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.
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