I often discuss the importance of mixing up your play in order to remain unpredictable. One of the best ways to do that is by occasionally betting the flop and sometimes going for a check-raise.
When deciding which play makes the most sense, there are several factors to consider.
The Strength of Your Hand
The most important factor in deciding whether to bet the flop or wait for a check-raise is the power of your hand. Ask yourself this question: Could the next card cause me to lose the hand?
As a rule, if a hand is vulnerable to getting outdrawn, you should lean toward betting rather than waiting. Check-raising won’t work if opponents don’t bet the flop.
For example, if you hold K-K and the flop is Kh-8d-3s, there’s little risk of being outdrawn on the next card; checking would be a fine play. However, if the flop is 9d-10d-3h, consider betting now, as this board presents a dangerous situation for your hand. Your opponent could have a flush or straight draw, and even a hand like A-10 would have five outs to beat you.
Your Opponent’s Behavior
If you’re planning to check-raise, you must be able to gauge the likelihood of an opponent betting the flop.
Timid players won’t bet unless they have a strong hand. You really shouldn’t check-raise them unless of course you have a monster hand yourself.
Aggressive players, however, look to attack pots and pounce on weakness. You should check-raise them often to neutralize their bullying style.
Past History with an Opponent
Having a good memory of past hands is a great asset at the poker table. You can tap into that memory to help decide how to proceed with a hand.
If your opponent picks up that you check-raise with strong hands, but bet right out with weaker hands, then consider throwing him a curveball by doing the opposite of what he expects.
Or don’t. Your opponent may expect you to do the opposite, so you might even want to play it straightforward. That’s the beauty of poker.
If you get to the point where you don’t have many chips in front of you, you might as well be the one to bet the flop rather than check-raise.
The only time a small stack would go for the check-raise is when you have a monster hand and think your opponent might bet as a bluff, but likely wouldn’t call your bet.
Not only is your chip count a consideration, but so is the stack size of your opponent in the hand. If he’s short-stacked and almost all-in, going for a big payday with a check-raise offers much less value.
Table Position and the Number of Players in the Pot
This is an extremely important. Obviously, the more players there are to act behind you, the more likely it is that one of them will bet. So, if you’re in the small blind with a powerful hand, and there are five players behind, checking is a smart move. One of those players will likely take a stab at the pot; then you can pounce with a raise.
However, if you have that same hand but are the second to last player to act, going for a check-raise would be extremely risky. You’d be counting on the last player to bet. If he doesn’t, all of your opponents get a free shot to beat you on the next card.
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