AngusD switched from pro chess to poker two decades ago and has been professionally involved in the game on numerous levels since the very beginning of online poker, including playing as a poker ambassador both online and at major festivals around the globe. He has written much about the game over the years, and brings to YPD a wealth of experience in all aspects of the poker industry. Meanwhile, his many years on the pro chess circuit (he’s an International Master and prolific author) afford him an interesting perspective on the psychology of poker.

· Published 19.02.2021 · last updated 19.02.2021

At the mention of poker one of the first thoughts that comes to mind is bluffing and deception. On TV and in films we typically see a cool-headed player convincing the rest of the table that they have a monster hand by calmly and deliberately shoving in all of their chips. Then someone will invariably react by saying ‘That’s too rich for my blood’ as they resignedly muck their cards, and the villain will angrily fold despite having a life-changing amount of money in the middle… only for our hero to reveal 72 as they struggle to collect the inevitable mountain of chips.

This scenario has become almost the standard default representation of poker. But what about – rather than scaring off the opposition by tricking them into thinking we have the nuts – instead representing a weak hand? We tend not to consider the art of deceiving our opponents into thinking we’re weak or that we’re bluffing, but it’s an important part of the game and a great tactic to add to what should be an ever-expanding bag of poker tricks.

As much as bluffing is often the only way to win a pot, we tend to miss out on (or forego) opportunities to engineer a situation in which, when we have a strong hand, we can benefit more from inducing bets from opponents who think we’re weak, or bluffing, than would be the case if we were to bet.

It often happens that a bet simply turns off the tap and puts an end to the flow of chips because our show of strength is (correctly) believed. But creating a quite different narrative in which the opposition assuming the initiative is feasible can be a profitable strategy.

Let’s take a look at how representing weakness can work. A useful example concerns one of the more common situations that we come across, namely the Continuation Bet. Gone are the days when we could raise pre-flop, bring along a caller, stick in the C-Bet, be believed and more chips to our stack, our hand being irrelevant. This tactic became so popular that, nowadays, an increasing number of opponents simply won’t be so accommodating; it’s a fact of poker life that we just won’t get away with it so easily in the modern game.

But one of the crucial keys to success in online poker is being able to adapt as the game continues to evolve, so when one door closes – or, at least, is no longer always open – it’s up to us as (would-be) serious players to adopt alternative tactics. With this in mind, if we can’t pull off a C-Bet when we have nothing, we can turn the concept on it’s head and try to look like we’re representing a C-Bet with nothing when in fact we’re strong!

Representing a (Weak) Continuation Bet

If this strategy is one of those that you’ve not yet thought about, then I imagine your initial reaction is that it sounds like fun. That’s because it is! Deception is an overplayed, almost cliched part of the game, but cliches exist for a reason, and representing this or that hand or plan makes up a considerable part of the game. Or, at least, it should. It’s also great fun and is, I would hope, one of the reasons many are drawn to poker in the first place. Psychological one-upmanship is human nature, and as much as we might deny it, we tend to derive pleasure by getting the better of others in a battle of wits. Winning money as we do so is the perfect extra.

Given that C-Bets are so common in today’s game as to be almost expected, we know that there’s an accepted strategy already in place, so some players will be on the lookout to punish continuation betting. The more aggressive players in particular will be waiting to pounce, and therefore on the lookout for anyone who might be automatically c-betting without sufficient hand strength to back up such a play.

The trick is, when we raise pre-flop and then hit big on the Flop, to look weak, and react in exactly the same way someone would if they’d missed the Flop but still wanted to c-bet, but who then make the common mistake of making a half-hearted attempt at the pot, not betting enough because they lack confidence. This is the sign that players are looking for, so we want to induced their aggression by giving them that sign. Therefore, instead of betting a confident 2/3 of the pot, for instance, we should ‘risk’ less than half the pot, which should be the right sized bet to give our target the wrong message.

Depending on how much our opponent raises, we could continue in kind and hit back, or call and invite them to continue piling on the pressure. Positional considerations come into play, of course, as well as table image (ours and theirs), relative stack sizes, history and so on. But whatever we choose to do this strategy is going to be a profitable one assuming we choose our spots (and opponents) appropriately and make our deception believable.

That representing weakness can be such a profitable tactic is borne out by the fact that in this situation a popular approach is for players, believing that they have caught us weakly applying a poor continuation bet with nothing, and thus that they have fold equity, putting us all-in. This is the ideal scenario as our opponents need to make just this one irrevocable error for us to be all-in against them with our big hand. If we think how difficult it is generally to engineer such a scenario, this is a much easier way of doing it.

Furthermore, many players who are already seeking out weakness to exploit will do so regardless of hand strength because in these cases they are making decisions based on how they perceive the specific situation, so by feigning weakness we’re managing to induce all-in commitments that otherwise players wouldn’t be making.

Representing hands that we don’t have is more than trying to steal pots with a bluff. It’s also well worth employing deception that, with the right sized bet, can manipulate opponents into thinking we’re weak so that they feel justified in making aggressive moves that we can subsequently capitalise on.

Have fun!

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