Checking with the intention of raising
Betting out is a \”strange\” move in the sense that most people tend to check to the person who was last to raise preflop. For that reason, checking is a little bit like acting in position; he will (almost always) bet when we check to him and he has to do so without knowing what we are going to do. If we check to him and checkraise his continuation bet, that sends a powerful statement. A checkraise says \”hah! gotcha!\” in a way that betting out doesn’t, and perhaps suggests that we have an overpair to the board or otherwise believe we have him beaten, or a strong draw, Checkraising is, I feel, more deceptive than betting out. When big hands collide – and both us and the villain raised preflop, so this situation qualifies – the flop will often be checkraised. If he has a big ace and missed the flop, he will probably just call our bet. Some players are ultra-aggressive and will make it three bets with AK unimproved, but they’re not that common.
Again, however, I must point to the fact that we’re not a favorite to win. If we checkraise – and willingly take a slight direct loss – we must have a way to make up that loss later on in the hand. Are we being deceptive? Do we have fold equity? As before, I believe we cannot trust fold equity to make this a profitable play. Most hands that beat us will go to showdown on a flop like this, believe it or not. You may argue that not all players will call a flop checkraise and turn AND river with just AJ, but I will argue back that players who make it three bets with them preflop most often do. Not always, of course, but we will lose a lot of money all those times that he doesn’t fold, or has a really big hand and play back at us.
We are also more or less committing to leading out on the turn, as well. That is going to be expensive for us every time that the turn is not a spade since we do not figure to hold the best hand for any other card (barring maybe an ace or a nine), and since we will sometimes be raised on the turn and forced to call, as we will have ample odds to try to hit our flush on the river. Sure, we can reserve the right to checkraise the flop and then check a non-spade turn but then that is something that needs to be done only occasionally. If this is how we play our nut flush draws every time we’re out of position, this will be the first and last time this particular opponent will ever fall for it, if he takes notes. How to play deceptively and mix up your game is not the scope of this article series, however.
I’m going to suggest that checking with the intention of raising is not the most profitable play. Then what is?
Checking with the intention of calling
This is what a real beginner would do. They’d flop a nut flush draw, figure \”hey, I might hit a flush on the next card!\” and then happily take one off. It’s cautious. It’s passive.
In today’s online games, especially the shorthanded ones, players rarely fold big hands because the games are so aggressive that they get raised and re-raised with air often enough to make calling any heads-up action down with AK unimproved. Without fold equity and without anything particularly good coming from disguising our hand by playing it like we think we have the best hand, we can just call when we can’t fold. Clearly, folding is not an option since we have a draw to the nuts and more than ample pot odds as incentive.
Here’s the irony, though: Check/calling the flop with the nut flush draw is so rare these days that it’s probably doing a better job disguising your hand than betting or raising ever would.
And that’s our conclusion: We do not have sufficient equity to make betting and/or raising profitable on its own on the flop, so to warrant putting in more money than we have to, we must find other benefits. I do not believe these benefits are enough to make it more profitable than the obvious play – checking and calling.
Sometimes poker is easy. Don’t make it harder than it has to be.
Example 2: An Inside Straight Draw, In Position
PokerStars 5/10 Hold’em (6 handed)
Preflop: Hero is UTG with K♥, J♥.
Hero raises, 3 folds, SB 3-bets, 1 fold, Hero calls.
Flop: (7 SB) T♠, A♣, 3♠ (2 players)
SB bets, Hero…
I made a really long introduction to the last hand, but I’m hoping to make some of that back now. I’m not going to explain all about equity and such again, but simply point out that we do not have the best hand here. However, there are a few things that are drastically better for us in this hand than in the last one:
- We’re in position.
- Our draw is not obvious.
- We may have great implied odds when we get there.
The third partially follows from the second, but not only. That ace may well have helped him (it didn’t directly help us) so if he’s playing a hand like AK or AQ or even AA, we’re looking at quite some action. Now, all we realistically have is an inside straight draw. Some of the time, he will have 99, JJ or QQ, granting us a three or six extra overcard outs, but these outs are really not worth much.
We’re getting 8:1 on calling, and we’re only about 10.5:1 to hit our inside straight. Hopefully you realize the importance of implied odds in a situation like this, though, that we stand not to win just the bets in the pot right now, but often many more bets from our opponent. It’s surely a mistake to fold in this spot.
But do we raise?
As I said above, we do not have the best hand. A raise in this situation is not \”for value\” as our equity in this hand is only somewhere around 20% at best. A raise costs us a lot of money – so can we make that money up elsewhere?
First and foremost, we’re in position. This factors in when we raise and makes the raise a bit \”cheaper\” than it would be otherwise. If our opponent has a really big hand (TT, AA, AK), he will often slowplay it on this flop and attempt to checkraise us on the turn. But we’re in position; we can choose to take a free card on the turn if we miss (and, in fact, if we raise and get called we should take a free card on the turn). This is worth quite a lot, and makes the relative price for a raise go down a little.
The unfortunate thing about taking the free card on the turn, however, is that kills our fold equity. Some of the time, our opponent will call a flop raise and fold the turn with his weaker hands like 99 and JJ, but not if we check behind. I still think that taking the free card is better than betting again (and opening ourselves up to being checkraised) but it’s a danger that we need to consider. Sometimes, albeit rarely, we will be up against an opponent who immediately folds his medium pocket pairs when we raise an ace-high flop. We did, after all, raise preflop. If you’re in villain’s shoes and get raised on this flop, wouldn’t you feel that an ace is a very likely holding?
All that said, raising is a play that is only useful if we play our big hands fast as well on a flop like this, e.g. AQ and TT. If we routinely smooth call flops with big hands, then a thinking player will soon become aware that we only raise with mediocre hands, and be quick to adjust. So while raising this flop may be good, it’s only feasible is our standard play is to raise with very strong hands.
The more passive play. As I’ve pointed out, we do have the implied odds to warrant a call. We miss out on the chance of raising for a free card on the turn – a play that may fail anyway if our opponent decides to 3-bet and lead the turn – but we will sometimes get a free card anyway. Sometimes, our opponent will give up (and call down) with a hand like KK and similar when we call the flop, when he’s convinced that we sucked out on him with some ace-high hand. When he checks the turn, we check behind.
If we call this flop we must be prepared to fold a non-queen turn. We are getting 8:1 now on the flop, but on the turn we will only get 5.5:1. This is not good enough for us, and we will need to give up.
As with the last hand, I recommend calling as the standard play, but on the other hand, I’m going to strongly recommend raising as an occasional mixing-it-up play.
If you’re up against a player who 3-bets very lightly preflop, you may consider raising just to avoid being pushed around too much. There are some players who are extremely aggressive preflop with (sort of) semi-bluffing hands like 98s and the likes, and they will often give up if you play back at them on an ace-high flop. And remember, if he has any hand that has more than five outs against you (basically any hand combination not including a K or a J), you will be happy that he folds. He’s technically getting correct odds to call but doesn’t realize it, so he makes a mistake in folding. This is great for you. But, again, this only applies if your opponent is very aggressive preflop with hands that you clearly beat. If you think he has a hand that’s too strong for him to fold, raising is not the best move since the benefit of taking a free card alone is probably not enough. You need to compensate for some of the cost of raising by occasionally gaining some fold equity.