You flop a set…
Your opponent bets into you and you have a decision to make.
Will you fast-play with a raise, hoping to get all-in as soon as possible? Or will you slow-play with a call, setting a trap for your opponent?
Situations like this will happen pretty much anytime you play a session of poker.
If you want to walk away from the table with as many chips as possible, you need to know how to choose between fast-playing and slow-playing. Reading this article will help you do that.
Here is what is covered:
- Fast-Playing vs Slow-Playing: Factors to Consider
- Should You Fast-Play or Slow-Play Your Flopped Set?
- Playing Sets on Different Board Textures
- Range Considerations
- How Card Removal Matters
- What About Your Opponent’s Tendencies?
This article has been updated (originally published in 2015). Mike Brady contributed to this article.
Fast-Playing vs Slow-Playing: Factors to Consider
The first important point to note is that you should not play all strong hands the same way every time. If you are always fast-playing or always setting a trap, you are making a mistake.
Your play should vary based on the following factors:
- The texture of the board. (This is the driving factor.)
- The range of hands you and your opponent can have.
- Your hand’s card removal.
- Your opponent’s tendencies.
Since flopped sets are the hand type you will have most often when deciding between fast-playing and slow-playing, they will be used for each example in this article. That said, the same advice applies to any super strong hand.
Should You Fast-Play or Slow-Play Your Flopped Set?
As you may have already realized, there is no single answer to that question.
Not all sets are the same because not all situations are the same. Let’s run through how each of the factors listed above should impact your decision-making with a flopped set.
Playing Sets on Different Board Textures
(Download an infographic that sums up this section here.)
Let’s divide all possible flop types into two baskets:
- Wet flops are very coordinated and dynamic boards.
is a very wet flop.
- Dry flops are uncoordinated and static boards.
is a very dry flop.
Flopped Sets on Dry Flops
Lets look closer at that K♦ 6♠ 2♥ flop.
Suppose you have flopped middle set with 6♥ 6♣ after defending your big blind versus a raise.
This is a very static board, meaning the turn and river are not likely to change who has the best hand.
For this reason, it doesn’t make as much sense to fast-play your hand with a check-raise. Consider two possibilities:
- If your opponent has a king for top pair, they will likely continue betting on the turn and/or river if you just call on the flop. You can spring the trap with a check-raise later in the hand.
- If your opponent is bluffing, they may continue betting on the turn and/or river if you just call on the flop. Check-raising may cause you to lose your customer.
Either way, there isn’t much downside in allowing another card to peel off the deck, so you can comfortably call and allow your opponent to continue betting.
On dry boards such as this, your opponent’s bluffs are very unlikely to ever improve to beat your hand. You may even be rooting for your opponent to improve so that they continue to bet money into your trap.
Flopped Sets on Wet Flops
Back to that 8♥ 6♦ 4♥ flop.
Again, you have second set with 6♥ 6♣ after defending your big blind, only this board is much different.
This is a very dynamic board, meaning numerous turn and river cards are likely to change who has the best hand. If such a card comes on the turn, your opponent may stop betting with his strong hands, or worse, improve to a hand that beats yours.
Suppose your opponent has A♠ A♦ here. There are a ton of turns that may make your opponent stop betting:
- A card that puts four-to-a-straight on the board (any 5 or 7).
- Cards that often give you two pair or trips (6, 8, 9, or ten)
- Any flush-completing heart.
On these turns, your opponent may be fearful that either you have improved or that you wouldn’t call a bet with a worse hand anyway. This is a disaster for your set of sixes because you won’t be able to extract much more value.
If your opponent improves on the turn to a straight or a flush, you can be sure that they will continue to bet. You will (usually) call with your set of sixes, bloating the pot with the second best hand.
By raising on the flop against their draws, you will accomplish one of two things:
- You will make them put in more money while behind, which makes their draws less profitable.
- You will force them to fold, denying their equity entirely.
Either way, you shouldn’t be thrilled about giving your opponent a free (or cheap) look at the turn. Raising on the flop will allow you to win more money vs their made hands and reduce the profitability of their draws.
To sum up this discussion of board texture considerations…
…if the board is dry, lean towards slow-playing…
…if the board is wet, lean towards playing fast your strong hands.
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When deciding whether to fast-play or slow-play, it’s crucial to consider a couple of things about each player’s range:
- Where does your hand fall in your range?
- How does your range match up versus your opponent’s range?
Where Does Your Hand Fall in Your Range?
You’re generally going to want to fast-play with most of the strongest hands in your range. This will help you win the most money, on average, and allow you to put significant pressure on your opponent. (Make sure you balance these strong hands by playing some bluffs the same way.)
That said, it’s smart to slow-play with at least a few of your strongest hands to strengthen and protect your calling range. This will make it tougher for your opponent to profit with an aggressive bluffing strategy when you do just call.
How Does Your Range Match Up Versus Your Opponent’s Range?
If your opponent has a much stronger range (known as a range advantage), you should generally slow-play with most, if not all of the super strong hands in your range. Your opponent will likely leverage his range advantage by betting often on the turn or river after you call on the flop, and that’s when you can spring the trap with a raise.
When you’re at a big range disadvantage, fast-playing with too many super-strong hands will allow your opponent to exploit you with an aggressive bluffing strategy on later streets when you do just call. This is because you will have no super-strong hands to call down with versus multiple bets.
For example, suppose you defend your big blind with JTo versus a player who raised from middle position. The flop comes A-K-Q, giving you the nut straight, and your opponent bets.
Even though you have the absolute nuts, you should usually opt to slow-play in this situation to protect the rest of your range, which is mainly made up of marginal hands like A-9 or K-T.
If you always fast-play with JT, your opponent can go crazy against you on the turn and river with no fear of running into the nuts.
Card Removal When Slow-Playing or Fast-Playing
You may have hard the term “crushing the deck” before. That’s another way to say card removal. This is best explained with an example.
Which of these hands would you rather fast-play facing a bet out of position?
- Pocket nines on 9♣ 4♣ 3♠
- Pocket fours on 9♣ 4♣ 3♠
To sum up this point: you should fast-play more often when you do not hold the cards you want your opponent to have.
Considering Your Opponent’s Tendencies
When your decision is close between fast-playing and slow-playing, your opponent’s tendencies can make the difference.
If your opponent is a calling station, for example, and you aren’t quite sure what to do with your top set, lean towards fast playing it. Conversely, if your opponent is super aggressive, you should lean towards calling to set the trap.
But this only works if you pay close attention to your opponents, even during hands you aren’t playing.
Watch your opponents in every hand and try to figure out how they play their huge hands, their medium strength hands, and their weak hands. Some players are incapable of folding top pair (or even any pair) and you shouldn’t have any trouble identifying them.
You should also take your opponent into account when sizing your raises. If your opponent seems to be allergic to folding, you should adjust by raising to a larger size than usual.
Some players might even be ecstatic to get all-in on the flop with aces or kings, even on wet boards. Raise big versus these players and they will walk away with a bad beat story as you stack their chips.
The bottom line is to pay attention to your opponents and look for the route that is going to maximize the amount of value you can get out of your strong hand.
Want to learn how to conquer a few common types of opponents? Read How to Exploit 3 Different Types of Poker Players.
As with any situation in poker, it’s tough to generalize.
But if you stick to the general rule of mostly fast-playing on wet boards and mostly slow-playing on dry ones, you’ll get close to maximum value with your strong hands.
For further reading, check out “When Should You Slow-Play a Strong Hand”?