When to Check-Raise in a Poker Tournament

One of the betting strategies used by poker players, especially in poker tournaments, is the check-raise. The check-raise is a very powerful move, which has a tendency to create the impression that the player making this bet has a strong hand, and actually this is the purpose of the check-raise. However, the check-raise can be used in situations other than to defend a strong hand, it can also be used as a bluffing and semi-bluffing strategy.

The most commonly used reason for a poker player to check-raise in a poker tournament is to defend their strong hand. Poker players with starting hands like AA, KK, QQ, and AK will often check-raise the blinds preflop. This strong bet will encourage players with weak starting hands to muck their cards before the flop, and it will let the remaining players know that there is a possibility that the player who check-raised could have a nut starting hand or close to nut starting hand. In this instance the check-raise is used as an intimidation tool, which should work most of the time. If after a check-raise has been made another player calls or check-raises the player will need to determine if that player could possibly have a better starting hand, or if they are just trying to bluff their way into the hand.

In addition to being used as a defensive strategy to steal the blinds during the preflop play, the check-raise can also be used as a bluffing strategy in a poker game. In this instance the poker player who check-raises doesn’t have a very strong hand, but because circumstances are right they use the strong move to try and steal the blinds, antes, and other bets that are currently in the pot. In most instances the use of the check-raise as a bluffing device should only be done under the following circumstances:

  • The table has been unpredictable in the past
  • The bluffer has the position to make the move
  • The bluffer has not tried to bluff in the last several games
  • The stakes at the table are mid to high
  • There are less than three players left to bluff.

The next poker situation that the check-raise can successfully be used in is the semi-bluff. A semi-bluff is similar to a bluff in that the player is trying to play their hand as if it is a nut or close to nut hand, however, it really is not that strong. However, the semi-bluff has an advantage over the bluff in that it does have value and it could possible win on its own merit instead of the player depending on the other players folding in order to win. Like the bluff, the check-raise semi-bluff should only be used under certain circumstances including:

  • Less than three players
  • The player has position
  • The stakes are consequential
  • The player has not overused their bluffing and semi-bluffing strategies at this table.