The Right Way to Slow Play

While I’m not usually a big fan of slow playing, it’s an important strategy to have in your arsenal. In this hand from the One Drop, Cristoph Vogelsang shows us the right way to do it:

He raises pocket aces, flops a full house on A33, and check-calls all the way. A good place to start thinking about this hand is to consider which would be a better slow play candidate on this board: aces or 43 suited.

I would argue that aces are a far better slow play, for a couple reasons. First, if you try to slow play 43, your opponent could hit a flush or a full house with something like 88, in which case you’ll lose a big pot. With aces, you actually want them to hit a strong second best hand, because you can still beat them. Second, 43 is a better betting hand, because your opponent will probably not fold a pair of aces, but he might not bet every street himself with a hand like A9. When you have AA yourself, it’s very hard for your opponent to have an ace.

So aces has two qualities that make for a good slow play:

Invulnerability: Your opponent is extremely unlikely to make a better hand. If he improves, it will be to a second best hand that you still beat.

Blocks calling hands: If you block the hands your opponent would call down with, betting becomes less valuable, which makes the alternative – slow playing – comparatively more valuable.

It’s important to note that Vogelsang does not take the betting lead at any point. He checks all the way. I see a lot of players check to the river, then suddenly spring into action with a bet. The whole point of this line is that you know your opponent likely has nothing at all and you’re giving him a chance to bluff. If you bet yourself, he can’t really call with nothing, but if you check, he can certainly bet with nothing.

That “bet with nothing” bit is important – this line loses much of its value if your opponent isn’t capable of bluffing his whole stack. It’s largely a way of protecting yourself, and your marginal hands, from an opponent who can do exactly that. If you know your opponent will never run a big bluff, you may as well bet and hope he somehow has something to call with.

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