Slow playing in poker is an interesting topic, as more often than not it is not advised. There is a certain segment of poker players who tend to gripe and complain after being dealt a monster hand pre-flop such as AA, who make a substantial raise and get no action from other players at the table, which results in winning a very small pot. This tends to give those players the idea that slow playing in poker is better, especially with that monster hand, because it builds a bigger pot by getting more opponents in. Is this the correct line of thinking?
Absolutely not. Slow playing a poker hand may allow you to trap other players into hitting a lesser pair every now and then, but the risk you’re taking in allowing your table rivals to see the flop cheaply far outweighs the gains you will ever make by trying to get more action on your huge pocket pair.
A well-known fact in No-Limit Texas Hold ‘Em is that pocket Aces will typically win a very small pot or lose a huge one. If that happens to be you that is dealt AA, it’s best to resign yourself to the idea that you will win a small amount, which is better in all respects than losing a big one.
If you’re wondering how to make sure that you don’t end up losing with your AA, the best way is to raise a hefty amount pre-flop. You don’t want fishy opponents to be able to call with weaker hands. That may still happen sometimes anyway, but isn’t always bad because the majority of time they will not hit on the flop, but of course sometimes they will. Your whole objective with a monster hand is to thin the playing field. Those pocket rockets will be a huge advantage over one or a couple opponents, as aces have a large proportion of most people’s calling range massively dominated, but once you have three or more players seeing the flop, the value of your Aces will decrease considerably. The main idea is to not allow other players to see the flop cheaply and end up beating you. If that means that your huge raise knocks everybody out and you win only the blinds, so be it. Again, it’s much more preferable than losing a big hand to someone who happens to outdraw you.
Suppose you are in early position and have been getting bad starting hands all day. Finally, you see in the hole and are hoping to get some of your money back by winning a big hand. You decide to get more money into the pot and limp in, knowing that a couple loose-aggressive players acting behind you are certain to do your raising for you. Sure enough, a raiser in late position bets three times the big blind and gets called by the button and the big blind. You decide to also call so as not to scare the others out of what you anticipate to be a huge pot.
With four players in the hand, the flop comes . A flop like this is likely to build that pot as you were hoping. With a spade flush draw and the King on the flop, you’re certain to get some action. However, your once strong hand may no longer be the favorite, another player may be holding an eight for the set, for example. The truth of the matter is, just about any flop that doesn’t contain another Ace to give you trips is going to be risky because with three opponents playing the hand, there are just too many ways that you can end up losing. That is why thinning the field with pre-flop raises is so crucial when holding a monster hand.
You have to raise pre-flop to make things easier after the flop. If you’re holding those Aces in late position and three players have already called before you, your raise should be about six times the big blind to get a couple of those players to fold. Again, your mindset should be on reducing the amount of players in the hand without having a fear of knocking them all out. Winning a small pot is better than losing a large one.
Is slow playing in poker ever correct?
You may still be wondering if it’s ever correct to slow play in poker. Let’s go back to the example of holding in early position. In that hand, you were reasonably certain that the loose-aggressive players acting in late position that you have been watching raise all day while you were folding your poor starting hands were sure to raise pre-flop. In that case, it may be acceptable to limp in to allow a raise that you know was coming. However, when it’s your turn to act following the raise pre-flop, you should make a huge re-raise and try to isolate the action between you and only one other player, rather than flat calling. So, in effect, you are slow playing to the extent that you only limped in, but you followed that up by hammering the other players with a massive re-raise in order to either take down the pot then and there or reduce the action to a heads-up situation with the raiser.
The key, however, is knowing the styles and tendencies of your table rivals. If you are not certain that a raise is coming while you hold that monster hand, then it should be you making the raise to thin the playing field. Play your monster hands correctly by raising pre-flop in most situations, not slow playing. Filter out the players who were hoping to hit on the flop with a less than premium starting hand. Follow the flop by betting heavily and don’t allow whatever players remain to have an opportunity to outdraw you. On the occasion where you do have very loose players acting behind you, you can use a slow play every now and then to mix up your game. Always remember, it’s better to win a small pot by knocking players out with a monster hand than to lose a big hand by slow playing against a lesser starting hand that connects on the flop or turn and river cards.