Check raising the flop for fun and profit, Part Two
This article is the conclusion of a series. If you haven’t done so already, you should probably read Part One or skip this post too if you are my Mom.
There are five basic results that you will see when you check-raise the flop in terms of how the other players will handle it. I’d say that they happen in approximately this order or frequency:
- Call flop raise, fold to turn lead.
- Call flop raise, raise turn lead.
- Fold to flop raise.
- Three bet flop.
- Call flop raise, call turn.
Let’s examine each case in detail.
1. Call flop raise, fold to turn lead.
I presume that it goes without saying that when you are simply called on the flop, you need to follow through with a turn bet the overwhelming majority of the time. Even when scary cards come that are likely to have hit the other player’s range, you usually want to go ahead and bet. For reasons I don’t entirely understand, very few players will call the turn again. They will usually fold or raise. Once I play someone often, I make some notes on how they react to the flop check raise because I use it a lot. When someone folds on a board like T75(2) and they raised from middle position, they are most likely folding overcards. Getting about 10:1, this is a pretty terrible fold, but you will see it from some players. Better players will not fold overcards in this spot, so you can usually deduce things about their pre-flop range. Usually, you will get folds from a hand like ATs when the board is Q75(2) because they figure they only have three outs and even then they may not be good. If a better player folds on the T75(2) board, he was either raising A9- or really weak suited connectors. I’m always trying to figure out what people’s ranges are, so this is a good spot to look for clues. The main thing you are trying to figure out when they take this line is what that says about their raising range or their post-flop play. On that particular board, there are very few suited connectors that they would fold. They are either raising A9- or something like 44/33 that they are unwilling to call down with. The fact that so many players take this line is what makes the check-raise so profitable. You should see this line most often on Kxx or Qxx flops or when the board pairs on the turn. This is because those textures are the most likely to both miss the pre-flop raiser and to scare him. When you see someone take this line on a board like the T75(2) example, you should start check-raising lighter, because he is almost certainly giving up too much value. Watch for the flop check-raise and this line when you aren’t in the hand too, because the more often someone does this, the more profitably you can attack them. If they fold too much, you can add more bluffs to your range.
2. Call flop raise, raise turn lead.
On a dry board against most opponents, this will signify an overpair. In fact, against the “right” player, you can fold to this line on the turn when you were on a pure bluff. Generally, only very aggressive and bluffy players with raise the turn on a dry board without a big hand. When you check raise a flop like T75, the other player will usually put you on a hand like JT or KT — top pair with a weakish kicker. If the turn doesn’t change anything most players will only raise when they have AT or better there. Usually you will have to peel the turn even when you know he has a strong hand. Let’s say you defended with 76 and get raised on the T75(2) turn. Even though you are pretty sure he is on AT+, you are getting 7.5:1 to see one more card. You are going to collect at least one more bet on the river, so you really need 5 clean outs and that’s what you have. You also have some great “implied tilt odds” because when you catch a six and check-raise the river to crack his Kings, he is going to have a meltdown. You do have to watch out for sets, which will also play this way. Another factor that will significantly increase the chance of a bluff is if the board picks up a draw. If your opponent is observant and knows that you check-raise a lot, he may bluff raise the turn when he catches a backdoor flush draw or a straight draw (especially with overcards). Some players will know that you fear Aces and will raise the when the board comes T75(A) and they don’t have an Ace. This is where knowing the other player is useful, because you are going to have a river decision to make. It is important to be able to estimate the percentage of his hands that include bluffs based on the board texture. In general, I will let go pure bluffs and gutshot draws to this line and call open-ended draws or pairs. If you are getting better odds because of a cold-caller, obviously call more. If you have to fold the turn to this line, mentally increase the odds of a bluff the next time someone takes it against you.
The river presents another challenge. You will be getting a big price to call (nearly 10:1), so you have to have a good understanding of what cards are in his range. If he could be bluffing a busted draw, you will probably have to call down. This sounds like you will always have to call down, but you actually don’t. If you are facing a player who is fairly tight post-flop, especially one who has shown a tendency to check behind with medium strength hands on the river, you can actually fold smaller pairs fairly safely. These players will normally only bet the river with a strong hand or a busted draw. Very few players can call your check-raise, raise the turn and fire again on the river without a pretty strong holding. If the board had a dry texture where his turn range included no logical semi-bluffs, I lay down a wide variety of hands on the river. It is very important that you understand the difference between different situations. If a hand developed multi-way and one player was leading the whole way, I might call his third bet on the river getting less than 10:1 with even weak pairs. This betting pattern conveys a lot more strength and I would generally respect it from all but the most LAG players. This advice applies more to full ring than six max.
To summarize, I handle this line as follows: (1) Three bet two pair or better (this line is more often than not an overpair). Of course this doesn’t apply to flush boards or four straight boards or the like, where I’d call down. You would also tend to just call down with weaker two pair hands against a player who tends to fold a lot, because their range includes way too many monsters. (2) Only fold if the texture is dry and you don’t have outs to beat top pair and the other player is straightforward. (3) Call everything else, but consider folding the river if you can’t beat a bluff or if the board was dry on the turn and your gut says your hand is no good. I usually call down much, much lighter than you probably do and I find a surprising number of folds on the river. When I called down more, I found out that I was beat an extremely high percentage of the time.
3. Fold to flop raise.
Do a dance. Sing a song of praise to the poker Gods. These guys are awesome. You were giving him 7.5:1 and he probably had undercards, like suited connectors to a high flop or a low pair with all overcards. If you play against him a lot, you are probably getting into his head and he just doesn’t want to tangle with you. If you don’t know him, he is probably a pretty timid player. If you see a guy fold here when he raised from MP, you can be absolutely certain that when he takes line 2, he has an overpair or better. I play against players whom I have check-raised many hundreds of times who have never taken this line. Against a good player, this is usually a sign that he is raising light. Usually you have caught him in an ill-advised blind steal. If he ever does this from EP, he’s probably a fish. Guys who take this line obviously get a lot more of the same. The fact that they will use this line generally makes them easier to play because you have a lot more information when they take a different approach. When you see people take this line, you can increase the number of hands you check-raise the flop with.
4. Three bet flop.
This line is the one that I dislike the most. Some players never take it, using only lines 1 and 2. I find them easier to play because it is easier to read their hand. Some players will mix up 1, 2 and 4. That is actually pretty helpful because if they use both 2 and 4, they are probably telling you something about their hand. Most players will prefer to take this line when they have a free card in the back of their mind. If the board is draw-heavy, they probably have one. If the board is dry, they probably have overcards. Aggressive players particularly like this line with AK. If you know that the other player uses line 2, you should generally play as if he is on a draw. If you don’t know him, you can play more defensively.
I generally prefer to just call the three bet and reevaluate the turn. If you cap the flop with hands like top pair, you are probably giving money away even to hands you are currently beating. If he holds two overcards and the flush draw, he is actually the money favorite there. However, if you aren’t willing to cap hands like top pair, you are giving away a lot of information when you cap two pair or better. I used to play where I capped drawing hands (so that I had a chance to win without hitting) and big hands and called one pair type hands. Now I usually call pretty much everything. I’m actually not sure which line I like best, because I don’t play very many players who take this line, so I don’t have a lot of data yet.
When I just call the three bet, I tend to donk the turn fairly often. If the board had a flush draw that didn’t come in or was dry and no ace or king came, I don’t want to allow the other guy to have his free card. I also do this with stronger hands so that when he raises his overpair I can punish him with three bets. If I just had one pair and he raises again, I’d usually have to peel getting 8.5:1. At this point, I can’t really give you a cookie cutter line. I know players who take the free showdown line a ton and I’ve actually called the flop 3 bet, donked the turn and called a raise and donked the river again. Think about his range and what hands are likely. Let’s say you flopped a crappy two pair from the BB and the board was two diamonds. The turn is an offsuit Ace and you donk and he raises. If you think it is likely that he was raising the nut flush draw on the flop and raising the pair of Aces, you should three bet. You are a 63% favorite against top pair with a flush draw.
5. Call flop raise, call turn.
This is almost always a weak hand. Normally you will see this from poor players who have a small pocket pair and they are hell-bent on showdown. Probably your image is very bluffy and they can’t stand to let it go. On our hypothetical T75(2) board, it could also be a hand like A5s which has enough to call down but doesn’t want to get frisky or a draw like 98s. Some players will also play AK unimproved like this, especially if you play at lower limits. Your decision is pretty much poker 101. On the river, do you beat middle pair or not? If there is a possible busted draw, do you get more value to check and hope he bluffs or do you get more calls from weaker pairs? If you have a weak hand like third pair, do you have a better chance of getting a call from a weaker hand or do you have a better chance of getting a better hand to check behind? Could you ever get a fold from a better hand?