Preflop Slow-Playing

In this article, we'll look to bring some clarity to when you should be slow playing pre-flop in poker and present some suitable post flop strategies to go along with your slow plays. A slow play is defined as any play which underrepresents a big hand pre-flop deliberately, in order to gain extra value on later streets.

This is inherently a somewhat risky play, since often when you slow play a hand, you give the chance to your opponents to realize their equity to the flop (or next street) cheap, or usually, for free.

For example, if you flat call AA in the big blind facing an opening raise, you are disguising the strength of your hand, slow-playing it, but you are simultaneously failing to charge your opponent to see the flop. This may be worth it depending on several factors.

Let's firstly consider some general pros and cons of slow playing.

Slow playing pocket Aces

Pros & Cons of Slow Playing

Pros:

  • - We disguise our holdings
  • - We induce overly aggressive play from the open raiser post flop
  • - We induce players acting behind us to squeeze light
  • - We strengthen our flat calling range, protecting it

Cons:

  • - We usually give cheap or free equity to opponents
  • - We run the risk of going multiway post flop
  • - We run the risk of losing as well as gaining value, depending on how opponents play post flop

Flat a big hand and back-raise /slow-play

A classic pre-flop slow play spot is to flat an open raise with a monster hand, planning to either flat call a cold squeeze (when a player behind you 3bet squeezes) or backraise (meaning to re-raise having initially flat-called a bet).

Here's an example hand.

The cutoff (CO) (35bbs) opens 2.5bbs and you are on the button (BTN) (30bbs) holding KK and opt to flat call. This creates a squeeze situation and the small blind (50bb) does in fact squeeze to 11bbs.

In this spot, you can either backraise or continue to slow play. The decisions as to whether to even slow play initially, and whether to continue the slow play, will be influenced by several situational dynamics:

  • You want to do this most often when the players behind you have high 3bet percentages. This indicates that they might be more willing to squeeze light.

  • This is particularly effective when there is a short stacked player in the blinds because this may get you more action from the original pre-flop raiser as well. If the small blind has 11bbs and shoves, the CO will be more likely to "protect" a wider range of hands by shoving before you get a chance to do so, bringing more money into the pot pre-flop, which is great for KK.

  • It's important to consider your image in the eyes of the open raiser as well as his general assumptions. Often your opponent will put you on a capped range, assuming you do not slow play monsters often and capping your range to pairs such as 77-TT when you do this.

  • When we slow play by flat calling in position, as in the hand above, but the blinds simply fold, we can proceed post flop a number of ways depending on stacks and board runout. Generally, the thing to bear in mind is that your range is wide and undefined and that your opponent may be assuming you rarely have monster premiums such as AA. On wetter boards, we may still want to raise even in a position facing a continuation bet and expect to be put on a draw-heavy range by our opponent.

  • Note that slow playing hands such as JJ (assuming you are short-stacked enough to consider getting it all in pre-flop) is fraught with danger as it gets out-flopped so frequently. Likewise, slow playing AK when short-stacked is inadvisable due to the difficulty in claiming its equity post flop.

  • How will your back-raise be perceived? Is the 3bettor a believer who will perceive it as a trap swinging shut, or a spewier player who will just continue to think you are doing the same, and spewing off with a capped range? Dynamics thus far in the game influence this a lot.

Flat calling big hands in the big blind

We can flat call many hands profitably in the big blind. As a result, we tend to get a decent amount of respect when 3betting from this position, as opposed to from the small blind.

Consequently, and in terms of having somewhat balanced ranges, it can be good to flat call some monsters such as QQ+ with some frequency in the big blind. Within reason, the shorter your stack the better this will work out in terms of still being able to get stacks in post flop with good frequency. Of course, at a certain stack depth in tournament poker, you can simply shove 100% of the hands you want to play. This usually occurs around 8bbs deep as your opponent will rarely fold any part of his opening range at such a stack depth.

Slow-playing out of the big blind, of course, leaves us vulnerable post flop, as we'll be playing across the streets out of position. One important consideration is towards protection. How bad is a wet board for our hand, in terms of how it interacts with the opponent's range for opening pre-flop? How comfortable are we getting stacks in on the flop at the stack to pot ratio we are at?

These are all good questions to ask as you navigate your post-flop decisions. On dry flops (which do not interact well with the opener's range) we can frequently call down multiple streets and look to check/raise some river cards.

Queen-Queen flat call preflop

Countering aggressive 3-bettors

Against aggressive 3-bettors it becomes even better to flat call AA and KK against 3bets. These players will frequently get themselves into trouble post flop as well, barreling off light or responding to flop raises as if we can only have draws in our range.

In general heightened aggression pre-flop will often indicate similar tendencies post flop, so having monster hands in our flat calling range vs. such players' 3bets can help to protect our whole flat calling range and serve to make it harder to aggress us out of other pots, keeping these villains more honest once we have some history.

Of course, we can also widen our 4bet bluffing range against such villains, especially with blocker hands such as A5s or double blockers such as AJo, neither of which performs particularly well as a flat call against even an overly-aggressive 3betting range.

Finally, let's look over some key pointers for when to slow play and when not to:

Preflop Ace-Jack offsuit

DO slow play monsters:

  • - When you think that 3betting looks very strong and creates a lot of folds (example: AA UTG+1 facing a UTG open 30bbs effective)
  • - When you have active 3-bettors behind you
  • - When you have numerous short stacks behind you (less likely to flat, more likely to 3bet)
  • - When you have a very aggressive player in the blinds
  • - When you have nits behind you
  • - More often as stacks get shorter

DO NOT slow play monsters:

  • - When you think 3betting looks very light and might even induce light 4bets (in small blind, or with an active image)
  • - When you have passives and weak-tight TAGs populating your table
  • - When you have numerous deepstacks who are not active 3-bettors behind you
  • - When the blinds are passives or unknowns especially when not short stacked
  • - As often when stacks get deeper
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