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Deception – being tricky – is an integral part of poker. Bluffing is the most widely form of deception at the poker table: Bet or raise to force your opponent to fold a hand that likely is better than yours. When your opponent tosses his cards into the muck, the pot is yours. 

Somewhat less familiar is the opposite betting strategy: Trapping.  In this case, you do not want your opponent to fold. It’s best he stayed in the pot to help build it when you later show down the best hand. (Note: Trapping is also called “sandbagging.”)

Trapping is employed when you have a hand that is almost certain to be the winner. Best if it’s the Nuts

Ways to trap

Slow-play and check-raise are the two main approaches for rapping an opponent at the poker table. When slow-playing, your actions are designed to conceal the strength of your hand.

Let’s suppose you started with pocket aces in a limit hold’em game. From a middle position, you had raised preflop. Three opponents called your raise to see the flop. On the flop, you catch a set of Aces. Wow! 

The board is not coordinated, so there is little danger that someone will make a flush or straight. You are a huge favorite to win this pot.

What’s the best way to play your hand so “your pot” will be as big as possible? Both opponents positioned before you, check. That’s to be expected since you had raised before the flop so they respect you. In fact, they may actually fear you – and suspect you connected with the Ace on the board. (Little do they know how correct they are!) 

After a quick look to confirm your hand (never misread your hand), you check rather than bet. You are slow-playing your hand because you do not want to force any opponent to fold. Best to wait for the turn when the bets are double and, perhaps an opponent may catch a card that encourages him to call your bet on the turn. 

In fact, you might even decide to check-raise on the turn – another way to trap your opponents. That’s when you check, expecting (hoping) an opponent will make the bet perhaps other players will call. Now you make the raise and very likely one or all will call. That’s a great way to build the pot, but you have to be almost certain that an opponent will bet after your check. 

It helps to know how our opponents play. A loose-aggressive player is more likely to make the bet so you can follow with a raise. Looking for tells may also be helpful. If you doubt whether anyone will bet after you check, it is best to make the bet yourself, rather than take the chance that all your opponents also check. Then you are giving your opponents free cards (infinite pot odds) to draw out on you. 

The check-raise trapping strategy is most effective when you are in an early position and there are several opponents still in the pot. There is more chance an opponent will bet after your check. If other opponents call his bet, they are more likely to call your raise; and “your pot” grows. . . 

“Setting up” your opponent so he acts based on a misconception is a third way to trap. Relying on your previous betting style, your opponents have you pegged as an aggressive player. That’s your image. Then, they would be more inclined to call when you raise after catching a set of Aces on the flop. 

You have used your image to deceive and set a trap for your opponents. But that assumes your opponents are astute enough to identify your image. So that ploy can only work against good players. Further, since, as a winning player, you more likely are rather tight, this type of trap is less viable. 

Bottom Line: The slow-play and check-raise are the best traps.

“The Engineer,” a noted author and teacher in the Los Angeles area, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Contact him at [email protected]

About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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