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slow-play poker strategy

When Should You Slow-Play a Strong Hand?

It’s generally not a good idea to slow-play strong hands — you’ll usually win more money by fast-playing — but there is a time and a place for every move in poker.

In this article, you’ll learn how to identify spots in which a tricky slow-play is more profitable than playing straightforward, and spots where fast-playing is absolutely mandatory.

We’ll begin each section with an example that will help you understand what makes one play better than the other.

Editor’s note: If you haven’t already, you may want to check out Ryan Fee’s article Fast-Playing Versus Slow-Playing Revealed, which is a more beginner-friendly explanation of this concept.

Wet boards are bad for playing tricky

Online $2/$5. 6-Handed. Effective Stacks $500.

Hero is in the BB with 5 5♣
UTG folds. MP raises to $12.5. 3 folds. Hero calls

Flop ($27.00): 8♠ 5 4♠
Hero checks. MP bets $18. Hero…?

Middle position (MP) can have a lot of value hands and semi-bluffs with a good amount of equity, all of which will call a check-raise. Just think about all the overpairs (99–AA) and flush draws in his range — we want to start piling money into the pot versus those hands.

Additionally, there are a lot of turn cards that will kill your action (any 6, 7, or any spade). These cards will enable your opponent to play in a very efficient manner with his range — he’ll mostly check back when he’s behind and bet when he’s ahead. 

You also have semi-bluffing hands that benefit from being played aggressively and balance your value range. Good semi-bluff candidates include flush draws with straight potential (T♠ 9♠, J♠ 6♠, J♠ 7♠, Q♠ 6♠, K♠ 6♠) and gutshots with backdoor flush draws (T♦ 6, T♦ 7, J♦ 6, J♦ 7, Q♦ 6, Q♦ 7). These hands are better played as a check-raise and barrel instead of a check-call, which would give your opponent the upper hand on most turn cards:

  • On a brick turn, he can put your draws in a tough spot by betting big.
  • On a draw-completing turn, he can check back for pot control (he probably won’t bet red aces on a 7s turn)which means you win less money when you hit your draw.

For these reasons, 55 is a hand that you want to fast-play on this flop most of the time. A check-raise to around $60 would be appropriate.


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Big bets and dry boards should slow you down

Live $5/$10. 6-Handed. Effective Stacks $1000.

Hero is in the BB with 6♠ 4♠
2 folds. CO raises to $30. 2 folds. Hero calls

Flop ($65.00): Q♠ 6 4♣
Hero checks. CO bets $60. Hero…?

There are three major differences between this spot versus the cutoff (CO) and the previous one:

  1. The board is very dryThere is not much interaction between the cards (only the 6 and 4 are connected, but the CO won’t have many straight draws in his range that interact with these cards). Nor are flush draws possible. This change in board texture means there is little need to protect our hand’s equity.
  2. The opponent’s c-bet is very big. A large bet size normally represents a polarized range which consists, in this spot, of hands such as top pair for value and gutshots, open-enders, and backdoor draws for bluffs. Against such a range, solvers suggest that a low check-raise frequency is best. This makes sense because there is less value to be extracted against his tighter value range and we want him to continue barreling with his bluffs.
  3. Our hand is weaker. This is true not just in terms of absolute hand strength, but also in terms of relative hand strength. This drop in relative strength is a result of our opponent indicating that he has a polarized range (due to his bet size).

These 3 reasons should make us want to under-represent our hand in hopes that he will make betting mistakes later on in the hand — mistakes that he wouldn’t make if we played our hand fast and raised.

For example, imagine the CO has AA here. He will probably continue barreling on most runouts and, judging by his flop size, he will probably use big, near-pot bet sizes. So, he would bet around $180 on the turn and around $500 (or even his entire ~$730 stack) on the river.

But, if we decide to raise the flop to around $180, he would call and then we would bet around $300 on the turn. Most players will probably call the turn bet, but some will make a big fold. Let’s say he does call. The pot on the river will then be around $1,000 with $500 behind. When we shove, it is somewhat likely he will fold his hand due to the amount of strength we’ve shown throughout the hand. 

In other words, your average opponent will be pretty comfortable betting three streets himself, and less comfortable having to call big bets. This does, of course, vary from player to player. Against a calling station who doesn’t do much betting, for example, you’re probably better off check-raising on the flop.

You may have to get tricky against aggressive regulars

In this hand, your opponent is an aggressive pro who you’ve seen attack capped ranges. Specifically, you saw him overbet as a bluff when the preflop raiser checked back and the straight completed on the turn (this is a relatively popular strategy used by aggressive players).

Online $5/$10. 6-Handed. Effective Stacks $1000.

Hero is on the BU with Q♠ 9
3 folds. Hero raises to $25. SB folds. BB calls

Flop ($52.00): J♠ 8 4♣
BB checks. Hero…?

We have a gutshot and an overcard, a hand that should normally be part of our c-betting range. However, since we are playing against a very strong and aggressive regular who understands range versus range interaction, we should include this hand in our check-back range at least some of the time.

When we hit the queen or ten on the turn, the BB will have a lot of bluffing hands with which he can apply pressure by overbetting. And he would be right to do so since he will have an uncapped value range while we would not (since he has T9 and we don’t, or he has Q9 and we don’t — so he thinks).

This is why, by checking this hand, we actually create a counter-strategy that neutralizes his justified aggressive strategy. So, we check. Now, what happens on the turn when the gin card hits?

Turn ($52.00): T
BB bets $65. Hero…?

To decide whether calling or raising is the best strategy here, we need to think about what might happen on the river. Do you think he will continue betting on the river at a high frequency? Or do you think his strategy is one and done?

If you think he will barrel, then your best line is to call on the turn, let him make his bluffs on the river, and then smack him with the raise. That way you extract maximum value from his bluffs and value bets. If you think he will give up, then it’s better to raise now in order to deny the equity of his bluffs (flush draws and high straight draws) or extract value in case he makes a calling mistake.

Conclusion

Understanding what sways decisions is a key aspect of becoming a winning poker player. You need to study them off-table, and think deeply about what will happen on future streets. Your success depends on it!

That’s all for this article. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and found it useful! As usual, if you have any questions or feedback, please use the comment section below.

Till’ next time, good luck, grinders! 


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Dan B.

Online grinder aspiring to reach the highest stakes and crush the toughest games.

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