Mike Caro poker word is Trap

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2010) in Poker Player newspaper.

Trapping is the fun part of poker. World-class players do it to you all the time. In fact they probably try to trap you too often.

A trap in poker is simply some tactic that makes your opponent believe you have a weaker hand than you actually do, thus responding by wagering at a disadvantage. We continue our series with this self-interview is about poker traps.

Question 1: What’s your favorite trap play in poker?

I’m not sure I have a favorite, and if you ask me on another day, I might choose something else. But right now, let’s make this one my favorite.

In no-limit games, I enjoy making a small bet with powerful hands. Many opponents who believe they’re too clever to be trapped by a check will pounce on a small bet. For these players, a check allows them to just check along, feeling smug because they may have caused you to miss a betting opportunity.

But if you fling a few chips toward them, it’s like jumping into the coliseum with a bull, jumping up and down a few feet away, and shouting, “Hey, little bully-bully let’s see what you’ve got!” Of course, you need to hold a very strong hand to do this in poker. But for psychological reasons, the same small group of aggressive players who are hard to trap when you check will barge headlong into danger when you make a small wager.

I like to add the words, “Go ahead and call” to accompany my bet. I speak this in a playful, non-threatening manner. This simple verbal tactic often manipulates these opponents and puts them in “I’m not going to call you, but I am going to raise you” mode.

Question 2: What’s your second-favorite trap play in poker?

Checking and calling with super-strong hands. When I get the perfect flop, I’ll check most of the time. If that doesn’t work, I’ll simply check again the next round. Usually, if that doesn’t work, either, I’ll make a small bet on the river. You’d be surprised how often an aggressive opponent will raise that small final-round wager on a bluff.

If I succeed by getting a bet after my first check, I’ll typically just call and check again. Another bet. Another call.

In hockey a “hat trick” means that a single player scored three goals in one game. In poker, a hat trick is checking three times on the same hand into one opponent and being bet into all three times. Sometimes you’d don’t need a particularly powerful hand to work the hat trick, and you don’t need to raise on the river. Three check-calls and a showdown win is all it takes.

Question 3: Are there times when you don’t trap?

Sure, and keep in mind that if you occasionally trap, you’re less predictable. To be successful, you need to mix up your decisions.

Remember that a trap is most often chosen as an alternative to the play you’d prefer to make against your loosest opponents. If you have a royal flush, you’d obviously like to move all-in and see an opponent call. But moving all-in isn’t always the best choice, especially if you’ve made your perfect hand prior to the final betting round.

At such times, it’s often better to trap. You can check on every round until the river, hoping your opponent will take a shot. That kind of trap play can be used almost anytime. But here’s where I seldom trap: When I’m against weak, loose opponents who are giggling with me and having a great time. Then it’s unnecessary and unprofitable to inject tactics that might make them feel tricked. They’re going to eventually give you their money, as long as you don’t aggravate them and cause them to take the game seriously.

Question 4: Can you trap in ways other than checking or betting small?

If your opponents expect you to be deceptive, then usually the best play is to simply make the most obvious bet. That’s so important that I can’t say it often enough. So, here it is again: When opponents think you’re tricky, your most-profitable trap is usually to make a substantial bet with a big hand.

Question 5: What are the main disadvantages of trapping poker opponents?

Overuse, pure and simple. Don’t trap just for the psychological thrill. I think many top players make that mistake.

Another danger is that you might not have the advantage you think, and when you check, it’s harder to gauge how strong an opponent really is. You might end up setting a trap for yourself.

So, good luck on your trapping adventures, but be careful not to overuse the tactic. — MC

Next self-interview: Pending

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Mike Caro

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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.


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  1. I think a lot of the people I play with have read your writing.  Around here, the small bet is more apt to chase someone off a pot than a "normal" raise.  In fact, much of the time, an all-in will get callers while a minimum bet after the flop is seen as tricky and scares everyone off.
    Of course, it's nice to min bet when you have a mediocre hand and see everyone for the hills …

  2. Thanks again for the good advice. I will use the small bet tactic the next time I flop a monster. I generally check with the intent of using the check-raise. I am generally disappointed by a check from the opponent(s).
    By the way, during last night’s coverage of the WSOP Main Event on ESPN I saw a player flop Aces full. As I recall he called a bet. His hand was shaking so bad I thought he would drop the chips. Anyone who follows you would have folded to this player at the first opportunity.

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