Slow playing in Poker
Slow playing is defined is the act of disguising a very strong hand by playing as if it were a much weaker hand. This is achieved by taking a more passive approach to the hand, letting other players dictate the flow of the hand.
Slow playing too much is a common pitfall of beginner poker players. Rather than to simply tell you to stop doing that and be more aggressive, I’ll explain the motivation for slow playing and a natural outgrowth of that explanation is the reasoning behind using the slow play sparingly.
Goals of Slowplaying
- 1. Disguise the strength of your hand
- 2. Wait for your opponent to make a second best hand
- 3. Induce bluffs from your opponent
Disguising your hand is a basic goal in poker, but against many (less aggressive) opponents it makes more sense to represent a bluff, not medium strength or completely worthless hand. How often do you or anyone else at a small stakes game flat call the flop, check through the turn and then raise a blank river as a bluff?
Almost never. Once you make that river raise, your hand isn’t very disguised at all, and you have very little to show for the part of the hand where it was disguised. If you just raise the flop in the first place, you are mixing up your play by taking a line that could credibly be a strong hand or a weak hand.
Letting your opponent catch up to you is also a good idea in theory. After all, if you have the nuts, letting more cards out will increase the probability that your opponent will make a hand that’s almost as good as yours,right? Not quite. You have flopped a full house on a board with a flush draw. Let’s say that your opponent is drawing to the flush and you have the option of either betting or checking back the flop.
He will make his flush ~20% of the time and you stand a good chance of taking his whole stack. But what if he has a low flush and doesn’t stack off? What if he is unwilling to put lots of money in on a paired board?
He will likely call a flop bet anyway, so you get money from his uncompleted flush draws and from when he completes the flush. Plus, you get money from all the hands that aren’t draws, and even though you think you are letting your opponent catch up, you may be letting the board get scarier for middle strength hands.
However, if we adjust that situation to where you have bet the flop on a board with a flush draw, received a call and now have the option to either check back or bet on a non-flush turn card, the argument for slow playing is way more compelling. Now your opponent might fold all of his flush draws.
Inducing a bluff at the pot also has value in some situations. The problem is that against players who aren’t very good at hand reading and aren’t very aggressive (I’m describing most microstakes players) is that at best you will get a one small bet out of the play.
Most players are just going to take a stab at the pot and when they see that you didn’t fold they will give up on the hand. You are especially unlikely to induce bluffs if there has been a reraise preflop or if there was action on the flop and you are looking to induce bluffs.