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Check-Raising on Draws by Steve Brecher

In No-Limit Hold 'em, drawing hands can be very difficult to play out of position. Most beginners take a straightforward approach when they flop something like a straight or a flush draw; they check, then call a bet and hope the turn brings something helpful. But, simply check-calling can present difficulties later in a hand. If you miss on the turn, you'll probably have to check and, oftentimes, end up facing a turn bet that is too large to call. Any bet of normal size in relation to the pot will be too large because the odds against hitting your hand are typically more than 4-to-1.

The problems don't end there. What happens if you check-call the flop, then hit your draw on the turn? If you check the turn, your opponent might very well check behind you, fearing that you hit. If you lead at the pot, you're pretty much announcing that you made your hand and your opponent might fold. So, even if you hit, you may not get paid in proportion to the risk you took by calling on a draw.

Rather than check-call, I often like to check-raise when I flop a draw out of position. This sort of situation comes up most frequently when playing from the blinds. For example, say that I'm in the big blind with Ad-6d and I call a raise from a late position player who popped it to three times the big blind. The flop, Td-5d-3s, gives me the nut flush draw.

After calling from the blind, I'd expect to check the flop almost every time. It's the natural progression of the hand: my opponent took the lead pre-flop and I'm going to allow him to keep it. I'd expect him to make a continuation bet most of the time, even when he misses the flop completely. Most aggressive players will stab at small pots in these situations.

If he does bet, this is the perfect kind of flop for a check-raise. It's likely that my opponent raised with two big cards - something like A-K or A-Q - and, if that's the case, he's missed this flop completely and will almost certainly fold to the check-raise. Or, if he's got something like A-T or K-T, he may be worried that he's run into a bigger hand and he'll likely just call the raise.

If he does call the check-raise, I can then make a decision on the turn. Sometimes I'll check and sometimes I'll lead out, regardless of whether I hit my draw. If I missed, I may continue the semi-bluff or I may check with the hope that my check-raise on the flop was sufficient to make my opponent nervous and get me a free river card. If I hit, I may choose to continue my aggressive play and put my opponent to a decision or, I may check, deceptively representing fear of my opponent's having the draw.

Of course, things won't always work out. If the initial raiser has something like pocket Aces or a set, I'm likely to be re-raised and shut out of the hand. But nothing works out every time in poker.

Try varying your play when you flop draws. Look for opportunities to check-raise. It may be the best way to proceed with a draw when playing out of position.

Steve Brecher

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