Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. Originally published published (2005) in Bluff magazine.
“I love playing against these idiots,” Three Tree Pharaoh told me years ago. “You can sandbag them the first time for free, because they never expect it, and then they go into shock and stop playing against you. I’m serious. Just one little sandbag scares them back under whatever rock they crawled out from.”
He was just a 25-year-old kid and I wasn’t much older. He cackled annoyingly after revealing this truth. He was proud of his game. Too proud. In fact, he didn’t have much game at all, in my mind. And he lost consistently, even though he boasted so frequently about his wins that he probably had deluded himself into thinking he was an all-star.
How he got the nickname “Three Tree Pharaoh,” I’m unsure. He was proud of that, too. Once I asked him and he would only say, “Watch me play and you’ll know.” Well, I watched him play for weeks, until he went broke and disappeared, but never figured it out.
Chose to have fun
There was something else about what TTP said that underscores what I believe to be a poor winning attitude. He had said, “I love playing against these idiots.” Well, listen closely. If you want to have the best chance of making money at poker, don’t think of your weak opponents as “idiots.” Often they aren’t anything like that. Some of the loosest, weakest, most lively opponents I’ve faced have been top lawyers, surgeons, and celebrities. I’m sure some had genius IQs and could have devoted themselves to playing poker seriously if they wanted. But, instead, they chose to have fun at poker, using a small portion of the ample money they had at their disposal. I’m glad. You should be, too.
Players like that aren’t idiots, they’re intelligent opponents. It’s just that their poker sucks. You need to nourish any relationships you have with them, and mostly you need to respect them. That’s why I never allow my students to talk about opponents as suckers or idiots. Customers is more like it. And, usually, you shouldn’t think bad things about your customers.
Anyway, I’ve strayed from the topic. Hell, I can’t even remember the topic. Oh, yeah, sandbagging. I nodded politely without committing myself to his viewpoint about being able to sandbag weak players once for free and then scaring them into not playing much against you. In truth, I strongly disagreed with what he had just said. I even more strongly disagree today.
So, let’s talk about sandbagging in poker. If you’re new to the game, it’s the term used when we check a big hand, hoping our opponents do our betting for us so we can then raise. If used correctly by regular players in middle-limit games, sandbagging will add many thousands of dollars to their bankrolls every year. If used incorrectly, it can destroy them. Today we’re talking about one of the incorrect ways to use sandbagging.
Who knows what his point was
When TTP said, “… and then they go into shock and stop playing against you,” I winced. Well, actually, I can’t remember whether I winced or not and I don’t even know what his exact words were. I mean, this was over 30 years ago, so what do you expect from me? Anyway, I thought something like, “Duh!” I mean, the guy was right. Weak players don’t expect you to sandbag, you can do it the first time for free, and they stop playing against you once you surprise them with it. And his point was? Who knows?
My point is that weak opponents who typically call far too often and pose little threat through their own aggression should be cherished. They’re your very best customers. They’re already buying your product by calling way too much when you have better hands then they do. You giggle with them, send them Christmas cards, buy them coffee. Do anything to make them happy. But don’t sour their adventure shopping in your store by giving them a bad experience.
That’s what a sandbag does. It feels like an act of war to them. Now, hear me clearly, I’m not saying to throw sandbagging out of your poker arsenal. It’s a potent and profitable weapon. I’m just saying that your weakest, loosest opponents are not the appropriate targets for that weapon.
When you sandbag those opponents, they take it personally and become confused. Into a friendly poker game where everyone was laughing and gladly throwing their money into pots so you could collect it, you’ve injected serious strategy. And you don’t ever want to inject serious strategy into any poker game unless it’s invisible. That’s important and I’ll repeat it. You should never use what looks like serious strategy in a poker game.
Once opponents – particularly weak opponents – see that you’re mercilessly trying to outmaneuver them by using sophisticated tactics that they don’t fully understand, you’re doomed. TTP was right: They’ll quit playing against you. And there goes your profit.
Recommendation: Don’t sandbag weak opponents. Simple. — MC