Sandbag right by understanding the main advantage

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was originally published (1995) in Card Player magazine under the title “Knowing when to sandbag by understanding the main advantage.”

I know what we’ll do today. I’ll ask you a question, and we’ll explore one really important poker concept. That way, maybe from now on, we can win more money than anyone else, anytime in history. Maybe we can use this powerful, proven strategy to conquer every opponent, every day, forever and ever — or maybe we’ll run bad and wish that we never heard of it.

You never know with poker, but today, here’s something that you might want to add to your poker arsenal.

What’s the main advantage of sandbagging? You get a lot of intelligent answers when you ask serious players why they sandbag (also called check-raise). The most common answer you’ll hear is: “When you check-raise, you can trap an opponent for two bets. You check, he bets, you raise, he calls. If you just bet and he calls, you win only one bet.”

Well, that’s true, and it’s an excellent answer. The only caution is that sometimes you’re in three-bet territory. What does that mean? Well, occasionally, it’s better to bet, be raised, and then reraise. That way, you win three bets, but if you’d sandbagged, you prob¬ably would have won only two.

When does that happen? I’ll give you a good recurring scenario that I take advantage of frequently. Suppose that you’re playing seven-card stud. You have been betting with two pair or trips and your opponent has been calling. By now, you have determined that his primary goal is a straight or a flush. You make a full house on the river, and now what? If you sandbag, hoping that he made his hand, so that you can raise, you’re seeking two bets. However, if you bet, many opponents will expect you to sandbag a full house, so they’ll gladly raise. Your reraise then will snare a third bet. You would not have won this extra bet had you sandbagged. However, that’s another discussion for another time. The answer about winning two bets instead of one usually is a valid reason to sandbag.

Another reason to sandbag. Another answer that you’ll get when you ask serious players why they sandbag is, “It helps my image by establishing an intimidation factor.” That’s also a good answer, although you seldom should seek to enhance this intimidation factor against players who frequently bluff. If you do, you’ll be tempting them to not bluff so often. Since they bluff too much, you can earn money by taking advantage. You usually don’t want to change this behavior, and frequent sandbagging can unintentionally do just that.However, when you have sophisticated opponents who are hard to figure, sandbagging for reasons of intimidation may be just the weapon to keep them more predictable.

When we talk about bluffing, we’re getting close to the heart of sandbagging’s main benefit. It is the answer that you’ll seldom hear when you ask players why they sandbag, but it is almost certainly the most profitable factor in the equation.

The real main advantage. You see, in most situations in which you’re faced with a decision about whether or not to sand¬bag, there’s seldom an overpowering benefit, no matter which way you decide. If your goal is to get the extra bet, then you have to weigh the likelihood of that happening vs. the sad circumstance in which you check and win no bet at all. If your goal is to intimidate, then you have to weigh the likelihood that you’ll be able to follow through with that image-enhancing check-raise vs. the sad circumstance in which there is no bet and you just win the showdown, looking wimpish.

Of course, sometimes your decision is clear, but often it’s border¬line. So, if it were simply a matter of whether to go after one unit by betting and being called, or to go after two units by checking, being bet into, raising, and being called, the benefits of sandbagging would be clouded.

Now, let’s revisit today’s question: What is the main advantage of sandbagging?The real answer is that it gives opponents a chance to bluff! If you bet, opponents can’t bluff (barring a surprise bluff-raise), and you can’t call with your powerhouse hand. In effect, by not sandbagging, you forfeit your chance to win a commonly avail¬able extra bet. So, there’s the concept, my friends. The conventionally stated advantages of sandbagging to win an extra bet and to establish an image, coupled with the main advantage of catching a bluff, often make sandbagging the play of choice.

Which extra bet is it, anyway? When players say that they sandbag to win an extra bet, they’re often not aware that the extra bet that they may win is not because of their subsequent raise, but because of the opponent’s bet made as a bluff — that hand that would have been discarded by the opponent against a bet.

When you understand this concept about sandbagging, you will be able to profit by applying another tactic. On all borderline decisions in which you’re not sure whether to sandbag or not, simply ask yourself if the opponent bluffs more than usual. If the answer is yes, then go ahead and check. You’ll be in a profitable situation, because the main advantage of sandbagging, catching a bluff, is more likely than usual. If the answer is no, don’t sandbag.

This works for me, and I think that it will work for you, too. Let me know. — 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.


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