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The Dreaded Min-Check-Raise by Aaron Bartley

There are a lot of potentially horrendous moves to be made in No-Limit Hold ‘em: playing out of position with a marginal hand, chasing down a draw without the correct odds, overplaying (or underplaying) the nuts. All of these are horrible, horrible plays. But in my opinion, the worst play that you can make (and I see made far too often) is the min-check-raise.

I’ve never seen this play used correctly. In fact, I don’t think it’s even possible to use it correctly. If you min-check-raise a hand it means one of two things: either you have an incredibly strong hand and don’t want to scare off your opponents, or you have a draw but absolutely no idea of how to play it.

The first instance I can almost live with − you have the absolute nuts and are just trying to milk the minimum amount of money out of your opponents with a bet so small that they’re forced to call. The flipside to that thought process is that if one of your opponents actually has a hand that he thinks is good, wouldn’t he possibly call a bigger bet? You might think that you’re slow playing, but you’re going about it the wrong way. While you might win an extra bet with the min-check-raise here, most of the time you’re just costing yourself more chips later in the hand by not getting a little more creative with your play.

The second instance of the min-check-raise is what really gets to me. You’re on a draw and hope that min-check-raising is going to accomplish something. I guess these players think that they are semi-bluffing, but they’re a little mixed up. The point of the semi-bluff is to take the pot down right then and there (with the potential to make the best hand later on if your opponent calls), but if you min-check-raise in that position, your opponent is priced in to the pot and there’s no way he’s folding anything better than 8 high.

This exact situation occurred recently while I was playing in a tournament. I was in middle position with K-6 of spades and one limper in the pot. I put in a pot-sized raise with the intention of stealing the pot. If worse came to worst and someone called me, I knew they’d probably be out of position during the hand. As expected, everyone folded – except, of course, the limper.

The flop came A-8-8 with two diamonds. A complete whiff for me – I had King high. There’s no reason to believe I had anything but the worst hand, so I had to proceed with caution. The limper checked to me and since there was no way I’d win this hand if it went to a showdown, I bet just over half the pot in an attempt to pick it up. The limper responded by min-check-raising me. Hmm? At this point I have two options: get away from the hand unscathed or make the call to see what he would do on the turn. He could have a monster hand here or he could simply be on the flush draw – the turn would give me the information I needed. Since it wouldn’t hurt my stack to find out, I decided to call.

The turn brought a blank. If he came out betting he obviously has a strong hand because there was no reason for him to bluff after I called his raise on the flop. He checked. There was a slight chance he was trying to play his hand super tricky, but it was unlikely.

People who min-check-raise either want to protect or get value from their hand, and will usually come out betting the next street. His check told me that he was most likely on the draw, so I decided to bet about half of my entire stack. This showed him I wasn’t folding to anything and the only way he could raise was if he was extremely confident he had the best hand. I had raised pre-flop, called his raise on the flop, and bet out on the turn – signifying to him that I had a very strong hand. His min-check-raise had worked against him and he was forced to fold his hand because he wasn’t getting priced in.

This player lost a lot of chips because he tried to get cute and put in a min-check-raise. Learn from his mistake and avoid falling into the trap of the dreaded min-check-raise.

Aaron Bartley

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