Poker Strategy – Detecting and Setting Traps

One of the less understood poker strategies is that of trapping. When playing poker, how many times have you been trapped by a more experienced or tricky player? We all fall into these traps from time to time… but why? How can we detect traps and avoid them? This article delves into poker strategy keys for setting traps, and detecting them.

First, what is a trap? A trap play is where an opponent with a strong hand represents weakness, luring their opponent into overplaying their hand. For example, I hit a nut flush (Ace-high flush) on the flop. I have the best hand at the table now, unless the board pairs (such that someone could pull a boat or four of a kind – not likely).

So, instead of betting it big, I might throw out a smaller bet or even check it (slowplay). Another player holding big slick (A-K) pairs up with an Ace on the flop, thinking he’s got the best hand so far. Another player has a small pair (e.g., 4’s) and picks up a set on the flop (assuming flop was something like 4-A-J).

Now, had I bet really big or raised back too early, the player holding the Ace would realize he’s trouble and the small pair would’ve likely folded pre-flop. Since I just checked it down, no reason to be afraid of me, since I’m obviously on some kind of a draw…

The person with the three of a kind (the 4’s) tosses out a bet of 4 times the blind. The guy with Aces calls it. After delaying slightly, I go ahead and also call it (why not, I’m getting decent enough pot odds).

So, I’m trapping them both at this point, letting them bet into me and just calling their bets. The same thing happens again on the turn, except the player with Aces drops out.

Now it’s just me and the set of 4’s. They bet big again, this time the size of the pot. Again, after a slight pause, I just call them “reluctantly”. Then comes the river, and they go all-in.

I immediately call them…oops! They’re sunk! What happened here?

These players never asked themselves two simple questions:

1) Why is he calling that raised pot (on the flop and turn)?

2) What hands might he be holding? What could he be

up to by calling my bets like that? Trapping? On a draw?

It’s crucially important to THINK before you ACT by understanding what the other players are actually doing. It’s also very important not to underestimate your competition, as there are some very wily players out there…

There’s a potential flush showing on this flop, and since I’m kind of “lurking” in this hand, it’s very suspicious behavior, and unlikely I’m on a draw calling those kind of big bets.

Unless you’re playing against a beginner or a drunk, there’s no reason to believe someone will likely call a raise that’s 4 times the big blind on a draw. That’s the first mistake – assuming another player has no hand and not realizing why they’re behaving as they are.

Second, the board is showing a possible flush – and both of these players aren’t holding it! Just because I didn’t bet on the flop does not mean I don’t have it!

Had either of these players slowed down and considered my betting (calling) behavior, and asked themselves these questions, they’d probably have realized what was going on. Whether the player with the set of 4’s could fold them is another story 🙂

Aside from a trap, what else could have kept me in this hand?

Traps aren’t easy to detect. When a good player calls a big bet, there’s a better than average chance they are trapping! You’ll also often see them delay for an unusually long time, as if they’re struggling to make a decision about calling your hand, then either call you, raise or go all-in. If this is indeed a good player, you now know almost for certain you’re being trapped (call) or warned (raise/all-in). If you don’t have the top hand at this point, you’re probably beaten.

This lengthy delay can be a great “tell” for traps and detecting strong hands, and is one you should learn to recognize. The delay is an attempt to make you believe they’re “struggling” to make their decision – do the opposite of what your opponents want you to do when there’s an obvious tell like this one.

Good players don’t usually call bets – they usually raise/re-raise with strength or fold. They don’t often waste their money on draws, so if they’re lurking in there with you, it almost certain it’s not out of curiosity…

If you aren’t spending twice as much time thinking about what your opponent’s hand might be, based upon their betting (calling) pattern and position and play history, you should be.

Your own hand strength is quickly and easily determined. Spend more time on your opponents, learning to read their normal betting patterns and skill level, then when they do something that doesn’t match their normal pattern, slow down and ask yourself why.

I hope this helps you become a better trapper (and avoid falling in yourself 🙂

Rick