Poker: Stealing from the Blind Stealers & Trapping

by Phil Hellmuth, Jr.

Stealing from the blind stealers is a very advanced Hold’em play. I am not sure that it is a winning play, but it definitely falls into the realm of advanced Hold’em play. Personally, I like re-raising players whom I suspect of stealing the blinds with a hand like any two cards ten and above such as 10-K or 10-Q. I also like re-raising with any ace. This play is a lot more effective if you re-raise in a better position than the original raiser. If the raiser is two or three off the button, then being on the button-and acting behind the raiser-gives you an edge, because you act last.

Re-raising with 10-K or 10-Q is a lot more solid than just re-raising with 5-7 off suit, because you have a payable hand when you get called and everyone will call one more bet when they have already made it two bets. Nonetheless, it is important to talk about stealing from the blind stealers with a really weak hand. I know a couple of world-class limit Hold’em players who absolutely love to re-raise the “live” (weak) player in the game with nothing in their hand in order to steal the pot or outplay them later in the hand. This re-raise of the “live” player in a game also causes them to isolate themselves down to heads-up play because the re-raise usually drives the other players out of the pot. So the re-raise gives the bettor a chance to outplay him later on in the hand. When you give this kind of extra action to the “live” player he usually gives you extra action, and believe me, he’s the fellow you want extra action from!

A lot of good things can happen when you re-raise the blind stealers pre-flop. If the blind stealer misses his hand, then he will often have to surrender his hand on the flop. You can also get lucky and win a big pot when you hit your own hand re-stealing it.

On the other side of the ledger, you can get yourself in a heap of trouble making a three-bet re-steal with a weak hand. If the alleged thief has your hand beat, you have already put in three bets for little purpose when you were losing, and he still has position and just as good of a chance as you do to hit something on the flop. It just seems counterintuitive that you should be putting in three bets with 5-7 just because you suspect that someone is making a blind steal. Why not wait for a decent hand that is probably best at the table pre-flop, before you three-bet it? This play may work best of all late in a Hold’em tournament when your opponent is more likely to throw his hand away on the flop, rather than risk going broke with a weak hand on the flop. If I seem to be sending mixed signals, that’s just poker; some advice is reliable, some is a crapshoot.

Trapping Before the Flop

We have already talked about trapping players on the flop. I have seen my good friend John Bonetti, a world-class poker player at the age of 73, trap players before the flop beautifully! In 1996, in one memorable hand in the World Series of Poker championship event, John decided to trap the defending world champion, Dan Harrington, when there were still about 25 players left.

Dan opened the pot for $6,000 with K:spade:-10:spade:, and John smooth-called the bet with A-A. The flop was 6-9-10, and Dan bet out $25,000 into John. John again just smooth called the $25,000 bet. I have to tell you, I would have had to raise Dan’s last $100,000 right there. I mean, I understand the smooth call before the flop, but no way would I have just called the $25,000 bet on the flop! I would have been too scared that Dan had a pocket pair and would hit it for a set, just because I smooth-called his $25,000 bet instead of moving him all-in there and then. The next card was an ace, for 6-9-10-A, and now Dan moved all-in for his last $100,000. John called Dan’s $100,000 bet so quickly it gave me chills!

Then John looked up at me and winked. I was watching the action from about 20 feet away from the table and I had 50-percent of John that year. Having a piece of a player (sharing his wins and losses) is often more brutal than being there at the table yourself, because you have no control over what is happening. Worse, first place was $1 million, which means I could have won $500,000 for my half! But I knew it was “OK” when John looked up and winked at me, and I wandered over the table to see the upturned hands. Three aces for John and one pair of tens for Dan. John had him drawing dead! No matter what the last card was John would win the pot!

In this case, John had trapped Dan at just the right time. Sometimes traps trap the user, of course, but this one worked out perfectly. By the way, John went on to finish third that year, when the young and talented Huck Seed took first place. With John’s second-place finish in the second-to-last event (for $140,000) and his third-place take in the main event ($680,000), we walked away with over $400,000 each! I always tell my poker friends when they visit my house, “This is the house Bonetti bought!”

A good time to trap is when you are sitting in late position with A-A or K-K and you suspect that both blinds will fold if you make it two bets to go. By slow-playing with A-A or K-K and looking for action, you’ll often get it. Sometimes you need to be careful what you ask for! You may let the big Blind play his 2-6 off-suit hand for free by not raising before the flop, and then the flop may come 2-2-J and you are stuck loosing a lot of bets because you trapped yourself. Still, sometimes I like to trap in this situation and it usually works out pretty well for me as it’s pretty tough to beat pocket aces or kings.

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Phil Hellmuth, Jr. is an eleven time World Series of Poker Champion leading all poker players in the world. He has two New York Times best-seller books — Play Poker Like the Pros and Bad Beats and Lucky Draws both of which can be found at Amazon.com. This column is an excerpt from his latest book, Phil Hellmuth’s Texas Hold ‘em. Phil’s books can also be found at Philhellmuth.com and bookstores everywhere. Chat or play with Phil at Ultimatebet.com and learn about his new cell phone game at HellmuthHoldem.com.