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The Most Unfairly Maligned Move in Poker

22 September 2010, By:

(Or Why You Don't Slow-Play Enough)

Today, most poker experts advise players to either play very aggressively or fold - everything in between is frowned upon.
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If you have a hand you believe is good, be the aggressor. Load your gun and fire three barrels as fast as you possibly can.

Check-calling is out of the question - that's what fish do.

Since this Theorem of Aggression has been inculcated in the minds online poker players, there are a lot of benefits to turning the poker-strategy clock back some 20 years - a time when a slow-playing was an essential part of every good player's arsenal.

The Loose-Aggressive Online Player

Modern low- and mid-limit players, who are influenced by loose high-stakes players and know the key to winning is aggression, usually play like this:

  • They raise close to 50% of the hands pre-flop (and claim that their favorite starting hand is something like 75s)

  • They fire continuation bets on 100% of the flops no matter what's on the board.

  • If they get called on the flop, they smell weakness and can't resist shooting another bullet on the turn.

  • If they have enough guts, they follow through with a bluff on the river. (But some players always give up on the river when they don't have a hand, which is weird. Why give up when you've come this far?!)

Why Not Flat Call with AA?

Let me just say that your standard game should be to raise/reraise with premium hands, especially against players who have a huge raising range and call re-raises regardless of bet size.

But it's good to mix up your game once in a while.

Say that you sit in the blinds with AA or KK. The loose-aggressive player on the button raises it up like he always does.

You decide to just call.

You then check the flop and the button makes a continuation bet. (That's what aggressive players are supposed to do.)

If you then take some time and call, your opponent will, usually, think you're weak ­- that you're on bad draw or have a small pair he can push you off with a big bet on the turn.

On the turn you check again and your opponent follows through with another bet.

You call and go to the river.

If you think you're up against a player capable of bluffing on every street, feel free to check-call or check-raise the river as well.

If you think that you hold the winner, but are afraid your opponent might check behind, bet for value.

This bet looks suspicious, especially if the river is a blank. Your opponent often thinks: "How could that card have helped him," just to justify a very thin call.

When your opponent sees your hand he'll be very surprised - and might even start abusing you in the chat.

In his eyes, you look like a total idiot and he won't take into consideration that you probably extracted the maximum value in the hand.

Another Benefit of Slowplaying

If you succeed with a play like this, you won't be presented with as many tough decisions in the future.

Think about how hard it is to play small and medium pairs from the blinds against these aggressive players.

If an aggressive player raises up pre flop, you call, and the flop is something like J-6-2, he won't think you're particularly strong if you check-call (very few do that with a set.)

He'll put you on a weak pair (which is exactly what you have) and make it really hard for you with a big bet on the turn.

But if you've managed to plant a seed of doubt in his mind - that you sometimes make weird slow-plays - he'll think twice before betting on the turn and let you pay less to see the river with, say, a pair of sevens.

In Conclusion

You shouldn't overuse slow-playing, but being able to do it sometimes makes you unpredictable and a lot tougher to play against.

Not only can a well-timed slow-play extract a lot of value from over-aggressive players, it also makes them play softer against you when you have semi-strong hands you'd like to take to showdown for a reasonable price.

Remember, questioning the conventional rules of online poker can be very advantageous.

Further Reading:

The Most Repeated Lie in Poker
The Most Neclected Street in Poker

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