Be careful when you sandbag in poker

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.

Serious strategy

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

Published by

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 “Be careful when you sandbag in poker”

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  1. Hi Mike,

    Being a nice person will get you a lot further in life, and with players, they play better when they don’t like you. I remember you saying that years ago, I have been working on my people skills. I’ve been lacking, or so it seems. Kind regards, Todd Johnson

  2. Your advice is spot on as usual. I often use sandbagging as a tactic on the higher level games, 2/5 and above so when I occasionally have to sit at a 1/3 or 1/2 game, I typically continue the same style of play and it just doesn’t work at the lower levels. Either no one will bet, or you become a target for them. I will remember to change my tactics in the future depending on the level of game and experience of my opponent.

  3. Probably because they watch too much poker on TV. What would you have done on that all-in if you just had a pair of tens instead of rivering the nut straight? He was trying to use his big stack to push people around. A lot of people at those limits just like to gamble, or pretend they are phil ivey because they saw Ivey move somebody off a hand by pushing all in with 5-2 offsuit on High Stakes Poker once.

    Tables like this is why I like taking the ride out to the casino to play some nights :-)

  4. Hey I was reading your article and kept seeing the word idiot in poker, and like you stated I have realized that most, even all but a few poker players I have met have been exceptionally bright.
    But on two separate occasions (so far) I feel I have played with real idiots.
    Now I am just a “kid” myself, not even old enough to drink yet but the great state of Florida allows me to play poker in their hardrock casinos.
    The first case I wanted to share is a hand I was playing against my own brother. Granted he was 2 years older than me and said he played poker all the time with his buddies, so I decided to take him to play when he came to visit. We sit down and the third hand in, I get dealt AQ of hearts, while he gets pocket threes. Of course he doesn’t raise and I didn’t either but I flop two more hearts and I act first so I bet five, and drive the other guy out of the table, so its just heads up with my brother. The turn comes and its another heart, but I am trying not to take any money from my brother so I stare him in the eyes when I say all in… and he calls. Has nothing but those damn threes and he lost it all to me.

    The second guy is one I would like your opinion on. Normally when I play I have a routine. I like to sit down at a table and I normally just gauge the whole table for a while and then I start to loosen up. This one night I sat down in seat one with a young looking kid in seat three with about 300 some chips. For that specific game I was playing really tight. So I had sat through 2 rounds of blinds before I actually got a hand I was willing to play. Ace ten of spades. This kid with the huge stack raises pre-flop as he had been doing but I call, making it heads up and flop two spades. So I bet 25, at a 1/2 table with a 100 max. I was really just trying to show this kid he shouldn’t play with me but to my surprise he calls. The turn comes and I pair up my tens but just check. Now the river comes out with another spade, so I bet another 25 just to turn around and get pushed all in by this fellow. Of course I call and he had hit a pair of sevens on the river. Just doubled up my stack and crippled him. The very next hand, I end up heads up with him again, this time I have two pair queens and tens. He goes all in again, so I call and once again he has middle pair but this time he is forced off the table. My question why do people play this aggressively in the first place? and why continue doing it after you were just beat horribly?

    1. In Tales Out of Tulsa, Bobby Baldwin said the two most important things for a poker player are Self-Control and Money Management. Your player probably didn’t know this. It seems he did not have a lot of knowledge about poker theory, and he couldn’t read you and didn’t know what was going on. I guess that’s the simplest way I can understand it. He didn’t realize he was playing far too aggressive with hands that didn’t warrant it – i.e., quite badly. At least that’s my guess. You were friendly to him, though, weren’t you? :)

    2. Sometimes, people will call because they are just mis-reading you. They think you’re a young aggressive punk who doesn’t have a hand and is trying to get away with something. Seems like today’s poker is way too much of just two things:
      1) bluffing
      2) people who *think* the other person is bluffing

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