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Poker Strategy With Ed Miller: Outplaying The Slowplayers

Miller Explains How To Take Advantage of Slowplayers


Ed MillerThere’s one type of opponent that seems to drive many players totally nuts. The guy who slow plays everything. When he gets aces preflop, he limps. When he flops a set, he checks it twice. When he flops top-two, he calls once, checks it back once, and then min-raises the river.

These opponents drive people crazy, in my opinion, because their style of play maximizes the chance that a bet will blow up in your face. Thought you were betting for value? Nope, he flopped a set. Thought your bluff was a lock to work? Nope, he played a flopped flush like it was six-high.

In my experience, most people hate it when bets blow up in their faces. It’s one thing to call a bet and be beat. They put you to a tough decision, and you guessed wrong. It happens. It’s another thing to be the one making the bet — and then to find out that you were completely wrong about where you were at in the hand.

It can be embarrassing. It can feel like you completely owned yourself.

But here’s the thing. You have to get over it. You can’t let these moments of frustration paralyze you.

Let’s break down what these slowplayers are doing. Whenever it’s your turn to act, you basically have two choices (besides folding which ends the hand). You can be passive (check or call) or aggressive (bet or raise). If you think about all the possible hands you can have at that point, you are really putting the hands into two different buckets. Most people create these buckets in a predictable way. The bottom pairs go in the passive bucket. The sets go in the aggressive bucket. The gutshots go in the passive bucket. The flush draws go in the aggressive bucket. And so forth.

Because these buckets are fairly predictable, we know that if we bet after a passive action, we can expect certain outcomes. We might know that a bluff will usually work. Or we might know that our hand is likely good.

Slowplayers alter the fundamental makeup of these buckets, such that the outcomes we get are not as expected. Specifically, they tend to take premium hands that most people put in the aggressive bucket, and they put them instead in the passive bucket.

This does two things. First, it spikes the passive bucket with a small array of strong holdings. This means your bluffs won’t work as often, and your value bets will be less profitable. Second, it removes strong hands from the aggressive bucket. This leaves the aggressive bucket overloaded with bluffs and marginal hands. Therefore, unless the slow player chooses to bluff only rarely or chooses to be passive with nearly every hand, you can bluff-raise very profitably, and you can also call down with your medium strength hands.

In practice, this means that people who slow play habitually are essentially unable to be credibly aggressive which means that they can’t get much value for their good hands, nor can they bluff effectively. This is a pretty big hole in their strategies.

Let’s recap the strengths and weaknesses of a slow player strategy. A strength is that slowplayers are harder to bet against. Your bluffs will work less often, and your value bets will be less profitable. This means that you should value bet and bluff less against this sort of player than you would against a more typical player.

A weakness is that slowplayers lose value for their good hands, give free cards too much, and in many situations cannot bluff credibly. This allows you to lose less with second-best hands, it allows you to draw cheaply to long-shot hands, and it allows you to bluff-raise profitably against certain types of bets.

In additional, on top of these weaknesses, slowplayers often also play too many hands preflop. This blunts their strategic strengths by spiking their passive bucket with extra weak hands. It also enhances their weaknesses since they will be unable to salvage the value of weak hands by bluffing with them.

So how should you play against these players? Here are four adjustments I would make.

1. Take a few more free showdowns.

As aggressive players it is ingrained within us to bet for value any time we think we may be ahead. This heuristic works fairly well against typical players, but you have to pull it back against slowplayers. I read a hand on our Red Chip Poker forum where a player bet J-J on a K-Q-4-2-7 rainbow board against three players after it had been checked around on the flop and turn. It’s a good, thin bet against typical players, but against three slowplayers I’d check.

He ended up running into a flopped set of fours!

2. Bluff-raise more.

One of the big problems with slow playing is that it weakens your betting range. If you are playing possum with all your good hands, then what exactly are you betting? For most people it’s medium-strength pairs and draws — hands that usually can’t withstand maximum action. Slowplayers are always vulnerable to getting bluff-raised.

3. Fire fewer second and third barrels.

Bluffing doesn’t work quite as well against slowplayers, but you can’t stop bluffing entirely. It’s giving up way too much to allow a slow playing opponent to force you completely straight. Besides, slow playing opponents — just like everyone else — get dealt way more bad hands than good ones.

What I do against slow playing opponents, however, is I am not so quick to keep firing when called. Against a typical small stakes opponent, getting called might say to me, “I’ve got something, but it’s not really good because if it were I would have raised.” This is the sort of hand you can often get a fold from if you bet bigger the next time around.

Slowplayers, however, will tend to be a lot stronger than that, on average, after calling a fairly big bet. They might not get dealt big hands any more often than anyone else, but after calling $150 on the turn, they are a lot more likely than the typical player to call $500 on the river.

4. Don’t worry too much about getting owned.

You’re going to make bets that backfire against these guys. That’s the one thing they do well — they turn your bets back onto you sometimes. Don’t worry about it. Accept it. Think about the hands they play where they flop a set and get one small bet’s worth of action. Think about the times they flop a set, give a free card, and end up stacking off against a turned gutshot.

Play your game. Make the above adjustments. And when you get stung by their slow play thing, just let it go. If you play solid, you’ll have the edge. ♠

Ed’s newest book, Poker’s 1%: The One Big Secret That Keeps Elite Players On Top is available now at his website You can also find original articles and instructional videos by Ed at the brand new site