When Should You Slow Play

Slowplaying seems really attractive at first. You are using trickery (a good thing) to get your opponent to put money out on the table (another good thing). This seems to go well with the most fundamental truth of poker: when your opponent plays incorrectly, you ultimately profit. But the problem is, while slowplaying can be a good thing; it’s not always the best thing to do. While it can put chips in the pot, there are usually ways to put even more chips out, you just have to know what to do.

Luckily, the better way to approach the situation is really straightforward. If you’re sure you have the best hand, just play your hand as you would normally. This is the superior move for a couple big reasons. Let’s look at this in a little bit more detail below.

When you have the best hand, you want to get as much money out of it as possible. This is especially true at the higher levels where you’ll be winning fewer pots of higher chip counts. When you turn control over to your opponent, you are also turning the control of how much goes into the pot to them. Unless you are betting and taking the lead here, you are relinquishing control to them. Yes, they might put a lot in sometimes, but more often than not, you will get more when you bet more. If you’re earning $100 per hand for five hands when you slowpay, you’re earning $500. But if you take charge betting those five hands, if you’re getting $200 for three hands, while everyone folds to your aggression the other two, yes, you’re not winning as much each hand, but when you do win, you’re more than making up for those lighter hands. Instead of $500 in this example, you’re winning $600 over the same five hands—a much more attractive number. This advantage can be huge when it adds up over time, and unless you’re betting heavily when you have the nuts, you’re still winning, but you’re not winning as much as you could had you been more aggressive. The more you win, the better off you will be.

The definite downside of slowplaying is that you are giving your opponents better odds and sometimes even a mathematically correct reason to stay in the hand. Unless there is absolutely no way they can win, you are affording them with a free opportunity to see more cards and—no matter how slight—their chances of getting a better hand increase. If you’re not actively betting, they might be getting the right payout odds to stay in the hand, and this puts you at the losing end of poker’s fundamental theorem. You are making a mistake, and therefore your opponents are profiting.

Of course, there are places where the slowplay is correct. Generally speaking, when there are two or more others in the hand, and they are locked in bidding wars, a slowplay can take some of the attention off of you and this can create some stealth that will allow you to sit back and watch the others do the work for you. Again, a slowplay to the end is not correct here, either. Once the others have stopped betting or have begun to slow down, it’s time for you to jump in and pump a bit more into the pot. This can have three results, all of which are good. First, they could call you. Great. They’re equaling your bet and giving you more money when you win. Second, they could raise you. Great again. They think they have the best hand and they are delusional here. You have the best hand (hopefully), so the more in the pot, regardless of how it gets there, the better. Third, they could fold. This wins the hand instantly for you with a minimal amount of work and very little risk.