Using the slippery sandbag in poker

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was originally published (2008) in Casino Player.

First I’m going to talk about sandbagging in general. Then, I’m going to explain a special category that I call “slippery sandbags.” The term sandbag is just another way of saying “check-and-raise.” In major poker rooms, sandbagging is routine. But many of you have played in home games where sandbagging is considered mean-spirited and unsportsmanlike.

It’s silly to be angry when an opponent sandbags. Yet I’ve seen grown men become enraged when an opponent checks an unbeatable hand into them, prompting their bet, which is followed by a raise. When I was only 20 years old and the sports editor for the Daily Independent, a newspaper in Grand Island, Nebraska, I snuck away from my desk and played occasionally at the local VFW. That’s where I first witness just how ugly emotional feelings against sandbagging could become. At the table next to mine, a burly 40-year-old man started trembling violently, scooped up the chips in the pot and hurled them across the room. “Go get your chips!” he shouted to a young, skinny kid. “And I’m giving you one warning. Don’t ever check a hand you can’t lose with!”


That attitude is strange, but common. You need to think about sandbagging logically. A player who acts first is at a positional disadvantage in poker. That’s because the opponent gets to see what the first player decides to do before making a decision. Sandbagging, even the threat that someone might be sandbagging, is a major tool that helps neutralize the disadvantage. You’re still in the weaker position when you act first, but sandbagging can at least work in your favor.

Fortunately, games in major poker rooms and more sophisticated home games take sandbagging in stride. Players realize that when opponents check a big hand, they’re risking the possibility that opponents won’t bet and they’ll earn nothing extra. Sandbagging isn’t merely an acceptable tactic in poker, it’s a necessary one.

However, in games where weak opponents are playing loose, I seldom sandbag. That’s because I realize that by displaying a fun and frivolous image, I’ll get a lot more calls. And if I sandbag, opponents will perceive that the game is serious and they’ll be more cautious about betting and calling. So, I tend to reserve sandbagging for use against more sophisticated opponents.

Getting slippery

Fine. Now let me tell you about my slippery sandbag. It’s really just a partial sandbag on early betting rounds, and I don’t pull the trigger until just before the showdown. Let’s say I have A♣ K♦ in hold ’em and the flop is A♥ A♠ Q♦. Against a skillful and aggressive opponent, I’ll often check. Then if my opponent bets, I’ll simply call. If the next board card is, say, J♦, I’ll check again. And again I’ll just call if bet into.

Imagine that the river shows Q♥. Okay, so once more, I’ll check, knowing I can only lose to four queens. If I get bet into this time, I’ll raise, completing the full sandbag, since there are no more betting rounds remaining to continue to trap my overly aggressive foe.

That’s a slippery sandbag. You check-call, check-call again, and finally check-raise. With the right cards against the right opponents, it’s one of the most powerful tactics in poker. — MC

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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.


7 thoughts on “Using the slippery sandbag in poker”

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  1. I have noticed that the Eldorado in Reno has a rule that when you are holding the nuts and the hand gets down to the river and the action is checked to you – you have to bet the nuts no matter what. Even if you are the last to act and the action is checked all the way down to you and you also check for a showdown, well, if you had the absolute nuts and did not bet, you are penalized for it by having to sit out of the game for a complete round of the dealer button. And just to make clear that this rule only applies in the tournaments.

    If it was me making the rules, I would also make a rule that if you call a bet preflop with nothing but two unsuited rags and happen to hit on the flop, and then proceeding to make it to a showdown…. Well in my opinion, that should be penalized as well.

    See I see sandbagging as a way to maximize a pot when you know betting on the river with the nuts would be unprofitable. That is the only reason I can see why any player player would do that with the nut hand on the river, and that is because they are trying to entice a bet by checking instead of risking betting the nuts and the player(s) folding instead.

    I am still learning advanced betting strategies and that is just one rule that I find sort of ridiculous. Still, there might be a really good reason behind this that I am not really seeing, so I am wondering what any other reader’s opinions are and of course what Mike Caro has to say about it as well…

    1. Hi, Nathan — Your comment stands on its own merit and doesn’t need my input. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Good contribution.

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

  2. I don’t understand. You’re kicker gets counterfeited on the last card, so you check-raise in a situation that has near zero value, and indeed loses to QQ which had you beat every street, and you now chop with any ace, and you never raised when your K played. And this play has a name? Can’t we just put this in the salad of bad plays?

    Check-raising as a bluff is useful as well, depending on whether your opponent believes you’re capable of it. I have a really nitty image, so I get away with this a lot.

  3. Wouldn’t that sort of play be called a slow play? Why make up new terms when we already have perfectly useful ones?

    1. Hi, Renamon —

      I’d describe “slippery sandbag” as a form of slow play. So, yes.

      But it’s a subcategory. It’s actually a sandbag that isn’t fully completed until the final bet. There are many other types of slow plays, but the “slippery sandbag” is certainly one — as you correctly state.

      We already have a name for tasty things we put in salads, right? Vegetables. So, do we need a separate name for carrots? Sometimes “vegetables” is descriptive enough, and sometimes we choose to be more specific.

      That’s how I see it, but your point is also valid.

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

  4. I like this move as well…

    I also like to sandbag aggressive players, knowing they are betting with nothing in many cases. Let them do all the work and raise em up on the river.

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