Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was originally published (2010) in Bluff magazine under the title “Reviewing poker’s most-profitable tips.”
Last month I dedicated my 50th Bluff column to revisiting three of my favorite tips from this series. Today, as promised, we’ll continue by reviewing three more powerful concepts. Each of these has been chosen because most players, even top pros, often fail to focus on their importance.
It’s easy to forget the basic elements of winning poker when you’re at the table with only seconds to decide. When you watch football games, featuring the best quarterbacks alive, you sometimes see poor decisions and inadvisable passes. That’s because those quarterbacks are caught up in the heat of the moment.
I believe that even as those passes are sent sailing, the quarterback is quite positive about the mistake. But it’s hard to sync your mind with your actions under great pressure, when confusing things are happening all around you.
Poker is the same. Even the best players, when pressured, forget basic concepts. They do things spontaneously that they wouldn’t do if they had five more seconds to reflect. That’s why I teach that you should often take time, away from the tables, to review the proven concepts that make you win. Let’s reflect on these three today.
Tip: The art of sandbagging
Sandbagging is just another poker term for checking a big hand and then raising if you’re bet into. You need to think of sandbagging as an equalizer. Its purpose isn’t to build egos or bankrolls. Sandbagging belongs primarily in the defensive category, not in the offensive one.
We’ve already talked about how players to your left have a great advantage. They get to see what you do before making their decisions.
This advantage is so great that even top professionals lose money for their lifetimes to opponents seated to their left. The best poker weapon to trim this disadvantage is sandbagging. If you could never raise after checking, players to your left would be even more fearless and win even more from you.
So, sure, you should sandbag sometimes. But don’t overdo this against players immediately to your left. You might motivate them to take further advantage of their position. It’s the fear of sandbagging that equalizes, not necessarily the act.
There are home games where players consider sandbagging unsportsmanlike and sometimes the practice is banned by rule. That’s dumb. You must sandbag occasionally to balance your strategy. Here are some key things to consider:
- On the final betting round in a three-way pot, you should sandbag if the first person to your left is the most likely bettor. That way, you have a chance at a bet, followed by a call from the second opponent, followed by your raise. This is much more profitable than if the second opponent is the likely bettor. Then you check, followed by a check, a bet – and now what? Do you raise and chase the first opponent out? Do you just call, hoping for an overcall? Would you have been better off making the first bet? It’s confusing. And the bottom line is that when you’re in doubt about whether to sandbag that straight flush (or any other strong hand), then do if the first opponent is the most likely bettor; otherwise don’t.
- Don’t sandbag weak players in a loose, friendly game. When opponents are playing too loose and giving you their money, injecting a sudden sandbag can often make players more cautious. Any small advantage that sandbag might have had can be overwhelmed by its negative impact on future profit.
- Sandbag mostly into aggressive opponents, especially if they aren’t sitting immediately to your left. When you have a huge hand and the urge to sandbag, think about how likely it is that your opponent will bet. That’s the key. You shouldn’t treat sandbagging as just guesswork or something you do at whim to vary your strategy. It’s often bad to sandbag opponents immediately to your left, because you’re inciting a war, knowing that they have positional advantage and can get even. But in other situations, check-raise against players who are most likely to bet. That seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how often that simple guideline is ignored.
Tip: Caro’s Law of Least Tilt
The law states: Among similarly skilled opponents, the player with the most discipline is the favorite. This advice has sometimes been ridiculed, perhaps because I elevated it to the stature of “Caro’s Law.”
Also, people’s immediate reaction is “who didn’t know that?” Well, I’m not sure who didn’t know that, but I’m quite sure that most players act as if they didn’t know it.
In some of the biggest games I’ve played, opponents seem to take turns going on tilt. Tilt is the word we use to mean that players are off their game, entering too many pots, betting too often. It’s almost an accepted dance that players take turns performing. They probably think they’re just shifting gears, but really they’re upset and no longer married to the notion that they need to play their best game all the time.
I’ve heard many times that no player is tilt free. I’m not sure if that’s true. But I know most players go on tilt quite regularly – and many of them excuse their actions.
It’s not necessary to understand the psychology behind this phenomenon. What’s necessary is this: When you’re in a game where players seem to be taking turns going on tilt, pass your turn.
Tip: Breaking poker bullies
Sometimes you’re playing in an easily beatable poker game when an irritating, unfriendly, and super-aggressive player sits down and seems to ruin everything. It’s like some teenage misfit jumped into the preschool swimming pool, started splashing all the little kids, and enjoyed their fear. It might be hard for those young kids to find a defense, but when something similar happens at poker, it’s simple.
In poker, there are great conceptual truths. One is that there’s a correct, provable percentage for the number of times you should play hands, bet, bluff, check, call, and fold. Whenever any of these percentages gets out of whack, you’re putting yourself in danger, and someone can exploit it.
Poker bullies rely on the likelihood that their weakness will go unexploited. What’s they’re weakness? It’s simply that in order to be a poker bully you must necessarily bet and raise too often.
The solution is so elementary that if you follow it for the rest of your poker-playing careers, you can never be taken advantage of by a poker bully. In fact, one can join your loose game and your profit expectation will often increase, not decrease. Not always. The bully might affect other opponents, making them less carefree in their hand selection, and limiting your winnings. But there’s a way to make sure the bully doesn’t beat you personally – and here it is.
Check more often into him; call more often when he bets. I wish it were more complicated, because then I could score points for offering a sophisticated solution. But that’s it – all of it!
Because bullies bet and raise too often, calling with some hands you would have otherwise folded will be profitable. And because the bully bets too often when checked into, checking often lets him hang himself.
Don’t try to be more aggressive than the bully in retaliation. He’s making the mistake of wagering too much and too often. The last thing you want to do is get in a war with him to see who can make that same mistake more often
Check and call. This is one way in which poker differs from life. In real-world conflict, you might need to fight back. But there is no known strategy in the poker universe that can allow a bully to take advantage of you if you simply check more often, call more often, and allow him to self-destruct.
Okay, we’ve reviewed three more concepts. The big trick is to remember them when you need to decide quickly. — MC