Slowplaying in Poker For Value
Author’s note: I originally posted this article here: http://www.texasholdemonline.com/strategy/gaining-more-value-by-under-representing-your-hand/ back in 2012. I have since edited it a bit to reflect some changes to today’s games.
When reading poker strategy in the early stages of one’s career, most read the advice of “never slow play”. Fast playing everything is certainly a good beginner’s strategy and one that helps break previous bad habits. After much poker study, “never slow play” becomes embedded in the player’s mind. While this can be good in many cases, there are certainly situations when slow playing can be the best way to get value from your opponent.
This article is about attaining value in other ways- primarily as the non aggressor.
*All hand examples are 6-max, 100bbs unless stated otherwise.
We all know the standard value lines as the aggressor: 3-betting AA Pre flop (PF), check-raising sets on the flop, open shoving the river when we hit our flush- these are all different ways in which we attain value with our stronger hands. We grin from ear to ear when we see that we flopped a set in a multi way pot. Our grin turns to anguish when our opponent folds to our flop check raise soon after. “How could he fold there? Why can’t I ever get paid off?” are some of the things that we mutter to ourselves.
Why do passive lines work well with strong hands vs. better players? Because better players…
- Can hand read. Flat calling in many situations is often indicative of weaker hands. Many players will play their stronger hands in a different manner.
- Are aggressive. Better players are more willing to barrel away with AK when they feel their opponent’s range is weak. They are also more likely to value bet themselves.
That is not to say that slow playing is ONLY good versus good players. But against weaker players, fast playing is (typically) a better option (unless opponent is highly aggressive in poor spots).
Remember, raising bets and betting yourself are not the only ways to get value from your opponent. You can get more value from your opponent feeling more comfortable about his range and betting into you, both as a bluff or for his own perceived ‘value’ (ie. when he has AA on a 884 board and you have 87s).
An example of a standard passive line:
This is a difficult hand and a very common one. BTN could very well fold the turn if he so chooses. Regardless, BTN has a difficult decision to make- maybe he will call or maybe he will fold the river. Both can be find options against different opponents (and the entire hand can be played differently on all streets).
The point is that MP can have a stronger range here and BTN typically always has what MP thinks he has- a medium hand. MP knows that BTN would often raise the flop here with a set due to the flop texture. One way that BTN can alleviate some of this aggression is by playing some of his stronger hands in a similar manner as he would his medium ones- by playing somewhat passive. This is very common with medium pocket pairs out of position against aggressive players.
BTN has two options- calling or raising. Folding is obviously out of the question. A vast majority of players are going to raise UTG’s bet here, and for a few good reasons:
- The board is monotone. UTG or SB could have the J/Q/K/A or a set and we need to protect our hand.
- If UTG has a strong hand, we need to get value from him now before a spade kills the action (ie. If MP has red AA).
But is raising the best play here? As with all poker situations, it can certainly be the best play. The opponent may overvalue his hands and over commit. But against a vast majority of players, UTG should typically be worried. UTG may very well fold his hand often.
Why is calling a very good option here?
- We under represent our hand heavily. By calling, our hand looks much weaker. We may have a pair + flush draw, a lone high spade, or something else. We would often call this flop with many medium hands as well, so flat calling UTG’s bet allows us to balance a bit.
- It allows UTG to feel that he needs to protect his hand. He may have an over pair type hand or he may be barreling away with a lone spade. Put yourself in villain’s shoes and think if you had KK and got raised in his spot- you probably would not be happy. However, think about the red KK and BTN flat calls our bet- he probably is drawing to a flush or has a weak pair + flush draw hand. Most often, bet flop/bet turn is the standard with red KK.
- We have position and can play accordingly. Our play may change if we were Out of Position (OOP). But with us being in position, we can raise the turn, bet it ourselves, or call again depending on the card and action.
- We are generally not raising this flop without a very strong hand ourselves (sets, flushes, and not many semi bluffs).
Under representing our hand strength through check calling stronger hands can be a very good option. We can exploit many opponents who love to barrel away in position (and with them knowing that we may do this with many medium hands). A simple example might be check calling sets on draw heavy boards. A simple example:
Check calling this flop is nice for a few reasons. The more standard play on this flop is to check raise or lead (donk)- both options are obviously very fine. But check calling can be a feasible play as well. Many of the reasons are the same ones in hand 1.0- MP can have a very strong range of hands here and would be typically scared of a check raise. Even heads up, a check raise on this board would be intimidating. Secondly, MP will often bet himself if he has a strong hand (an over pair for example). MP may interpret SB’s check call as a medium hand that he can barrel him off, which may induce more bluffs. He will continue to bet his value hands as well, which garners more value. The obvious downsides are that SB may allow MP to catch a draw, SB is OOP the rest of the hand, and MP may check the turn back (if SB checks to him).
Editor’s note: In 2017, check/raising is likely a more viable play, given how often players will c/r a wider range and more gut shots on this flop (overall, players are defending much more frequently than 2012 and they have wider PF ranges).
What are some other ways that we can under represent our hand?
Assume we are playing against a very aggressive player in a 4 handed game. We have an aggressive image post flop.
This is another way to under represent your hand in short handed games. Oftentimes, players will not slow play in these situations due to CO/BTN wars pre flop, but there are certainly times when flat calling PF can be the best play. One such situation may be when the BTN has been fairly tight PF and his 3-bets PF garner a fair amount of respect. Typically, flat calling PF with over pair hands is better in position because not many players call with a wide range OOP PF.
Hand 4.0 is a nice example of under representing our hand. CO should not have many hands to fear and can barrel away with hands such as AK, knowing that we probably will have a hand like 77 and cannot stand a ton of heat (as in Hand 1.0). With position and a very strong hand (on this board), we can dictate future action very easily (continue under representing or raising the turn or flop/etc).
There are many ways to attain value and some are less evident than others. Learning how to slow play can be a powerful weapon in poker, not only to gain more value from your opponents, but to also balance your range. Understand that value is not only attained by raising yourself, but by allowing your opponents to make the bets for you. Under representing your hand range (and allowing your opponents to be comfortable) is a nice way to get money when you have a very strong hand.
Author Notes: Check calling the flop with stronger hands should be a viable option in many situations; however, realize that a) you will not be flat calling OOP very often and b) the number of combinations for stronger hands is typically going to be smaller than your medium/weaker hands. Check raising is also a very good option when OOP with weaker hands. Understanding your opponent’s aggression is typically the most important thing when deciding whether or not to under represent your hand- do not do it simply for balance or to ‘mix it up’ if your opponent is not paying attention (or non aggressive). As with every article, the goal is to simply get you to think about alternate lines from your normal ones. Poker strategy is never 100%, and there will be times when under representing your hand may be a mistake.
Photo: Flickr/Susanne Nilsson