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A Different Kind of Slowplaying

by Andrew Brokos |  Published: Jul 11, 2012

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Andrew BrokosWhen you consider slowplaying, what do you think of as the primary advantages and disadvantages? Most players will tell you that the main advantage of slowplaying is giving opponents the chance to “catch up”, which is to say make hands that can put money into the pot on a future street when they would not have put money in on the current street. The main disadvantage, they will tell you, is the risk of giving a free card that ends up costing you the pot. This occurs when an opponent would have folded to a bet but ends up improving to a hand that beats yours.

While these are both valid considerations, they are not the only costs and benefits of slowplaying. Particularly in big-bet games like no-limit hold‘em and pot-limit Omaha, failing to build the pot and missing out on a bet are potentially very large costs to slowplaying. If your opponent would have been willing to call three bets with an inferior hand, but you check the flop and then bet the turn and river, you have not only cost yourself a bet, you have cost yourself the largest bet. Had you begun building a pot on the flop, your third bet could easily be two or even three times the size of the second one. That’s a huge amount of value to miss.

An often overlooked advantage of slowplaying is that it helps to balance your ranges and protect weaker hands that you would check in similar spots. If your opponent knows that you are capable of checking strong hands, he will probably bluff and value bet you less, making it easier for you to show down marginal hands cheaply. If he doesn’t make this adaptation, then you’ll win more money with your slowplayed hands when your opponent stubbornly bluffs into them with weak hands that would have folded had you bet.

Because of these factors, the best hands to slowplay, at least when you are reasonably deep stacked, are often not your strongest possible holdings. With such strong hands, it’s generally best to try to build a big pot and get your whole stack in the middle. It’s often better to check hands that are difficult to draw out on but that are not strong enough to play for your entire stack. A hand from one of the preliminary events of the PokerStars SCOOP illustrates what I mean by this.

We were in an early level of a $200 four-handed no-limit hold ‘em tournament. Players in these short-handed events tend to exhibit a very high level of aggression, sometimes excessively so, which means there’s a little more value than usual to be had in inducing bluffs.

I was dealt KDiamond Suit 5Diamond Suit one seat off the button, which at a four-handed table is also under the gun. Blinds were 25-50, and I began the hand with 5004 chips. I opened with a raise to 100. The player on the button, who had just 2158 in chips, called, as did the big blind, and the three of us saw a KClub Suit 4Diamond Suit 3Diamond Suit flop.

This is just the sort of hand I have in mind when I talk about slowplaying: it’s difficult to draw out on, but unless it improves, it’s not good enough to bet for value three times. The only turn cards that are truly bad for me are the three non-diamond Aces. Of course any card could improve an opponent to a better hand, but in the other cases those would be remote possibilities.

At the same time, I can’t expect to get called down by worse hands all the way if I bet top pair with a weak kicker three times. Thus, this is an ideal hand to check. The fact that it’s hard to draw out on and many turn or river cards could improve it makes it a great bluff-catcher, and I’m not missing out on value by checking since I couldn’t bet it on three streets anyway unless it improved.

The big blind checked, I checked, the button bet 188 into the pot of 325, the big blind folded, and I called. This was a very good outcome for me. If I bet and got called, I’d expect my opponent to have a better hand about as often as he’d have a worse one. While he’d probably bet most better hands when checked to, he could also stab at the pot with nearly anything. When he’s the one doing the betting, in other words, I’m going to be ahead a lot more often than when I’m betting.

The turn brought the ADiamond Suit, the best card in the deck. Unless the button held 5Diamond Suit 2Diamond Suit, I was now ahead. Still, there was no need to take the betting lead. The third diamond would look like a good bluffing card to my opponent, and if I actually had coolered him with a lower flush, he’d almost certainly value bet it for me. So, I checked again. He bet 380, and I called.

The river was the 8Diamond Suit. I checked, and he went all-in for 1490, which was just about the size of the pot. Of course I called, and he showed QSpade Suit 9Spade Suit for a stone cold bluff. He almost certainly would have folded to a flop bet, but because I checked, he put his whole stack into the pot with a hand that was drawing damn near dead: 1.5 percent equity on the flop, to be precise, and dead on the turn.

This hand also illustrates how checking a strong hand can protect other hands in your checking range. Most of the time that I flop a flush draw, I won’t have a pair. With these hands I almost always want to semi-bluff. They aren’t good enough to win unimproved, so I want to win without a showdown if I can, but they have a good chance of improving if my opponent refuses to fold.

Because I will bet so many of my flush draws on the flop, I will rarely have a flush when I check/call the flop and a third diamond falls on the turn. My opponent, however, could easily have a flush draw with his flop action. This makes it a great opportunity for him to represent the flush and put pressure on weaker made hands, such as pocket pairs, that I might also check/call on the flop. To avoid getting exploited by bluffs like this one, it’s important that I be able to show up with a flush here. Checking and calling on the rare occasions that I have both a pair and a flush draw is a good start.

As you can see, even though my hand on the flop – top pair with a very weak kicker – was hardly a monster, it was a perfect candidate for slowplaying. I didn’t want to play a big pot with it anyway, a free card was more likely to help me than hurt me, and it made an excellent bluff-catcher. It may not have been a conventional slowplay, but it certainly proved profitable! ♠

Andrew Brokos is a professional poker player, writer and coach. He’s a member of Poker Stars Team Online and blogs about poker strategy on ThinkingPoker.net. Andrew is also interested in education reform and founded an after-school debate program for urban youth.