Are you always torn between fast-playing and slow-playing your strong hands? Then you're in luck!
Check out the infographic below for an overview of fast-playing vs slow-playing, and read on for a more advanced explanation from high stakes pro Ryan Fee.
You flop a set...
Your opponent bets into you. All you can think about is Vegas and the Mirage. Now how do you decide whether to fast play or slow play?
It seems to me that a lot of players will just arbitrarily decide whether or not to fast-play or slow-play their big hands. Maybe they flip a coin in their head? Or maybe they just do the opposite of what they did last time?
The point here is that anytime you do something in poker, you should have a reason for that action. Arbitrarily deciding to do things is a recipe for disaster.
The same holds true when deciding whether or not to slow or fast play your big hands. We’re going to delve into that a bit today.
The first important point to note is that you should not be playing them all the same. If you are ALWAYS slow playing or ALWAYS cramming chips into the middle of the pot, you are making a mistake. Your play should vary based on:
- The texture of the board
- Your hand's card removal
- Your opponent's tendencies (to a lesser extent, board texture is the driving factor)
Flopped sets are one of the most common hands you'll find yourself with when choosing between fast and slow playing. For that reason, we're going use sets as our main example in this article.
Should I Fast Play or Slow Play My Flopped Set?
There's no single answer to that question.
Not all sets are the same, because not all boards are the same. A different board texture calls for a different action with each hand. We'll be taking a look at a flopped set on a couple different board types:
- A wet flop is a very coordinated board with a lot of draw combinations that hits a lot of hand combinations
- Dry flops are uncoordinated boards with few draws that will hit less hand combinations.
Here are a couple examples of such boards:
- is a very dry flop
- is a very wet flop
Flopped Sets on Dry Flops
Lets look closer at that flop.
We have pocket Sixes for flopped middle set after calling a raise from the Big Blind, heads up.
This is a board in which the turn and river are not likely to change who has the best hand from the flop.
For that reason, it doesn’t make sense to play our hand for a check/raise. If our opponent has a King for top pair, they will likely continue betting later streets if we just call now.
If we happen to go crazy on this flop though, we might lose our customer. There is not a lot for us to have to protect from here so we can comfortably just call and allow our opponent to continue betting.
(Note: Check out this mini-training course Doug Polk & I put together for postflop play. It's called the Postflop Game Plan, and you can learn more about it here or by clicking below.)
Also, if our opponent is bluffing, they are most likely going to just fold if we go crazy on this flop and again we lose our customer.
On a board such as this, their bluffs are very unlikely to ever improve to beat our hand. We may even be rooting for our opponent to improve so that they continue to bet money into our trap.
Flopped Sets on Wet Flops
Back to that flop.
We have a set of Sixes in the Big Blind again, but this board is much different.
This board is very wet, numerous turn and river cards will cause our opponent to stop betting strong hands or improve to a hand that beats ours.
Let's consider if our opponent has here.
There are a TON of turns that may make our opponent stop betting, fearful that either we have improved or wouldn’t call a bet with a worse hand anyway. Such as:
- A straight completing card such as a 5 or 7
- Cards that often give us two pair or trips like a 6, 8, 9 or Ten
- Any flush completing heart
This is a disaster for our set of Sixes because we would miss out on a ton of potential value.
We can also expect our opponent to bet straight or flush draws here. If the turn improves our opponent’s hand to a straight or a flush we can be sure that they will continue to bet.
There are many turn cards on this board where raising a set would be less appealing because we would be playing right into our opponent when they have a straight or flush and would likely be representing a very credible strong hand, making them fold their one, or even two pair hands.
By raising the flop against their draws we will accomplish one of two thing:
- Deny how profitable their draws will be by making them put in a bigger flop bet while behind
- Deny their equity entirely by making our opponent fold
Either way we aren’t thrilled about giving them a free look at the turn. Raising now makes more money vs their made hand and reduces the profitability of their draws.
In short, if the board is dry, slowplay your range.
If the board is wet, raise and play your strong hands fast, along with some weak ones.
Card Removal when Slow Playing or Fast Playing
You may have hard the term "crushing the deck" before. That's just 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?
- on a flop of
- on a flop of
The clear answer here is the pocket Fives, and the reason is hand combinations.
When you have two tens in your hand, you greatly decrease the chance that your opponent has top pair. When we check/raise we want our opponent to have top pair because they're unlikely to fold it.
Considering The Opponent's Tendencies
The board texture and hand combinations are the driving factors, but your opponent's tendencies can make the difference when it's close between fast playing and slow playing.
If your opponent is a calling station and you aren't quite sure what to do with your top set, maybe lean towards fast playing it.
Conversely, if your opponent is bluff-happy you can lean towards calling to set the trap.
How will you know which players to do which against? Simple… pay attention.
Watch your opponents in every hand and start to figure out how they play their huge hands, their medium strength hands, and their weak hands. It won’t be hard to identify the players incapable of folding top pair or even some that are incapable of folding any pair. These are the players that you will want to check raise or raise your hand in position on the flop even if it’s a dry board.
You should also take your opponent into account when looking to size your raises.
If your opponent is incapable of folding, you should adjust to a much larger raise size. If they won’t fold for any amount, why not charge them the absolute maximum?
Some players might even be ecstatic to get it in with aces or kings on these nasty boards because they know they’ll never have to face a tough decision on the turn or river and if they were out flopped. They walk away with a bad beat story and you walk away with their stack.
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 big hand.
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 max value with your big hands.
(Note: Check out the detailed postflop game plan I created with Doug Polk. It's called the Postflop Engine, and it's basically a mini training course that details exactly what to do with each hand type post flop. Check it out by clicking below!)