boards and paired boards more often as well. On a board of something like T77, the other guy will assume that a flop check-raise from you means you have a ten every single time.
The other factor involves your opponent’s tendencies. Some guys will actually fold to the check-raise then and there. If they do it often, you need to oblige them by check-raising more often. The other pattern that is going to earn you a steady diet of check-raises from me is the guy who calls every time on the flop and folds the turn fairly often. At the other end of the spectrum, some guys are extremely stubborn and will call down most of the time with unimproved Aces or small pairs. You are going to be forced to bluff a little less against them (and you want to be more like them against me). Other players are hyper-aggro, tending to three-bet with unimproved AK/AQ hands and much worse. These guys are fine for you and you should bluff them the usual amount (we’ll talk about why later).
So we have the skeleton of a plan now. We’re going to check-raise most every time we connect with the flop, unless it is a real bad flop in terms of hitting his range (like Ace high against a tight EP raiser who isn’t folding ever). We’re going to check-raise when we called pre-flop with a pair. We’re going to check-raise when we have even fairly weak draws. If the other player has enough weaknesses (he raises too loose and the flop was bad for his range or he likes to fold too much), we’ll check-raise most every flop unless we’ve been in his face a lot lately. I would guess that I end up check-raising about 60% of the flops where I call pre-flop, check-calling about 10% and check-folding about 30%. I think PokerTracker 3 can tell me that, but I don’t know for sure.
Next installment, I’ll talk about how the other guy is going to react and what you should do in turn.