The art of hiding your intentions at the poker table

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Here’s a hand I recently observed with a valuable lesson at the end. Player A open raised from the button. The big blind called and they saw a flop heads-up. Both players checked the raggedy flop. The turn brought another non-descript card and the big blind bet out. Player A smooth called. I had been studying Player A and my impression at this point was Player A was floating Player B. I didn’t think the big blind was strong here and I was fairly certain Player A felt the same way.
I was fully expecting the big blind to check the river and for Player A to bet and win the pot.

The river brought a nine and, as expected, the big blind checked. Player A thought for a while about what to do and finally checked while simultaneously saying something to the effect that his hand now had check-down value and he flipped over 5-9 offsuit.

The big blind mucked and questioned what Player A was doing in the hand. Player A was upfront that he was floating the big blind and would have bet the river if he hadn’t hit it. Player A pointed out he was, in all likelihood, going to win the hand for if he bet the river, the big blind would have folded.

Now, my impressions are that Player A is a solid, tricky player but he made two mistakes on the river. First, he made his decision to check down based solely on the cards. Player A completely discounted the value of betting his hand there, not for value, but to induce the big blind to fold as he originally planned. The “value” to Player A would come in not having to reveal his hand and show the table what he was up to. Just in case a few of the slower players couldn’t have figured it out from the cards, Player A let his ego get in the way and had to inform the table of his thought process.

The other mistake Player A made was in quickly turning over his hand first. He should have waited for the big blind to turn his hand over since the big blind had been the last aggressor in the hand. If the big blind did have the better hand, Player A would still have been able to preserve his intentions. As it was, he never got to see the big blind’s cards.

Poker is a game of imperfect information. While Player A won this hand, he made two avoidable mistakes. The first one caused him to give away too much information. The second one prevented him from receiving additional information.

— David Apostolico is the author of several poker strategy books, including Tournament Poker and the Art of War. You can contact him at thepokerwriter@aol.com.