The last article I wrote on the check-raise play was about using it as a defensive weapon in no limit Hold'em. Today I want to switch gears and talk about this play as an offensive weapon in no limit Hold'em. Offensively one uses the check-raise to gain additional value or as a bluff to buy the pot. I am limiting today's discussion to additional value plays.
Let's start with an example. You have A-A in middle position and raise four big blinds. The player on the button and the big blind both call. The flop is . Now let's say that the big blind checks and you bet nine big blinds into this 12.5 big blind pot. The button calls, and the big blind folds. The turn card seems a harmless and you lead again for 20 big blinds, and the button folds. This seems a rather common hand. Now let's change it up and put a check-raise in the mix. Instead of leading the turn you check and let the button bet. Many players float the flop looking to steal on the turn if their opponent shows weakness. By leading on the turn, you cost yourself this extra money that these players would like to give to you. A player with the straight draw is also likely to try and win the hand right here on the turn with a bet rather than take the free card, since this is a good spot to semi-bluff. If you lead, this player is just going to call, but if you check, letting this player bet, you can then come over the top for additional money. Checking also induces bets from those who hold a top pair or even a second pair hand. All of this is extra money that your lead bet costs you.
One final benefit beyond the obvious extra money that you earn through the check-raise is that you have built up a larger pot. The larger the pot is, the better the pot odds are for your opponent. On the river, if your opponent has only a top pair hand, such as A-J in our example, your opponent will likely be pot-committed. Let's say you check the turn, your opponent with K-J bets 20 big blinds and you now raise to 50 big blinds. Your opponent calls. Assume the river is something safe like a . Now you push in your remaining 37 big blinds (I am assuming you have a full stack at a 100 big blind max buy-in table). At this point, your unfortunate opponent is looking at a pot of 177 big blinds but a bet of only 37 big blinds and will find it very difficult to let go of the hand given the call on the turn.
In addition to missing out on some value by leading the turn, you also gain some protection for yourself later when you check other turns. Checking this turn looks like a standard preflop raise, continuation bet, check play. It looks very much like you have a missed A-K or A-Q playing it in this manner. When you throw some check-raises into the mix, players will be less likely to bet the turn, since they fear getting check-raised. Now your continuation bets when you miss the flop with A-K and the like get more respect and your opponents will give you more river cards for free. Getting to see all five cards with A-K is a good thing when you have air-balled the flop.
One of the costs of this play is, of course, that you are giving free cards to beat your over pairs. In the example, you give a straight draw a free chance to crush your Aces. Even so, a Q or a 7 are pretty easy to spot here. In addition, you must pick your spots for this play. Using this play against a calling station is a terrible idea. You are costing yourself money in this spot because a calling station is not going to bet for you. The best players to use this against are those who are aggressive and cannot let go of top pair hands.
A second cost of this play is the possibility that you trap yourself against a better hand. Someone who has flopped a set will have an easier time getting all your chips, since you have built up a bigger pot. For the same reason that you will have an easier time getting all the chips of someone with a top pair hand, someone with a set can get all your chips. Can this be combated? I think it can if you pay attention to the type of opponent you are up against and watch your bet sizes. A tight player, whom you have noticed appears to be set-farming, must be treated with care. Keep your bets smaller and exercise pot control to defend your stack. Loose players, however, are good candidates for this play. Sometimes they will have the goods and you will lose a stack, but much more often you will have them crushed and get all their chips.