Setting the Perfect Trap

Setting the Perfect Trap

Many players seek to employ a technique known as trapping when they flop a monster. While this strategy seems simple enough, the truth of the matter is that to get maximum value for a trap, a player needs to take into account a slew of variables. Here we discuss a few of those variables and exactly what constitutes the optimum trapping situation.

Springing a trap can be one of the most fruitful enterprises undertaken at the poker table. But to do so requires more than merely flopping a monster and checking. Here are some guidelines to help you maximize on your traps.

Know Your Opponent: Every single time I write anything having to do with poker, the first thing I write is to know your opponent. From bluffing to trapping, the most important thing that any poker player ever does is understand who it is that they are playing against. Conventional wisdom would have you looking to trap against aggressive players. This is logical enough: a player who is likely to bet is also likely to bet with the worst hand. The classic trap here is to flop a joint, check or smooth call depending on your position then come over the top on fourth street or the river. Fine, that makes sense. The problem with this strategy is that it is inflexible and depending on your playing style it’s also rather easy to snuff out. To understand how to disguise your trap, we need to look at calibrating your monster with the flop.

Calibrating your Monster with the Flop (what you’ve got vs. what he’s got): First of all, let’s talk about what flopping a monster is not. A monster is not an overpair nor is it top pair with top kicker. A monster is a hand where both of your hole cards are going to be used in the made hand. So the weakest monster is two pair, which may or may not actually qualify as a monster depending on whether the board also has flush or straight possibilities. Then comes a set, which is a certified monster when the board is unpaired (like if you are holding pocket Queens and the board reads A Q 5) and a borderline monster when the board is paired (this would be like holding J-7 and the board reading 7 7 K.) Then you’ve got straights, which when flopped are always monsters, then full houses, quads and straight flushes which are obvious monsters.

Now that we have determined what a monster actually is, let’s build on the read that you should already have on your opponent:

• Raised pot, Heads up: If you have flopped a monster and are in a raised pot against a single opponent, the first thing that should cross your mind is “does he/she have an Ace?” Especially if the flop has brought an Ace, something like A 10 6 and you are holding a set of Tens. This situation is perfect for trapping. When I am first to act when the board has brought an Ace, I like to make a weak or overly strong bet (which also signals weakness to most decent players.) So this would be a bet of half the pot or so or a bet of twice the pot or so. Most trappers check on the flop, but I think that this broadcasts the strength of your hand or rather, it will broadcast the strength of your hand when you either check-raise or check-call later on in the hand. Sometimes the best trickiness is being straight-forward. The one exception I would make here is if your opponent is short stacked. If your bet is going to put him in a position where he is either folding or going all-in, then go ahead and check and let him hang himself. If you are not first to act, then the classic move is to do whatever your opponent does – if he checks, you check, if he puts $50 out then you put $50 out. Re-raising with a monster on the flop is a tough question. If you can sell it like you are making a move (making a very quick re-raise or too large of a re-raise) then go for it! Otherwise, it’s best to let the bettor keep the lead.

• Raised pot, more than one other player: These are the easiest hands to trap in and the ones that you are most likely to get paid off in. Why? Because it’s at least twice as likely that your opponent has something as you have at least twice as many opponents than in heads up hand. Remember that the best circumstance to get paid off with a monster is when your opponent has something good enough for them to call you down with. 100%, no exceptions, when you flop a monster with more than one player involved, check on the flop. You have to give your opponents a chance to make moves in front of you. I remember a hand where I had flopped a nut flush, was in first position and checked the flop. The two guys behind me, who had been engaged with each other for hours like rams locking horns, immediately raised and re-raised each other. So it comes back around to me and I “smooth call” (how this did not send off every red alert in the other two, I don’t know) then the guy who had been re-raised goes all-in for another $300 or so bringing the pot to like $700 on a flop with 3 Hearts. The next guy folds and the all-in guy goes to collect his pot like he had forgot that I had called. Then, just as his idiot fingers were reaching into the pot, the dealer oh-so politely reminded him that I was still in the pot and could he please not touch chips that were not his. His face was priceless – he had that moment of “Oh right, that guy… uh oh.” I, of course, called and he had top pair with the Queen of Hearts for a flush draw of his own. This brought him to a grand total of 0 outs against my nut flush. Now, this hand can be an example of any number of poker lessons from “don’t overvalue your hand” to “pay attention to who you are playing against” to the good old “don’t be a jackass” lesson. There is much to be mined in the failings of fools.

• Un-raised pots: These are the hardest monsters to get paid off because chances are that your opponent does not have interest in the pot. These are the hands that would more than likely get checked down to the river if you hadn’t flopped a wheel. Basically, this is the unluckiest luck you can have at the poker table and you have to keep checking and hope that your opponent picks something up. I say you can even check it on the river provided that you are first to act. Be careful though with two pair in this situation. As we have already said, two pair is barely a monster and if the turn and river come runner-runner, your opponent can stumble on a straight or set without ever betting on the turn. This is a nearly impossible hand to detect (because they won’t bet the turn) and because you have already gone down the trapping road, you will feel obliged to at least call and more than likely, come over the top. Tricky situation, un-raised pots are really not the best place to go trapping in. Play it strong unless you flop a Godzilla (quads or straight flush).

Trapping is a largely overused strategy, especially by inexperienced players. While you can occasionally get paid off if you identify the right situation, all too often I will see players over-value hands like two pair or sucker straights and lose on the river. And betting strong with a strong hand can also go a long way to help you in the future as you will be seen as a straightforward player who bets strong when he has a strong hand. And that can set you up to pull off a much more valuable move than a trap – a bluff. So if the situation is perfect, then go ahead and trap. Otherwise, don’t get cute – get the chips.