Poker Strategy: When Should You Slow Play?
By Loki Luchs
The slow play is a fickle fiend, a fairly formidable forager of finances and a fiery fossil fuel for the fascinated fandom. Pardon my alliteration, but itís a pugnaciously powerful play at all levels of poker. Sadly, it is saturating stale stratagems and singularly sinking some start-ups (why do I keep doing that?). For many players, the slow play is their only weapon in a pitiful arsenal. Like all maneuvers, thereís a time and a place for a slow play. If you use it too often or at the wrong times, it can hurt you more than it can hurt them.
Too often players outsmart themselves. If I see you check on the flop and I probe bet, I fold to almost any check-raise. Ooooh, you got my 2BBs. What you really did was cost yourself the 15 BBs that my mid-range hand might have given you otherwise. For instance, if you flop trips (not a set), and bet out, many players will wonder if you would bet there. In poker, money is made from our paranoia. Your opponents assume that you would check and try to trap if you had a hand! By betting out, you will often get a mediocre hand to call that thinks you have squat.
A good time to slow play is with a set on a rainbow board. When you flop a set, itís very difficult for your opponents to put you on that hand. In many ways, small sets are more profitable because the board looks so innocuous that any over-pair or top pair/top kicker will feel a great deal of confidence. My most profitable hand over my career has been pocket twos. If I flop hard, I will almost certainly bust a mid strength hand that is too confident. If I donít flop a set, I muck them and move along. I lose almost nothing in order to bust another player 1/7th of the time. This is when the slow play is the strongest; your opponents know you didnít raise, so theyíre very pleased with their pocket 9s as an over-pair. Their gross misunderstanding of where they are in the hand will cost them all of the money.
Flopping a flush is a risky time to slow play. Itís logical to assume that when a player bets on a monotone board, that they are not betting the flush, but rather the flush draw. If you flop a flush, many players will call if they have top pair or better. By getting their money into the pot, you make it more difficult to get away from the hand. Itís also better to bet out if your flush isnít the nut flush! You want any player drawing to the nut flush to pay to draw out on you!
If youíre fortunate enough to flop a full house, slow playing is a great play. No one puts you on the hand and youíre probably so far ahead that theyíre drawing dead. Letting them take a free card so they find a flush or straight draw isnít a problem, because making the hand wonít help them! Give them the turn for free, but donít wait too long to charge them. If you havenít built the pot by the river, youíve made a mistake by keeping the pot so small that it doesnít matter to them.
One important aspect to slow-playing is being in position. When youíre out of position, you can check-raise only once, but when youíre in position, you can smooth call without raising suspicion. If you raise too soon, youíre going to give away your hand! The turn is often a good place to make your opponents decide if they want to see the final card or not, but if you think theyíve already made second best hand, you may just want to wait until the river! If theyíll fire a third shot at the river, theyíve usually come too far to fold, so theyíll call almost any reasonable raise.
While the slow play is one of the most profitable plays in poker, it can also be one of the most costly. Choose your uses carefully, because there are times when opponents will expect you to slow-play. If you are seen using this as your main play, it will lose all effectiveness. If you fear this might be happening, ask yourself this: am I making more money slow-playing than if I had bet out? If a play isnít making you money, why are you still using it?
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