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In my last column, we explored the concept of “betting for value” as means for optimizing your winnings at the poker table. Aside from early folding your losing hands, effective bluffing tactics, and sound starting-hand selection trapping and betting for value are the best ways to offset the cost of the casino rake and go home a winner. 

Today we explore the strategy of trapping your opponents.

Much like bluffing, trapping is a form of deception. Unlike bluffing, trapping is designed to conceal the strength of your hand so you can build the pot you expect to win. Slow-play and check-raise are the two main tactics. When slow-playing, your actions conceal the strength of your hand until, at least, the next round of betting. 

Check-raising is best when you hold a monster hand and expect an opponent will bet after you check, so you then can raise him to build the pot. Use the check-raise only if you are almost certain an opponent will make the bet after you check. Otherwise, it’s wise to make the bet yourself. Knowing when and how to employ these tactics requires considerable skill. You might use them in the same hand, in sequence.

Evaluating your opponents, typically most are loose players. Some are passive, a few are very aggressive and very few are tight. With pocket Aces, you raised before the flop. Another Ace falls on the flop – a set of Aces. WOW! 

The board is not coordinated; a flush or straight is at best a draw. Everyone checks to you. Pause and think: Since you raised preflop, your opponents are apprehensive. If you bet now, on the flop, most – if not all – will fold their hands, confronted by an Ace on the board unless one holds the case Ace. 

At this point, they might reason (properly) that the pot is relatively small – hardly worth fighting over and each has so few chips invested in this pot – an easy fold. Yes, there is a chance someone caught two-pair or a set – not likely. So slow-playing (often called “sandbagging”) is the wise ploy. Keep them in and wait for one or more to improve his hand so he will have reason to call your subsequent bets. Check.

Suppose the turn pairs the board. If an opponent bets before you, that pair likely helped his hand. Give him credit for a set. He is so pleased at his catch! He puts you on a pair of Aces with a big kicker based on how the betting has gone. So he believes he has the best hand. Little does he suspect that the pair on the board has given you Aces-full. 

Two others call him; maybe they are drawing to a straight or have two-pair. With the odds heavily in you favor, this is the time to raise – betting for value (see Part I). Chances are the bettor and both callers will call your raise. You have added to the pot you expect to win with your Aces-full.

Consider the same cards except you are in an early position. If you come out betting on the turn, most if not all your opponents probably will fold. After all you had raised preflop. The only caller, if any, will be the opponent who connected for a set on the turn, or the player holding the case Ace. 

Your best move is to check – slow-play – and let him (hopefully) make the big bet on the turn. Maybe another player will call with a pair or a draw to a straight. Perhaps he made a straight on the turn, and raises.

Check your holecards to be sure of your holding; you don’t want to make a careless mistake with so much at stake. Then make your reraise. A check-raise! Both will call you – and nod forlornly as you turn up your Aces-full. Nice pot! 

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

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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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