Hold ’em: Teasing and trapping


Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was originally published (2011) in Bluff magazine.


Playing against intelligent, ultra-aggressive poker opponents can be traumatic and terrifying. Not for me, though. And not for you, either, after we’re finished talking today.

Lean close, so I can whisper. Those players you instinctively fear most are actually some of the easiest to beat.

You might argue that those sophisticated opponents are taking command of the game by forcefully betting and raising and piling up mountains of chips. Clearly, they can’t be easy to beat or they wouldn’t be winners. Interesting thought.

Yes

Here’s the deal. Yes, they’re playing superior poker. Yes, they’re winners. Yes, you should sometimes play the way they do.

Yes, yes, yes! Yes, because ultra-aggression works for them. Good job, poker warriors. You are worthy players, all. Your mamas, papas, sisters, brothers, and friends are proud of you. You’re ferocious and fearsome, vicious and victorious. And yet, Mike Caro says you’re pussycats. Meow!

Well, I know Mike better than anyone, and he’s right about this. Let’s examine it.

The truth about poker aggression 

The best way to win at poker if you’re not especially skillful is to sit and wait. You need to play extremely tight. In most casual games, this simple style can be profitable. But not very.

The reason it often wins is that unsophisticated opponents play far too many hands and call far too many bets. This means that if you only play the very best cards, you’ll likely have enough weak hands competing to win overall.

Potential profit

The semi-strong hands you’re folding by playing super-selectively are ones that don’t earn great gobs of money. But when you add them all together, they account for a large share of potential profit. That’s why playing very tight poker isn’t the right road to becoming a superstar.

Fine. So what is the path to plentiful profit? The advice you’ve often heard – “play tight, but aggressive” – is pretty much on the money. But how aggressive? Aren’t the superstars too aggressive.

Of course they are. But most opponents are intimidated and don’t take advantage. That’s why the extra aggression actually works.

The solution 

The solution is actually quite simple. I often describe these ultra-aggressive players as poker bullies. You should be that way yourself if your opponents let you. But you shouldn’t let others get away with it, because the answer is simply to call more often and bet less often. By doing that, you’re letting the poker bullies hang themselves.

You see, they’re making a fundamental mistake of betting and raising too frequently. Looking at the science of poker, we see that there’s a perfect balance of times you should bet and times you should raise, in accordance with the hands you hold in various situations.

Perfect balance

When you assume your opponents are also playing flawlessly, sticking with that perfect balance guarantees that you won’t lose any money (excluding the rake). If you bet or raise less often than perfect balance, you’re losing money by not leveraging your advantages. If you bet or raise more often than perfect balance, you’re losing money by giving your opponents good value by calling.

And that’s why you should defeat poker bullies by often checking, instead of betting. That gives them the opportunity to make their mistake. Of course, you can also bet small amounts and lure the bullies into raising. It’s your choice – a dance you’ll have to practice.

But whether you check and are bet into or bet and are raised, you should call more often. If you do that, there’s no known counter-strategy for bullies. They either return to sensible play, wounded and whimpering, or they proudly continue to wager excessively while you take their money.

A trap 

So, I use a lot of trap plays against overly aggressive opponents. In no-limit hold ’em, this example is among my favorites.

We hold Q♥ Q♠. The bully raises the $100 big blind from a middle position, making it $300 to go. We’re next to act, in the adjacent seat. I’d seldom just call that bet, because our pair of queens faces the danger of an ace or king flopping, and we don’t want to risk letting hands containing aces or kings come in behind us. But against this aggressive raiser, we don’t want to raise too much. Let’s tempt him to raise again.

Perfect tease

Assuming we both have large stacks, I’ll often make it $650 or $700 to go, a $350 to $400 raise. It’s the perfect tease. I’d make it $500 total, but raising the minimum allowed size – equal to the previous $200 raise – kind of looks wimpy and may seem suspicious. So, if we end up head-to-head against this lively opponent, that’s what we want most.

We decide to make it $700 total. It’s up to him. Often you’ll succeed in luring a substantial reraise, but this time we’ll pretend he just calls. Too bad. Now the flop comes Q♦ 7♣ 2♠. Life doesn’t get much better than that, right? The pot is $1,550 – $700 from each of us, plus the $100 big blind and $50 small one. Our bully buddy bets $1,600. Great, he bet right into big trouble, illustrating the mistake he so frequently makes.

Take advantage 

So, let’s take advantage. We raise about… Wait! We don’t “raise about” any amount whatsoever. We deliberate for precisely six seconds and call. A longer deliberation might seem too suspicious (and this is already about twice as long as our normal response time), as might an immediate call. Why not raise? Because we want to keep the bully in the lead. He’ll usually feel as if things are going his way and bet again on the turn.

The turn card is 3♥, making the board Q♦ 7♣ 2♠ 3♥. We hope the bully actually has some reasonable hand, such as A-Q, or maybe 7-7. But that’s not likely. He’s probably improvising with faint hope or is outright bluffing. Let’s see how much he bets into this turn card. Certainly that three of hearts won’t make him back off, because it’s hard for him to figure us for holding a three.

Unusual

Oops! He checks. That’s really unusual. Maybe he’s trying to trap us! Or maybe he just gave up on the hand. Hmm. So, now we check.

What? You read it right. We check. We’re going to make him feel completely safe now, plus eliminate any idea he has in his head about trapping us. He now knows we’re not inclined to bet the hand. If he’s bluffing, it should seem safer to do so on the final betting round – depending on the card that arrives on the river, of course. And if he has some moderately strong hand, he’ll know he needs to bet it, because we’re not likely to do it for him. Additionally, had we bet on the turn, we might have forced him to fold, and all the good fortune that’s about to happen would have vanished.

River 

Here comes the river card. It’s 7♦, and the final board is Q♦ 7♣ 2♠ 3♥ 7♦. We have a faint concern about him holding 7-7 and having made four-of-a-kind, but that isn’t likely, and this is poker. In poker, you gamble. You can’t hide under the bed in your pink Winnie-the-Poo jammies when the wind blows scary branches against the window. Okay, maybe your childhood was different than mine, but you get the point.

So, now he surveys the $4,750 pot and bets $3,000. It’s not time to make an all-in bet. We raise $3,500. Yet another tease. Now, he moves all-in. Oh-oh – could actually be four sevens. But we call. No, he had A♠ J♠.

Just another hand

Huh? A pure bluff. Just another hand in the life of a super-aggressive bully, I guess. Of course, that’s a lucky scenario. Bullies will have good hands and beat you. But, by playing this way, you turn an opponent’s aggression into overall profit. So, let’s stack those chips.

The point is that you should never be terrified of super-aggressive opponents. They’re making the mistake of wagering too often. Take advange by checking and by calling. They’re so much fun to tease. — MC

Published by

Mike Caro

Visit Mike on   → Twitter   ♠ OR ♠    → FaceBook

Known as the “Mad Genius of Poker,” Mike Caro is generally regarded as today's foremost authority on poker strategy, psychology, and statistics. He is the founder of Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy (MCU). See full bio → HERE.

9 thoughts on “Hold ’em: Teasing and trapping”

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  1. Is Ace King more of a raising hand or a “wait and see” kind of hand, because it’s not a made hand yet?

    1. Hi, Cherry — It really can be either. So, you can mix up your play. Tend to raise against mostly the blinds. Otherwise, try to fit your decision to the circumstances. Remember, especially heads-up, A-K can win without improvement. So, in some cases, it’s sort of a made hand. — Mike Caro

  2. i love your commentary,
    however in my games yes they have quad 7s, and
    the Very next hand with my AK hitting a board of AQ8, I lose to trip queens, WHO loses to Quad 8s on the river

    or my AA loses to Ace ten all in who straights,
    perhaps someday I wont be sucked out

  3. Hi Mike,
    My favorite check-raise play is one that you've talked about in he past. When a player still to act telegraphs their intention to bet. This is one of the most profitable traps. The player telegraphing their is usually very lose and very weak. Your opponents will play hands they would normally fold to your bet allowing you to catch them in the middle. 
     

  4. Mke,
    Its a pleasure to write you an email…..wow!
    Two thins:
    1. I used to live in Asia and I strictly played cash poker in Macau and was a House Player at a poker club in Manila.  I'm back in the US now and trying to make a decision.
    a. Play cash poker, try to make profits
    b. Play tournaments, far less skill but entry fees only with leveraged pay day
    Which might be a bit more "profitable" over the next 6 mos or year? 
    I've been dying to ask you this question, never knew I could write directly to you. Seems there are many tournaments and some guys making decent money. I won a couple tournaments in Asia but they were small money.
    Assumption: I'm looking to make money, NET PROFITS, over 6 months. Which is likely to be more profitable?
    Arthur
     

  5. One time that worked well was during xmas playing 1 3 nl at aria. I was sitting to thw left of this guy from north carolina n he was heavily drinking. He was winning a lot of preflop n post flop with 30 to 50 dollar bets. Few hands later i found myself with pocket 10s n of course i just called his 25 raise preflop most others folded. The flop came a 10 10 so it was all how much equity can i get from this hand. I chexked n he bet another 25. I just called. Turn was Jc he bet bet 40 n i called. Then 5 h. He was suspicious at this point but bet again n i raised him. He thought about reraising but his friend told him to slow down n just called. I was going to shove had he reraised. But im happy how that played out. One thing about thia site compared to doyles room ia all the videos were together in a organized layout. I learned a lot from watching them over n over. Thanks again Dr Caro

  6. How long should we wait before our actions on the turn and river?

    Absolutely love the way the site is looking, btw. Looks better and better every day.

    1. Thanks, James —

      I decided over a year ago to make the changes and experiments available to the public, announcing that you could “Watch Poker1.com grow in full public view.”

      Hopefully the live testing and updates isn’t too distracting for early visitors. We’ll open soon, and by then the final look and functionality will be established.

      I’m glad you like what you’re seeing. Thanks for letting me know.

      To answer your question: Any delays in acting need to be tailored to a specific situation. For instance, when you’re bluffing, the two-and-a-half-second rule is a good one. You can read about that here: http://www.poker1.com/archives/1306/tuesday-sessions-20-little-known-poker-tips-that-bring-big-profit/.

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

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