The Theory of Poker

The Theory of Poker

4.2 8
by David Sklansky

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Two Plus Two Publishing, LLC
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5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.84(d)

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Check Raising

Check raising and slowplaying are two ways of playing a strong hand weakly to trap your opponents and win more money from them. However, they are not identical. Check raising is checking your hand with the intention of raising on the same round after an opponent bets. Slowplaying, which we discuss in more detail in the next chapter, is playing your hand in a way that gives your opponents no idea of its strength. It may be checking and then just calling an opponent who bets, or it may be calling a person who bets ahead of you. When you slowplay a hand, you are using deception to keep people in for a while in order to make your move in a later round. Clearly, then, a hand you slowplay has to be much stronger than a hand with which you check raise. Check raising can drive opponents out and may even win the pot right there, while slowplaying gives opponents either a free card or a relatively cheap card.


There are some amateur poker players who find something reprehensible about check raising. They find it devious and deceitful and consider people who use it to be less than well bred. Well, check raising is devious and it is deceitful, but being devious and deceitful is precisely what one wants to be in a poker game, as is implied by the Fundamental Theorem of Poker.

Checking with the intention of raising is one way to do that. In a sense, check raising and slowplaying are the opposites of bluffing, in which you play a weak hand strongly. If check raising and slowplaying were not permitted, the game of poker would lose just about as much as it would if bluffing and semi-bluffing were not permitted. Indeed the two types of play complement one another, and a good player should be adept at both of them. The check raise is a powerful weapon. It is simply another tool with which a poker player practices his art. Not allowing check raising in your home game is something like not allowing, say, the hit and run in a baseball game or the option pass in a football game. Without it poker loses a significant portion of its strategy, which, apart from winning money, is what makes the game fun. I'm much more willing to congratulate an opponent for trapping me in a check raise than for drawing out on me on a call he shouldn't have made in the first place - and if I am angry at anyone, it is at myself for falling into the trap.


Two conditions are needed to check raise for value - that is, when you expect you might be called by a worse hand. First, you must think you have the best hand, but not such a great hand that a slowplay would be proper. Second, you must be quite sure someone behind you will bet if you check. Let's say on Fourth Street in seven-card stud someone bets with ? ? Qd 10s showing, and with Kc 9d 9h Js you're getting sufficient pot odds to call. Now on Fifth Street you catch a king to make kings up. Here you might check raise if you are pretty sure the player representing queens will bet.

This second condition - namely, that someone behind you will bet after you check - is very important. When you plan to check raise, you should always keep in mind that you could be making a serious, double-edged mistake if you check and no one bets behind you. You are giving a free card to opponents who would have folded your bet, and in addition you are losing a bet from those who would have called. So you had better be very sure the check raise will work before you try it.


When you plan to check raise with several players still in the pot, you need to consider the position of the player you expect will bet because that position determines the kind of hand you check raise with, to a large extent. Let's say you have made hidden kings up on Fifth Street, and the player representing queens is to your right. Kings up is a fairly good hand but not a great hand, and you'd like to get everybody out so they don't draw out on your two pair. You check, and when the player with queens bets, you raise. You are forcing everyone else in the hand to call a double bet, the original bet and your immediate raise, and they will almost certainly fold. You don't mind the queens calling your raise, for you're a big favorite over that player. However, if he folds, that's fine too.

Now we'll place the player representing queens to your left instead of to your right. In this case you should bet with kings up even though you know the player with queens will bet if you check and even though you think you have the best hand. When you bet in this spot, you are hoping the queens will raise so that the double bet will drive out the other players in the pot, just as your check raise was meant to do in the other instance. And if that opponent does raise, you can now reraise.

Suppose that instead of kings up, the king on Fifth Street gives you three kings. Now you are much stronger than you were with two pair, and your hand can tolerate callers. Therefore, you would use the opposite strategy you employed with kings up. With the probable bettor to your right, you should bet, and after everyone calls, you hope that bettor raises so that people will be calling a single bet twice (which they are much more likely to do than to call a double bet once). On the other hand, if the probable bettor is to your left, then you check the three kings, and after that player bets and everyone calls, you raise. Once again, you are inviting your opponents to call a single bet twice and not a double bet once.

In sum, the way you bet or check raise depends on the strength of your hand in relation to what you can see of the other hands and the position of the player you expect to bet or raise behind you when you check or bet. With a fairly good hand, like kings up or aces up in seven stud, you try to make opponents call a double bet because you'd like to drive them out. With a very good hand like three kings or three aces you play to induce your opponents to call a single bet; then you confront them with having to call another single bet. In this case, you don't mind their staying in since you're a big favorite over them.


While you generally check raise because you think you have the best hand, it is frequently correct to check raise with a second-best hand if the play will drive other opponents out. The principle here is identical to the principle of raising with what you think is the second-best hand as it was explained in Chapter Nine and Chapter Thirteen. If the probable best hand is to your immediate right, you can check, wait for that player to bet, then raise so that the rest of the table will fold rather than call a double bet. While you may not be the favorite, you have still increased your chances of winning the pot, and you have the extra equity of whatever dead money is in the pot from earlier betting rounds.

Sometimes you can check raise with a come hand like a four flush if there are many people in the pot already and you don't expect a reraise, for you are getting good enough odds, especially if you have a couple of cards to come. This play should usually be made only when the probable bettor is to your immediate left; then the other players will call that bettor before they realize you are putting in a raise. You do not want to drive players out because you want to get the correct odds for your raise.


The factors you must consider when you plan to check raise are: 1. The strength of your hand 2. Whether someone behind you will bet after you check 3. The position of the probable bettor

To check raise with a hand with which you want to thin out the field, you want the probable bettor to your right so that people will have to call a double bet to stay in. With a very strong hand and with most come hands, you want the probable bettor to your left so the other players in the hand might call that bettor's single bet and then be invited to call your raise.

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The Theory of Poker 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A friend of mine says reading Sklansky 'makes (his) head explode.' I wouldn't go that far, but I hear what's he's saying: Sklansky takes basic poker concepts and mathematicizes them. If you have trouble with that, you're not going to like reading him. But if you can follow along (you can even skim the 'math' if you want) you will find that he has outlined some very fundamental precepts of winning poker strategies. This is not a strategy book, per se: it doesn't discuss starting hands and so forth. Also it does not focus on any particular type of poker, such as the ultra-popular no-limit hold 'em, as seen on TV. Rather, it explains basic poker concepts (such as bluffing, semi-bluffs, position, check-raising) and explains how to most effectively integrate them into your game. This book is an invaluable tool for the intermediate and advanced player, but beginners probably should absorb some basic strategy books (and some invaluable playing experience) before trying to digest The Theory of Poker. Read this: your opponent has.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was written 11 years ago. Think about that for a second, and what it says about how fundamentally revolutionary the concepts Sklansky presents must be, that players still consider this book among the most important ever put into print. You¿ll still find this book on the bookshelves of every serious poker player, and I, along with most serious amateurs I know, refer to it on a continuing basis. Other so-called ¿classic¿ books, such as Brunson¿s first Super System and even the first printing of both Jones¿ and Sklansky & Malmuth¿s books were outstanding in their time, but most acknowledge that they have since lost their applicability to the more aggressive modern game. Theory of Poker, however, stands as a shining exception to these other outdated books, and continues to be what I believe to be the most important book for any and every poker player. In addition, Sklansky discusses many different poker games, and not just hold¿em which seems to be all the rage at the moment. Understanding how the theoretical concepts he discusses apply to different games really helps reinforce the underlying reasoning. As written above, the most amazing aspect of the book is that it has not, in any way, become outdated as the game has continued to change. Even with the explosion of internet poker, I found myself constantly re-reading chapters, and Sklansky¿s discussion of things such as the ¿fundamental theorum of poker¿ are even MORE applicable in the online arena, where loose play is the norm, especially post-flop in holdem. My son recently convinced me (after much pleading) to give online play a shot, and I was stunned at how well the lessons from Theory of Poker adapted to the style of play I found¿they really teach you how to extract the most from less-skilled opponents, while being able to properly fold hands that are beat. If you decide to give the online thing a shot, another review here had a good suggestion to check out which had site reviews and sign-up bonus codes for most major sites. Is Sklansky¿s writing style the most entertaining or gripping? Assuredly not: this is anything but a page-turner, but it¿s the reader who can look past his occasionally dry writing style who will truly reap the rewards of the nuggets of wisdom contained herein. In my humble opinion, a must-read for poker players of all levels.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Theory of poker is a fabulous book. It really gets to the crux of how you make money at this game. It sometimes can be difficult reading but it will provide you with a foundation of why and how some people make money aqnd some people dont. There is a lot more to poker than just playing tight...and I see so many people think they are good players because they only play 20-25% of their hands. Sure that is important...but is not enough to make you a winner.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be an excellent addition to any serious poker player's library. I WOULD NOT recommend reading this as your first poker book b/c it is VERY analytical. Sklansky brings a mathematical element into decision-making which is vital to raise your game to the next level. However, there is so much more to cards than mathematics. I found the book incredibly valuable, but only when coupled with the knowledge that one can take away from Caro's Book of Tells, Brunson's Super System, and the other great books of our time. Reading can be dry from time to time, and he jumps around from game to game which can be frustrating (who play's 7-card Razz anymore?!), but the lessons are universal and important. Worth the money and the headaches to get through it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have won over $1000 after reading this book playing No-Limit Hold'em. I would strongly strongly recommend this book to everyone.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is extremely helpful for players who are just starting out. It highlights many of the fundamentals of play that are necessary for reducing risk. If you've never read a book on poker play, read this one first.
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