Texas Hold’em has come a long way in the past 20 years. Millions of people have started playing “The Cadillac of Poker,” and many of those people have become very good at it. Fortunately, you can still get your foot in the door by learning some basic online Texas Hold’em strategies and figuring out when to use them. Let’s start with a play that used to get you thrown out of certain establishments.

The check-raise, known pejoratively as sand-bagging back in olden times, is common enough today in real cash online poker – but it still puts opponents on tilt, especially newcomers to the game. The mechanics behind the move are simple enough: You check when it’s your turn, and if your opponent bets, you raise. This play can be done for value (when you have a good hand), as a bluff (when you have garbage), or as a semi-bluff (when you’re somewhere in between). Here’s how to use the check-raise in each of these three cases.

Check-Raising for Value

Generally speaking, when you’re out of position post-flop, it’s a good online poker strategy to check rather than open the betting – especially if you called from the blinds. Your opponent will often throw out a continuation bet if you check, then you can go over the top with a juicy raise. If you lead out first with a good hand, you’re giving them the opportunity to fold instead. Don’t let this happen to you.

Become Less Predictable

Most of the time when you’re out of position with a decent value hand like Two Pair, you’ll have incentive to check-call the flop quite a lot, then the turn and often the river. But calling off like this will get you in deep, deep waters if the board comes out with a lot of suited and connected cards – and your hand will essentially be “face-up” to your opponent, if they’re paying attention.

Making a healthy check-raise in the right spots will help you disguise the strength of your hand, and generate some valuable folds before you get into a tight spot on the river. Do this with a mix of big hands and some weaker draws that can make big hands by the river, like gutshots and backdoor straight flush draws; the later position your opponent opens from preflop, the wider range they should have, and the more of those check-raises you can make.

Bait Your Opponent

Check-raising for value is a great way to get your opponent to put money in the pot for you when you’ve got something really good. The bigger your hand, the bigger you want the pot to get, and the check-raise will put more chips in the middle than you’ll get when you lead out. With any luck, your opponent will call your check-raise with a hand that’s worse than yours, and you can lead both the turn and river for value. If they happen to fold the flop instead, at least you got them to cough up a bet.

There are times when you’ll want to save that check-raise for the turn. If the flop comes out with a lot of low and disconnected cards, it’s safer for you to check-call with your big hand – and safer for your opponent to fire a second barrel. By this time, there will be quite a lot of chips waiting to be scooped up, so your delayed check-raise will be more profitable. If the turn is a blank, you might want to check-call again and wait for the river to spring your trap, but your opponent will often get cold feet and check back instead of firing a third barrel. Tweak your online poker strategy to account for player tendencies, and check-raise earlier if you’re up against one of these cautious opponents.

Check-Raising as a Bluff

There are definitely times in poker when you’ll want your opponent to fold. If you’ve got a bad hand out of position and your opponent is prone to c-betting too often, a timely check-raise will encourage them to fold a hand that’s weak, but still better than yours. This move can and should be used quite often on the flop, less so on the turn, and even more rarely on the river.

Determine Your Hand Range

In order for your check-raise bluff to be effective, you want it to look as much like a value bet as possible. To do this, you should take the time throughout the hand to consider the range of possible hole cards your opponent will put you on, based on your actions in the hand thus far and the cards on the board. If you don’t have a lot of value hands in your range, you should be less likely to check-raise. Poker will give you a better opportunity somewhere down the road.

Make Your Opponent Fold

As mentioned above, the check-raise bluff should be made primarily with your weaker draws when you play online poker. These are the hands that benefit the most from your opponent folding; straight draws and flush draws have enough outs that you might want to check-call the flop instead. You might not make your big hand on the turn, but if your opponent checks back, you’ll see the river for free – and you might be able to lead out as a bluff if you still haven’t filled out.

Check-Raising as a Semi-Bluff

In the first example, you wanted to get more money in the pot. In the second, you wanted your opponent to fold. These are the only two reasons you should ever make a bet in poker. Sometimes, you’re in a spot where your check-raise will accomplish a little of both. You might have a hand that’s behind right now, but has lots of potential (like a nut-flush draw), or you might have a marginal made hand that’s ahead right now, but doesn’t want to get outdrawn (like Top Pair on a low board). While check-raising these in-between hands on the flop is risky, if you do it in the appropriate spots, the reward will be worth it.

Estimate Your Hand Value

Before you load up with that check-raise, take a moment to consider the strength of your hand. If it’s a made hand, how marginal is it? Top Pair might be worth check-raising for value on the flop, but only if you’ve got a really good kicker to go along with it; otherwise, you could be in one of those “way ahead, way behind” positions where your opponent will either call with something better, or fold something worse.

This thought process applies to your stronger draws, as well – up to a point. A straight draw (eight outs) or flush draw (nine outs) should have enough equity on the flop for you to call instead of check-raise, but if you’re drawing to the nuts in either case, a check-raise will often be the right choice, since your opponent might call you with the second- or third-nut draw. Combo draws, like an open-ended straight flush draw (15 outs), make even better check-raise candidates; this will be for value more than a bluff, since all those outs will usually give you an equity advantage over your opponent’s made hand.

Define Your Betting Range

One last thing before you check-raise as a semi-bluff: Don’t forget to lead out with these hands when the time is right. You might not want to check-raise Top Pair with a weak kicker, but you might also prefer betting to check-calling. Mix these marginal hands with the right number of bluff leads, focus on boards that hit your range better than your opponent’s, and once you have this leading range in mind, take those hands out of your check-raising range.

That’s Check-Raising 101 for aspiring poker savants. You now have the information you need to pull off this move like a pro for value, as a bluff, and as a semi-bluff. For more online poker strategy tips and concepts, browse our archive of helpful articles here at Ignition Poker, and we’ll see you on the felt.