Slow Play No-Nos

Even though some consider slow play an advanced strategy, it’s really a basic concept even new players can master. Just as the name implies, “slow play” is when you check or simply call on a very strong hand in one round of betting so other players stay in and build the pot.

The problem is, slow play can backfire just as often as it cleans up—especially when you would have gained more by raising weaker opponents or when another player nails a strong free card. Because there are so many times when you shouldn’t slow play (and so many times when players do it anyhow), we’ve put together the following points to help you to wrap your head around the concept. Nothing, after all, is worse than taking a chance on a strategy and figuratively face-planting on a fresh piece of asphalt.

Slow Play Don’ts

The most common mistake new players make when it comes to slow play is they use it too often. If you have a good hand, you shouldn’t be afraid to challenge your opponents with it. Unfortunately, though, just the thought of being aggressive makes most newbs skittish, and they slow play too much, too often (either by design or by accident). Like many other Texas Hold’em strategies, slow play is a technique that works well, but only if you use it occasionally. Here are some other times when slow play may not be the best move:

When a Free (or “Community”) Card Can Beat You: It’s really dumb to give your opponent a free card when that card can beat you. Few hands are a lock on the Flop—for example, if you flop a straight, a higher straight could beat you—so it’s always wise to wait till the Turn to start employing a slow play. If, on the other hand, the pot’s pretty meager and the Flop isn’t too dangerous, you can slow play and risk a free card. Just don’t get too cocky when it comes to giving your opponents a chance.

When the Pot is Large: Obviously, the more money in the pot, the better. But the problem with getting too greedy is that, if the pot’s already pretty sizeable, slow play can only add to the booty, making it that much more irresistible for other players. The ideal Hold’em scenario is lots of money with very few opponents. But, barring that, you should always settle for a reasonable amount of money and even fewer opponents. Otherwise, with too many people vying for a pot, you run the risk of someone beating your hand. Again, slow playing is a good strategy, but it’s almost always better to use it when the pot’s a little smaller.

When a Free Card Would Give Your Opponents a Good Second-Best Hand: Sometimes it’s better to bet if giving a free card wouldn’t generate action. This usually happens when there’s an ace or a king on the flop because these cards almost always mean one or two other players will pull out a second-best pair. With a second-best hand, most players will see a bet just in case they are on top. But they won’t get so cocksure that they’ll begin raising you when you check (i.e., slow play would be pointless).

When Weak Opponents are Playing: Why slow play against folks who call no matter what? If you slow play against players who are bound to call you, you’ll just end up losing the money they would have otherwise bet on a raise. Remember: It’s better to bet against weak opponents who call too many hands after the flop. These jokers tend to pay you anyhow, so don’t miss a good chance to clear the board when you've got a strong hand.

-Jim Abrahamsson