Lots of ways to build, win pot in poker

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The 3 L’s (posted on the wall of the VA/West LA geriatrics fitness center) – Good advice for all us poker players: 

Live every moment

Love beyond words

Laugh every day

To which I would add a fourth L: Life is precious. Enjoy your days at the poker table and strive to be a winner.

This is the final piece in our three-part series on the importance of deception in poker. Warning: If you do not use deception, you are unlikely to go home a winner. 

Previous columns discussed bluffing, semi-bluffing, stealing the blinds, and building the pot when you catch a monster hand. Let’s examine other deceptive tactics for building your pot. 

Catching a Monster 

Your goal is to build the pot. There are four somewhat similar deceptive tactics: 

• Slow-play – Don’t raise; encourage your opponents to stay in the hand, perhaps even to bet out or raise. Just call along until the turn or the river; then raise their bets.

• Sandbag – Don’t open bet, consider raising after an opponent bets out.

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• Trap – Play your hand so opponents never suspect its strength. One may try to bluff you out or bet a weak hand he might otherwise just showdown without betting. 

• Check-raise – This deceptive tactic is the most popular. Check with a powerful hand, and then raise after a bet followed by callers. 

Reverse Tells 

Tells are mannerisms (“body language”) giving clues about a player’s hand. You can be quite certain that a player has caught a strong hand when he suddenly sits up in his chair, grabs a batch of chips before his turn to act, or studies his hole cards longer than usual. 

These and other tells say, “he’s got a big hand.” Deliberately using such a “strong-hand” tell when executing a bluff is a reverse tell. 

“Bluffing tells” indicate that a player is trying to bluff. (See my book, The Art of Bluffing.) These include rubbing his neck, covering his mouth with his hand, or leaning back in his chair. After catching a monster hand, using these as reverse tells to convince your opponents that you are bluffing when you raise, so they are more likely to call, thereby increasing the pot size. 

Using your image

You start off playing only premium hands. Your opponents soon realize this trait. That’s your image – tight. As a result, later, when you bluff, your opponents are prone to believe you and muck their cards. You win the pot. Deception!

As the game progresses, an opponent who connected on a draw, calls your bluff bet. Now, after the showdown, your opponents realize you are a bluffer; and will be more prone to call your bets. So, here again, you have an opportunity to use deception when you hold a monster hand and want callers to help build the pot. 

Bluffing the Bluffer

You have identified an opponent as a bluffer. After catching four-to-a-flush on the flop, you call his bet to see the turn – No help. 

Again, he bets out; the others fold. It’s just the two of you. He opens the final round with a big bet. The board is not threatening, and there is a big pot. Knowing he’s a bluffer, you decide to raise his bet; it’s a bluff. He mucks his cards. You win the pot!  

The Squeeze Play 

I learned about this by reading Linda Johnson’s chapter in Winning Women of Poker. The Squeeze Play is much like a bluff, but a very special one when there is a very aggressive player (a “maniac”) at your table.  The maniac raises preflop and is called by one other opponent; everyone else folds to you. At that point, your re-raise is likely to force out both the maniac and the caller. You win a nice pot. 

Linda recommends the Squeeze Play for no-limit games where the amount bet is large enough to discourage callers. I find that it usually works for me in $4-$8 limit games where I use the Esther Bluff tactic,.

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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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