Why You Shouldn't Slow-Play

At the table
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.

Gavin Smith
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.

Day 2
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.

Rick Salomon
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:

assets/photos/authors/_resampled/croppedimage6060-daniel-skolovy.jpg
About Daniel Skolovy

Daniel Skolovy started out in the gaming industry as a lowly dealer, spending countless graveyard shifts dealing blackjack, pai gow, carribean stud, baccarat, etc. He quickly became bored dealing games that were so obviously weighted in the house's favor.

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Christopher Chalkley 2013-01-17 11:18:37

I NEVER COMMENT ON ARTICLES, HOWEVER...

I had to take the time to weigh in on this one. This article is very bad advice IMO. I have been playing midstakes cash for a living for quite a while now and I will say that slowplaying has a huge roll in the games. Versus fish, yea, maybe not so much, but versus better & more aggressive players it is an absolute necessity to know when to slowplay. The example given in the last paragraph has me steaming as well. I agree with everything as written up until the river decision to lead. This is the NUT worst spot to lead in unless you have the dynamic that villain will raise the lead in which case of course you will jam or 3b depending on stacks. This river looks like the ultimate x/r spot (check raise) and I don't feel like going into why as its so painfully obvious in so many ways.

Sean 2012-03-31 12:03:17

I log about 80/90 hours a month at $1/2 and this article is 100% correct. The best way to build pots is value bet them up. It's a good profitable part time job that I have.

BloodGain 2010-08-04 08:03:11

Vincent:

If you are trying to build a bankroll, and one bad beat means your bankroll is at 0, then you aren't managing your bankroll correctly. Lower your limits next time. It's pretty rare to hit a run so bad that you burn through your whole bankroll. If you follow the better suggestions for bankroll management, you would have to reduce your limits several times (until you hit the bottom limit) to completely tap out a well-managed bankroll.

That said, if poker is just a game or hobby for you, and you are using a small portion of your income as "entertainment" money, then it's not necessarily wrong to play above suggested limits. So long as you stop playing when you've burned your entertainment budget, nobody can tell you that playing $.50/$1 when you should be playing $.25/.50 is wrong. If your entertainment budget is $100/month and you want to blow it all on one $100 tournament, that's OK, too.

However, those who follow bankroll management guidelines and play within their limits may find that the level of poker play is closer to their current skill level and is more profitable. I'd rather win $100 in a tournament that took me 3 hours than lose $50 gambling to win $1000 in 3 hours.

This isn't just directed at you, Vincent. It's good advice for anyone who finds that a few bad beats means their bankroll goes on life support.

Good article, Skolovy. I have been guilty of slow-playing too often in the past. It has even cost me some tournaments, and even more chip leads. It's a great reminder for both types of poker.

Vincent 2010-03-30 12:38:41

- The fact that he hit is irrelavent

I know this, but that does not make me feel better when I am trying to build a stack and now must wait two weeks until I get paid again in order to play against this fish again. Keeping a level head when you make a +EV play and still ending with no money for long periods of time is just not as easy as Moocher makes it sound.

Overall, nice article. These are things that I Need to be reminded of from time to time. Cosntant and Never Ending Improvment. That is my true goal.

Again, thanks for a good article.

Moocher 2010-03-25 15:15:52

Sean lind said ...

> the fact he hit is irrelevant.

Well said. And that is one of the concepts so many people seem to have a problem with.

Whether your play pays off or you get stung really doesnt matter one iota provided you're playing un-emotional poker with a long term view (and if not, you should be)

ALL that matters is that you had +EV. If every play you make has +EV then nothing else matters. The hard part is minimising the variables when calculating your EV... and doing so unemotionally even during those times when the variance is grinding against you for an extended time and lesser players would start tilting.

With enough bankroll for the stakes you're playing even the worst variances can be shrugged off.

I guess you know you're a level-headed poker player when...

- You lose a hand and significant bankroll, and smile because it was a winning play.
- You win a hand and significant bankroll, and kick yourself for going along for the ride when the EV dictated you should have gotten out.

I often find myself congratulating myself of a +EV play that lost me considerable stack... even if first have to question wether my EV calculation was right or if I'd missed an indicator.

So, lets all read Seans line again...

> the fact he hit is irrelevant.

... and perhaps consider having it tatooed onto our flesh.

XD

Moocher 2010-03-25 15:01:09

At Amir:

> I don't know about this one, if somebody bets big off of a
> weak flop I'm probably going to assume they hit a set! I
> certainly wouldn' t continue to keep betting even if I did
> have AK.

All depends though. If you observe them regularly firing hard at weak flops you quickly get the idea you're +EV on them and can let them build that pot for you. Particularly if your table image supports you going along for the ride and being scared off easily in later streets.

To everyone else who found disagreement with the article, the following quote pretty much negates all disagreement...

> 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.

... with that said, I find the article inarguable. Even where the examples may not have been perfect... one must assume that the other factors supported the given play.

Sean Lind 2010-03-22 19:20:07

Paul,

You did nothing wrong. On the flop you have a set, but it's a dangerous board. Too strong of a hand to fold, but you are trying to keep the pot small at this point. Check/calling is the best choice.

Once the boars pairs, you can basically assume you have the nuts. Your only goal now is to get all the money in, on the turn or river.

You got 2-outed, it sucks, but you did nothing wrong. Yes, you MIGHT have been able to make him fold on the turn, but that would have been a mistake, you want his money all in, the fact he hit is irrelevant.

spencer 2010-03-22 06:17:36

on the turn you probably should have continued your check on the turn so you could reraise your full house to see where he's at considering he already has a good portion of his stack invested already

spencer 2010-03-22 06:14:19

Paul,

the same thing happened to me. UTG +1 raised to $8 and i called with pocket fives,
flop comes 5,7,Q rainbow board
he bets 15, i raise to 35, he raises me 40, and i reraise him 65 and he calls.
turn comes a 7 and he checks and i bet 125 and he takes about 10 minutes to call, at this point i know i am good.
the river comes K and he turns over pocket KK's

if u have your money in when you have the best hand then you can't do anythin about the cards to come

Paul 2010-03-22 03:18:03

So I was at a casino recently and this went down on my very first hand:

1/2$ 9-handed. I buy in for the max, which is $300, my "villain" has about $250 and is UTG.

UTG raises to $7 and gets two callers. I look down at 5d5s from the BB and call. Flop comes 5h6d7h I check UTG bets $30. Everyone else folds and I call. Pot is now $89. Turn brings a 6h and I bet $50, which UTG calls. River is a Kd--I bet $100, villian goes all-in for $35 more and I snap-call, only to see that he had pockets kings and has a higher full house.

Should I have raised pre-flop? What did I do wrong? I mean, it was a 2-outer so my current knowledge of the game and natural inclination tells me that this is just bad luck. What do you think?

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