Trapping your opponent in poker

December 15, 2015 3:00 AM


Poker AcesTrapping is just the opposite of bluffing.

Instead of mucking his cards, you want your opponent to stay in the pot – perhaps even bet or raise, or try for a bluff – when you hold the nuts or even a huge monster of a hand that is almost certain to be the winner at the showdown.

After all, our goal in playing poker is to win as many chips as possible as distinct from winning more hands. The smart/skilled player will win – and lose – fewer hands, but those he wins will be as full of chips as possible. Trapping is the way to do it.

The idea is to deceive your opponents when you have a great hand by playing so as to conceal your holdings: check or, in no-limit games, underbet your powerful hand, or play your hand in a non-threatening way. Then, your opponents have no idea you have a strong hand, thus enticing them either to try to bluff, or to bet a weak hand they might otherwise just show down without betting.

Trapper vs. ‘Trappee’

Of course, it’s best to be the trapper. But, what if you are the “trappee” – the one who is trapped by a shrewd opponent. It’s happened to me more often than I would like to admit.

For example, sometimes when I have a decent hand like an overpair to the board or top two-pair on the flop – but far from the nuts, I realize my hand may be the best at this point, but it is quite vulnerable. The more opponents staying to see the turn, the more likely one will draw out on me. So, I bet or raise to protect my hand. Most often, that does serve to thin the field against me, but…

Too often, it seems, a skilled opponent will just call my bet/raise on the flop. Then, when the turn card seems to be a blank and I come out betting, he responds with a big raise. At that point, I go into my internal huddle: He is a fairly tight player but does appear to be deceptive on occasion.

The way the hand has been played out, I would put him on a smaller two-pair or an overpair to the board. It’s much less likely he has a set, I reason. Of course, I have to call his raise, and then call his bet after I check on the river. He had flopped a set and trapped me by slow-playing his hand. He was the trapper; I was the “poor trappee.” I hate it!

Without any question, it is much more fun – and more profitable – to be the trapper. With the nuts or close to it, especially against a loose–aggressive opponent – I will check on the flop. After he bets and, hopefully a few others call, my check-raise will build the pot I am strongly favored to win.

Slow-play and sandbag

Other terms often used when you are trapping an unsuspecting opponent are “slow–play” and “sandbag.” According to George “The Engineer” Epstein slow-playing and sandbagging are alternate terms for trapping. There are subtle differences. He explains that slow-playing is checking or calling a bet (no raising) while holding a monster hand. Sandbagging implies a plan to check-raise after your opponents bet following your check.

With full credits to George’s new book, suppose you started with A-hearts, 10-hearts, and the flop brings three more hearts. You have the nut flush! You should build the pot you expect to win; so you just check – or call an opponent’s bet on the flop.

No raising. With no pairs on the board, a full-house is not possible. With two cards to come, it is possible someone could fill up. But it is a huge long shot. You are trapping your opponents, planning to check-raise on the turn.

You don’t want anyone to get suspicious of your motives.

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