If your goal is to get the most money in the pot, slow-playing is counterproductive.
The object of poker is to win the most money. That's it - that is your goal.
That's why you're playing poker and not pogs.
In other words, all the strategies you employ are just a means to one end: the money. In light of that, one of the mistakes I see the majority of newcomers make is slow-playing. Or slow-playing too much.
Slow-playing, for the most part, is counterproductive. If your goal is to get the most money in the pot, how are you going to do that by checking? You build pots by betting your big hands, not by lurking in the weeds with them.
Here's an example of your average slow play:
Effective stacks $200; blinds $1/$2. You're dealt 6♥ 6♣ on the button. A player from early position raises $6 and you make the call.
The flop comes out 3♣ 6♠ A♣. Your opponent bets $10. You call. The turn is the T♦.
Your opponent bets $18 and you just call. The river is the 7♦. Your opponent checks and you bet $35. Your opponent calls. You table your set of sixes and he mucks his A♠ K♣. You scoop a $138 pot.
OK, so you won a $138 pot. You might be patting yourself on the back saying "Nice hand." This is not a nice hand.
Seriously, you won a $138 pot. Don't pat yourself on the back.
When you flop a big hand like a set, you want to play for stacks. This is what you've been waiting for, folding 6-2 and 5-9 all day. So now that you've finally hit your monster, you want to waste it by trying to slow-play? That kind of strategy is just wrong-headed.
Big Hands Want Big Pots
When you flop a monster you want to win your opponent's stack. It's very difficult to win someone's stack by slow-playing.
Why? When you slow-play you often find yourself with a small pot. Your goal of getting your stack into the middle when the pot is small becomes very difficult. You can't exactly bet $200 into a $4 pot, can you?
If you build the pot the entire way, it will be big enough on the end that you can comfortably bet your entire stack.
The hand in the example was played well by our villain. He played it like most villains would in this spot. He bet two streets into you and when you called multiple times he went for the conservative river approach. He checked and then called a river bet.
He did this to avoid getting raised (which is what you would have done). In this situation it's very difficult to get paid off after having just called two streets. If you had raised the flop then he most likely would have had to call with his top pair, top kicker, thus building the pot further.
Always consider table dynamics, image, playing tendencies, etc. before you decide how to act.
Let's look at an example where there is no slow-playing:
Effective stacks $200; blinds $1/$2. You're dealt 6♦ 6♣ in the cut-off. The player from early position makes it $6 to go. Everyone folds to you; you make the call.
The button and blinds fold and you take a flop heads-up of 3♣ 6♠ A♣. Your opponent bets $10. Opting against the slow play, you raise the flop to $45. Your opponent calls.
The turn brings the T♦. Your opponent checks. There is now $102 in the pot and just under $150 left in your stack. You bet $70.
Your opponent tanks and calls. The river comes down 7♦. Your opponent checks and you bet your remaining $80. Your opponent calls and tables A♠ K♣. Your set of sixes takes the $400 pot.
By building the pot the entire way it made it easy to get your entire stack into play. When the pot is large it also gives your opponent incorrect odds. He may have felt on the river he was pot-committed since he had already put 60% of his stack into play and the pot is offering 4-1 on his call, making it extremely difficult to fold.
Still, There Must Be Times When Slow-Playing Is Correct
Yes, you're right. In poker, one strategy is never always correct. You always need to take into consideration the table dynamics, your image, your opponents' playing tendencies, etc. before you decide how to act.
I'm not advocating never slow-playing. I'm just encouraging you to use it sparingly.
One situation where slow-playing is correct is against an ultra-aggressive player whom you know to have a history of betting three streets strong with weak holdings and who will continue their aggression until they are played back at. In that case it is not terrible to slow-play.
As an example:
You're playing an extremely aggressive opponent. You have seen him bet three streets with as little as ace-high.
Effective stacks $200; blinds $1/$2. You're dealt T♣ T♥ in the small blind. The ultra-aggressor raises to $8 UTG and it's folded to you. You elect to just call. The flop comes down T♠ 2♣ 5♦.
Another good time to consider "slow" playing: When you're about to marry Tommy Lee's ex-wife.
You check and your opponent bets $20. You just call. The turn comes 5♠. You check and your opponent bets $65. You call.
The river comes A♠. You bet $100 and your opponent calls with A♣ 4♠. You pick up the pot with your full house.
In this situation you know your opponent is ultra-aggressive. You know he's going to be betting with practically anything. He will build the pot for you. So there is no need to raise and make him fold his weak hand.
This situation isn't a common one, so you have to be in tune with the table dynamics. You'll need to be certain this opponent is willing to keep betting. Also notice in the example that the hero bet the river.
It's very risky to go for a check-raise when our hand is this strong. If the river goes check-check we could lose a lot of value.
So there you have it. You don't have to stop slow-playing all together. However, if you are making a habit out of slow-playing all your big hands than you are probably losing out on a ton of value!
Again, if you have any questions or comments, leave them at the bottom of the page.
More strategy articles by Dan Skolovy:
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