Slow & Fast Playing In Poker

This article aims to establish under which conditions we should play faster or slower post-flop. Slow-playing in poker is typically used to refer to spots where we are holding a very strong hand, yet opting to play more passively, representing a weaker range, and opting to check or just call versus bet or raise on a given street. This is generally done in order to induce action or get action from a wider range or a more bluff-heavy range from our opponent(s).

Slow playing is not used to refer to simply checking with a weak hand or a marginal hand, where we don't want action in the hand. This would usually be referred to as pot controlling, a more general concept.

We can slowplay one specific street or across multiple streets. In this article, we will look at which boards are best to play faster, and which are best to slow play, as well as considering how position affects this and how your opponents will interpret your play in a given scenario. Stack depth and the stage of a tournament may also be relevant factors.

Slow and fast playing in poker

One of the biggest mistakes new players make when they first start playing poker is that they will slow play far too many hands. When we have a strong hand like a set, a straight or a flush we want to win a big pot. If we slow play in an inappropriate spot, we take away our ability to win a massive pot and stack our opponents all in. When we have a big hand, we want to get as much money as possible into the pot.

However, there are scenarios where we risk driving our opponent out of the pot by betting, or where we feel they will play back at us with a wider value range, or a bluff-heavy range when we check to them. We'll aim to unpack these scenarios in this article today.

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Dry Boards and Wet Boards

A dry board is a board on which the cards are not very connected to one another, and there are fewer draws available. It's worth noting that a sophisticated analysis of a board texture won't look only at how absolutely dry or wet a board is, but will also consider how that board interacts with our opponents' (and our) range that we reach the flop with. So a board can be considered wet or dry relative to a given range, as well as in absolute, or general terms.

Jack of Hearts, Queen of Hearts, Ace of Clubs

Still a classic super wet board would be something such as J♥ Q♥ T♣, where there are possible made straights, possible flush draws and possible straight draws, as well as lots of likely two pair combos.

A classic dry board would be something like 2♣ 7♠ Q♥, with three different suits (known as a rainbow flop) there are no flush draws, there are no immediate straight draws, not even gutshots (where you are drawing to one card for the straight), and versus most opponents' opening ranges we should not see many two pair combos either.

It is much safer to slow play a strong made hand on a dry flop, for the simple reason that it is far less likely that our opponent will improve to a better hand than ours on the turn. Furthermore, it is harder for our opponent to be holding a strong hand on a dry flop, therefore they are more likely to fold facing our bet or raise.

Consider the following example in the link below. We are 40bbs effective to start the hand, and our opponent opens 2.5bbs from UTG and we opt to flat call with 55 in the big blind. We then flop a set on a dry board and are facing a continuation bet. In this spot, if we raise our opponent will only be able to continue with Tx and over pairs, and may even fold some of his Tx.

Deuce of Clubs, 7 of Spades, Queen of Hearts

Slowplaying 55 On The Flop

Once we flat call and the queen of spades comes on the turn, we can no longer slow play. There are now many draws available that will either kill our equity (if the opponent is on a draw and hits on the river) or kill our action (if our opponent is on a made hand and the draw hits on the river).

When we raise on the turn, our range can appear a lot wider. Our opponent is also more likely to have hands which can play back. The queen brings a whole new array of top pair hands, straight draws, flush draws and combo draws which we can both have, and consequently, we are likely to get more action.

Wet boards are generally going to be advisable to play faster. This is because we can represent a wider range of hands and our opponent is more likely to hold a strong hand himself that he will continue with. Say we are in the same positions and stacks, but we hold Q♥ J♥ on an8♥ 9♣ T♣. In this spot, if our opponent bets, slow playing by flat calling is unlikely to be the best play.

If we raise, we get the opportunity to get it all in now, beating otherwise very strong hands such as 88, 99, TT and 67. We also rarely get folds from hands that hit the board like 89, 9T, big flush draws, straight draws, and combo top pairs plus straight draws such as TJ. In this spot holding the nuts, we should be rubbing our hands with joy because it's such a profitable situation to raise.

In Position and Out Of Position

Position gives us leverage to control the size of the pot as we wish to. When out of position, you should rarely slow play unless you have a good reason to believe this will induce action from your opponent. Being out of position you lose the option to put in more bets.

For example, if you check call a flop and check the turn to your opponent, you give them the opportunity to check behind and control the size of the pot. You may end up getting to the river with only the flop continuation bet going in. When you have position, you can make sure at least one bet goes in on every street.

Very often you can get maximum value by just flat calling flop and turn, and then raising river. You give your opponent the maximum chance to hang himself by overplaying his hand, or by bluffing multiple streets. This is especially true on dry boards where we don't have to fear getting outdrawn.

Poker hand of 4 Aces

Slow playing when out of position relies on a circumstance such as the one outlined above, where we believe we will kill our action often when we raise due to board texture, and where stacks are short enough that we can expect to get the pot blowing up on later streets and still getting all in. If we were 100bbs effective in the example above, it may be best to raise immediately on the flop. This will be our best chance to get stacks in across the streets, albeit against a narrower part of our opponent's range.

Any reads on the degree of aggression our opponent tends to have, or any sense that he views us as bluff-happy or a tight and straightforward will also help to inform our decision as to whether to slow play or not. If you are playing a very aggressive player who is likely to barrel a wide range of turns, it may be more profitable to trap them by check-calling both the flop and turn and going for a river check-raise.

Good reasons to slow-play
a strong made hand

  • - The flop is dry in absolute terms
  • - The flop is dry in relative terms (it doesn't connect well with our opponent's range)
  • - Stacks are relatively short
  • - Our opponent is aggressive post-flop
  • - We have position
  • - We are heads-up to the flop

Good reasons to play
a strong made hand fast

  • - The flop is wet in absolute terms
  • - The flop is wet in relative terms (it connects strongly with our opponent's range)
  • - Stacks are relatively deep and hard to get all in across 1-2 streets
  • - Our opponent is cautious or weak-tight or passive post-flop
  • - We are out of position
  • - We are multiway to the flop
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