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Believe it or not, sometimes you play in games where check-raising is not allowed. A check-raise means to check, and then when someone else bets, you raise. This is an important tool for the player who is first to act. It prevents the late position player from pouncing just because the early position player checked.
If you play in a game like this, you should be very conservative before the flop in early position. In late position, feel free to open up your game quite a bit. Knowing that the early position player can't wake up and spring a trap on you gives you a lot more flexibility in the game. This is a little bit less true in no limit Texas holdem poker than in limit, but it still all holds.