The Slow Play

Every now and then, I see an otherwise-aggressive limit player online fail to bet a good hand, like a pair of aces. . . until much too late.

All poker players want to make expert plays. But really expert poker plays – really expert poker players - are rare. The majority of the time, the correct play, one made by the expert, is straightforward. It's uninteresting and unexciting. The uninteresting characteristics of these plays lead a lot of people to have what MikeCaro calls FancyPlaySyndrome.

So let's examine the slow play. Done correctly, it is an expert play, although it is more rarely correct to use it than most poker players realize – especially at low limit play.

A basic definition

A Slow Play, sometimes called "trapping", is a decision to play a strong hand passively in hopes of generating a larger profit later, when your opponents' hands improve enough for them to give you action against your hand.

Playing passively may mean calling instead of raising when someone else bets, or it may mean checking with the intention of calling subsequent bets on that round.

The potential advantage of a slow play comes when your opponent's hands improve with the turn, or the river, making them more likely to call a bet or perhaps a raise. If you are in early position, it may even given you the chance to check-raise. This is especially relevant if a bet on the flop would have caused all your opponents to fold immediately; you don't make very much money when everyone folds immediately.


The disadvantages of a slow play are many, and too many players disregard them. Most people only remain aware of the first two.

  1. You may not have the best hand. Pocket aces against a raggedy flop are not the nuts; someone could have a set or two crappy pairs. Betting action on the flop can clarify holdings. Even a flopped set may be second-best!

  2. If you let them draw for free, sometimes an opponent will improve so much that they beat you. If your hand is not very powerful, or the board is threatening, you run a meaningful risk of getting out-drawn.

  3. Sometimes your opponent will call your bet anyhow! This is huge. All you did by slow-playing was give up early money. You should only consider checking if you're confident that a bet would fold the field - it's more frequently correct to go slowly against a small field, or when heads-up.

  4. Against a large field, #2 and #3 frequently stack up against you. Odds are, someone would have called your bet, and if you let a large field draw, it's common for someone to make a strong hand.

  5. Sometimes you will slow play against a raggedy flop and then catch a ScareCard on the turn. When you bet it, everyone may fold. Consider if you flop a set of kings, and it checks around. . . then the turn comes down as an ace. You bet, but now it's a big bet against a small pot, and they may all fold, fearing you have aces. If the slow play doesn't get you additional value, it's a bad move!

  6. Sometimes your opponent will take your free cards, the board cards looks harmless, and then when you bet on the end, they still fold anyway. You just can't get in a ValueBet against, say, a BustedDraw. If someone flops a 4-flush, they will call bets on the flop and turn, but they will not call a river bet without making their flush! When #3,# 4 and #5 all happen, you've given up nearly all the profit potential of your strong hand.

Are you risking your full profit?

If you slow-play a hand and win, the slow-play is only correct if it earned you more money that betting it honestly. If your opponents would have called your flop bet/raise, then it was a generally a mistake. Also, opponents who fold to your late bet who would have called an earlier bet took a free ride - all risk, no reward. The only way to avoid this loss of money is to slow-play -only- when there is a high likelihood that you will fold the opposition. If the pot is tiny and your few tight opponents initially limped in, you may have cause to slow play. But if you have a bunch of loose opponents who called two cold in the first place and the pot is juicy, they're not likely to fold. . .so bet.

If you slow-play and lose, you have only yourself to blame for the free or cheap cards you gave to your opponents. The only way to prevent that is to bet hands that are vulnerable. Do you have two pair? You can easily lose to trips. Do you have a set? Not only can someone draw a better set, you can fall victim to backdoor straights and flushes. You should only slow play with genuine monster hands. Less than a set is generally a bad idea to slow play against a couple of players. Even a flopped straight is vulnerable if you hold the bottom end.

Don't slow play unless your situation qualifies

How do you know if it qualifies? You need all the factors to come together. You need to have a risk-free flop (with flush and straight scares, even a set may not qualify.) You need to have only a few opponents (with many opponents, somebody will probably call if you bet, and somebody will probably outdraw you if you don't.) Your opponents must be unlikely to call a flop bet (even if you flop quads, a slowplay is not more profitable if your opponents would have still called.)

If your hand doesn't measure up on –any– of the above, you should be betting. A check-raise may be appropriate, but you'd be a fool not to get your bets in while you're ahead.