Setting Up An Ambush

By holding out baits, he keeps him on the march; then with a body of picked men he lies in wait for him.

An ambush is successful when an enemy accepts a bait that you’ve laid for them. You cannot ambush an opponent by simply throwing chips in the pot. You have to ambush an opponent by making the pot just desirable enough for the enemy to want it, while not giving your opponent any signals that you have them beat.

There are several ways to do this. One is to play as if you have no idea what you are doing. This is probably the most difficult of all strategies. As Sun Tzu says:

Simulated disorder postulates perfect discipline, simulated fear postulates courage; simulated weakness postulates strength.

Your opponent will be in a relaxed state if they think you are a weak opponent. One way to accomplish this is to fold each time an opponent raises big. Make sure that you are playing with an aggressive opponent before attempting this.

Another way is to check when you have a good hand, even let a couple slip by, only calling their raises. Eventually one of two things will happen. Your opponent will become aggravated and gradually increase their bets, or they will genuinely think that they have you beat when they don’t and will overextend themselves. This is especially effective when you have a large lead in chips. Your opponent wants to go all-in and double up. Small gains will only convince them that they are making ground on you and they will be all the more anxious to catch you on a big hand. If you go all-in, or close to it, on a hand you are saying this is my best chance to do this. Many people would not say that half the time they go all-in.

Ambushes should exploit a weakness that you’ve found in your opponents betting style. A weakness can be found by carefully watching for patterns in their betting habits. You may be lucky enough to see other players lose to them, in which case you will see a sample of how they play. Should you get this opportunity work backwards to determine what amounts they bet and what hand (or prospects for a hand) they had at the time they put their chips in. You can then spot weaknesses that you can later use to your advantage.

Most successful ambushes require being familiar enough with your opponent that you can predict what they have. Every player will catch cards, and many will not bet unless they have. An ambush is designed to have opponents over-extend themselves. They must do so enough that they are committed, so that you can all-in them and they will have no choice but to call. Before attempting your ambush it is not a bad idea to try to influence the way your opponent perceives that you play. Try to have them make a misconception about your betting style that you can use. This will lead them to make a faulty decision because they have misread what you have in your hand.

For an ambush to work you have to tell your opponent what you have. They need to think they have figured you out and that they have trapped you. An opponent will not be caught by an ambush unless they feel that they can inflict a significant amount of damage on you. You need to give the opponent a sense that you have caught something they will think they can beat. For example, if you catch two pairs off the flop, and everything you see is telling you that they have caught one, wait for the turn card to come up and bet just enough that they think you have caught the turn card. Your opponent now knows that you have something, but their opinion of what you have is flawed. This is a much better strategy than betting like you have two pairs and in the long run you will extract far more chips from your opponent.

When you have decided that you can ambush your opponent don’t worry about missing out on one or two good hands. Only concentrate on extracting as much as you can from your opponent once the trap is set. If you have built the perception that they can beat you while basing your trap on a true weakness then you will extract many more chips than by meeting them head on in a series of close battles.

If you do have to sacrifice some good hands in order to make an ambush you should consider whether or not an ambush will get more from them than actually playing those hands. This will generally be the case if your opponent seems generally superior to your playing style (in which case only a great strategic move will defeat them) or if they are extremely weak (not necessarily overall, but maybe in one area that you have identified). In both of these cases, consider the cost of short term loses for one big long-term gain.

Always do your homework in setting up an ambush. It will take chips to set it up, so you have to make sure that you will receive a significant reward for your patience.


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  • Mel Maravilla, 10.03.2012, 10:08 дп

    I enjoy the efforts you have put in this, appreciate it for all the great articles.

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