There are certain situations where it can be more than beneficial to take obvious plays and turn them into your favor. Have you ever called down a bet that was so clearly a bluff only for your opponent to showdown the nuts?
This may very well have been an example of a time where someone exploited their hand’s perceived strength in order to achieve the maximum payout. This sort of understanding is not important when you have an obvious hand, but instead when your opponents are likely to misread your hand as being obvious.
Think about times where you flop a set. If you call down a flop and turn bet on somewhat draw heavy boards, a blank river would provide an opportunity to squeeze value out of your hand by pretending that you missed your draw. If you play your hand in a face up manner, you shouldn’t be surprised if you are able to get your opponents to pay you off, but the key is to never have the hand that is most expected.
If you are attempting to confuse your opponents by representing a different hand, you should be careful that you aren’t jeopardizing your chance of winning in the process. There is a significant difference between making the best out of a natural circumstance and trying too hard to create a spot out of nothing.
Playing a big hand like it’s nothing could very easily end up costing you all of the money that you would have otherwise profited had you played it in a more straightforward manner. When it comes down to it, poker is always going to be about making the best out of situations that present themselves, and not about forcibly creating profitable situations where they otherwise would not likely exist.
When you are in a pre-flop situation and are playing your hand in a somewhat straightforward manner, you should be aware of the advantages that you will have at bay after the flop is dealt. If, for example, you have three bet K2 suited in an attempt to steal the pot pre-flop but instead garner a call, you need to be ready and willing to assume the role of aggressor on the flop.
Now, this is a rather obvious example given that any three bet steal in position needs to be prepared for some post-flop play, but it still illustrates the point that your K2 can masquerade as a hand like QQ. Without seeing your hand or having a good read, your opponent won’t likely be able to decipher between a good hand (QQ) and what you actually have (K2).
You can also find yourself in spots pre-flop where you are out of position and creating deception. If you have limped into a pot with a big hand and the other players simply call the blinds, you are going to be able to fire out on all three streets against reasonably weak hands. The trouble with this move is that you will frequently be exchanging inherent, immediate value with big hands for the sake of squeezing more value out of lesser hands. In other words, AA vs. 89 is going to profit more in an unraised pot with a 9 high board than it would in a 3bet, Q high board.
You need to be able to effectively calculate your risk and reward in these positions, but this is no different than most any other situation in pre-flop poker. For the most part it will be better to obtain the “easier” value when and where you can, but this doesn’t mean that passive play can’t be used to confuse your opponents from time to time.
Post-flop play is, without a doubt, the time where you are really going to be able to make the most out of some interesting situations. You are going to have a lot more room for creativity and maneuvering when you are beyond the flop. Stack sizes become more relevant, there is more ability to mix things up, and most importantly you will have a better idea of where you stand in the hand.
Trying to trick your opponent into thinking you have a suited connector is a much better idea on a draw heavy board that missed than it is on one with all sorts of completed hands. The more information (cards and action) available to you, the better you can position yourself to confuse your opponent.
Actual examples are usually the best way to illustrate any point. Let’s say that you have a decent pocket pair, use pocket jacks for example. The flop is all low cards and you lead out. The turn is another low card so you fire another bet and your opponent calls again. The river delivers a king. Now the odds are that you are still ahead because it wouldn’t make much sense for your opponent to call you down with a king alone, however the king can potentially be one of the best cards in the deck for you.
It is important to note that a queen or ace would be of roughly equal value in this scenario. Given how the hand has played out, it would make sense to your opponent that you had an over pair that is now beaten by a higher card on the board. If there were several draws in play, a missed draw coupled with an over card could create an optimal situation for a bluff. Since you know that your opponent might have been on a draw from the beginning, there is little to no reason to fire again on the river.
If you are truly behind, you are going to get raised and will be forced to fold. If you are ahead, the scenarios are both positive: either your opponent checks back or your opponent bets out. If they bet out and you are confident that your hand is best, you have earned an extra bet. If they check back, you have avoided risking any further money and have managed to take down the pot. If you play your hand as straight forwardly as possible, sometimes your opponents will do their best to get you to fold. Plus, your worst case scenario (calling a bet against a better hand) is much better than your worst case scenario if you bet out (being raised).
There are virtually infinite situations where these ideas can be put into play, but a few definitely stand out the most: raising on boards with missed draws, raising/betting out on over cards when you actually have a much better hand than the pair you are representing, and inducing bets from aggressive players who aim to face folds. While these are hardly the only times where obvious plays can work to your advantage via deception, they are premier illustrations of how perception is everything in poker.