Slow Playing a Hand in Poker

In poker, slow playing a strong hand is a deceiving yet powerful move. You make yourself appear weak to extract as much value from your hand as possible.

In this article, we take a close look at how slow play works in Poker, and how you can get the most profit out of this strategy.

Having quad aces while everyone is checking pre-flop and on the flop. Is this a job for a slow play to get opponents to increase the pot value?

Slow Playing In Poker Explained

Making opponents lower their guard while having a complete hand is the essence of slow plays, which involves checking and calling each street before the last. When the river comes, you raise or bet.  

By keeping a low profile during the early betting rounds, slow players telegraph a weak hand to everyone across the table. In the last turn, opponents who also call or bet in the previous streets will commit to their hand by calling a slow player's bet or even rearising them.

Slow Play Examples

Opportunities for slow play often occurs on the flop with a made hand. A good example of a complete hand is a AA hole and 4AA flop. In this scenario, you have quad aces thanks to the pocket rocket while others can only look for a three-of-a-kind hand.

A good example of this method happened during the Poker Premier League with Patrik Antonius slow playing aces full or A44AA against Tony G's cowboy. Patrick and Tony subtly check on the flop and turn.  Patrick's re-raise Tony's bet on the river, leading to Tony calling and going agro over the slick slow play.

Patrik Antonius slow-playing a full house against Tony G. Incredible!

How To Slow Play a Hand in Poker

With a made hand, check on the flop and turn. Call most bets during every street, including large or all-in-ones. When you reach the last street with villains with chips they have yet to bet, bet more than the minimum amount on this turn.   

Keep in mind the goal of a slow play method, making your opponents think they can win a showdown and call your bet. Control your excitement as much as possible to avoid giving away physical tells that can scare others during the river.

When To Slow Play

Effective slow plays occur when nearly all of the following situations are met:

  • Forming a made hand that can beat other opponents during the showdown.
  • Have yet to use the slow play strategy in the previous hands. The same applies to other people around the table.
  • Board does not show a possible flush or straight draw for your opponents.
  • Opponents are playing loosely and aggressively while there are a few nit around the table.
  • Semi-dry board that allows other opponents to form decent hands, even with a backdoor draw for a three of a kind or two pairs.
Slow Playing Explainer
Slow Playing Explained

When To Avoid Slow Playing

What hands are red signals for a zero play? Below are signs or situations that can ruin your slow play tactic:

  • Having a mid-valued hand such as a 6 10 hole and A 10 6 two pair hand, which can be beaten by pocket pairs or a flush draw.
  • Most players on the table are playing a tight game and are less likely to call river bets with a dry board.
  • A wet board such as a 5 J 4, which can lead to a strong inside draw for one or more of your opponents.
  • A passive player, who consistently checks and calls in previous hands, made a bet on the flop regardless if they are in position or not.
  • More than four hands are active during the betting round.

Spotting Slow Plays at a Poker Table

To avoid becoming a victim of slow plays, watch for these signs during a game:

  • A nit player immediately calls a bet twice the pot value on the flop.
  • Physical tells during a player's turn that shows excitement such as handshaking or impatiently tapping one's feet.
  • When a wet board shows a possible straight or flush on the flop such as 536 as well as a 4Q8.
  • Someone who aggressively raises pre-flop and flop suddenly check-calls on the flop and turn.
  • A sizable bet on the river after checking and calling throughout the early betting rounds.

Poker Slow Play Strategies

Forming a winning slow playing strategy in poke rests on a few pillars, including the use of different types of bets like c-betting and three-betting.

Hand Strength

A winning hand on the flop is a key factor to a slow hand strategy where no potential suck outs will come out on the turn or river. Be selective on a hand to slow play. Four of a kind or better hands are always a consideration for the baiting method.

In the case of a full house, straight, or flush on the flop, you need to calculate the outs or draw probability that can boost your opponent's hand.

Use our texas hold'em hand odds calculator to make sure you are getting the right odds from your calculations.

To illustrate, a hero would have a 9 J hole while the board shows 8 6 7 flop. A hero has the best possible straight on the board on the flop. If the turn and river show 4 J, others who happen to have a 9 Q can form a better inside straight and can slow play the hero.

Dry boards are a good opportunity for slow playing a set as long as it is the top hand possible. For example, imagine a K K pocket cowboys with a K 5 J. You will have a lock on a made hand here while villains might receive decent hands with 5 and J two pairs or even a three of a kind 5 or J. As long as the turn or river does now show another 5 or J to create a four of a kind or full house, you can safely execute your slow play bet on the river.

Player Types

Other key factors to take into account are the type of players you face in each game.

In this case, aggressive types are ripe targets for slow plays with a dry board. Going back to the K5J flop, assertive people with a jack and 5 two pairs tend to call any bets since they see the potential of pocket kings as a low-risk threat. Aggressive ones tend to increase the pot further by re-raising or going all-in on river bets just to intimidate others into folding.

Remember, aggressive players have no problem making large bets as long as they have a mid-range hand. With that in mind, be wary of any minor raises they make on the turn and river. In the case of a K5J flop with A turn and 4 river, see how assertive opponents bet on the last two streets.

A small bet on the ace than on the flop or just checking in this betting round. Minor raises or checks could indicate an aggressive player having triple aces or an ace-high two pair attempting to get others to call. The chances of an opponent having pocket pairs are slim, but it pays to assess the risks before setting the bait on the river.

River Bet amount

The third factor to consider is the river bet amount. Betting more than the pot value is highly advisable when you are going against aggressive players who made a three-bet or C bet. Loose players who invested much of their chips on the flop and turn tend to commit as long as they believe they have a chance against a player.

With the river bet in mind, another type of player to consider is passive or tight ones who only play with strong or winning hands. While slow playing against tight players tends to be fruitless, you still have a chance to catch them with the right bait.

Board Texture

One situation you can use against tight players is a semi-wet board such as 5K7310 with a hole of 77. A hero has an edge here with the pocket 7 for trips while passive players may feel safe with a king or 10 pair. When a nit player makes a minor bet on the flop and turn, it is a good sign for you to make a bet on the river to increase the pot value.

Slow playing vs bluffing

Bluffing in each game affects your slow playing. Each time you check-call a made hand and betting on the river, your opponents see you as a TAG player who will only risk strong hands. Naturally, your opponents will not fall into the same trap and fold succeeding slow plays.

You can take advantage of your opponents' perception of you being a TAG player by doing a river bet with a decent hand. One example is a 69 hole with a 64KA9 board. Betting on the river after completing a slow play will intimidate players who may have a king and ace two pair into folding, thinking you might have triple kings or aces.

Common Slow Plays in Texas Hold'em

Around the poker table, whether online or live, you will often see the same slow play situations. This is because if you had to bet based on your hand's value, it would mostly scare opponents away. Therefore, slow-playing these types of hands tends to yield better profits.

Flopping a monster

Flopping a monster, such as the elusive royal flush requires some careful consideration before using the slow play method. To make a slow play successful, you need to note how others around the table react to the flop.

Let us use a JK10 flop and AQ hole as a sample. Flushes, two pairs, and triple hands are possible with the flop, giving aggressive players more reason to feed the pot. When they go heavy on the flop and turn with large bets, set the slow play trap on the river.

In the worst-case scenario where everyone checked on the flop, you need to reconsider your strategy. Small value bets on the turn are advisable here since you can make passive players commit to top pairs or two pairs if they think you are bluffing. Villains who called your turn bet tend to call on large river bets.

Against LAG & TAG Players

Two types of assertive players to note of, loose and aggressive (LAG) players as well as tight and aggressive (TAG) players. LAG players tend to easily fall victim to slow plays because of their willingness to drop a considerable bet on mid-range hands.

TAG opponents are the ones to look out for since they are the ones who also use a slow play on strong hands frequently. Catching TAG players with their guard down requires a loose play with a wet board such as an 88 hole and Q58A4 board. Your target tends to take the slow play method when they have an ace pair or two pair, leaving them vulnerable to your own slow play.

common slow play situations
Four common slow play situations in modern poker.

Check raising as a slow play

An opportunity for higher profits is present when you are in position or will act first on the betting round with check-raising. Executing this method involves check at the start of the flop. When your opponents bet, raise or re-raise your bet on your turn.

Check raising is a good way to increase the pot value before a river bet when doing a slow play. Aggressive or LAG players tend to call re-raises on the flop and bets on the river. Always remember to have a made hand on the flop before attempting the check raising and slow play transition method.

Fishing for the overcall

When you are out of position during the river and the first player makes a bet, an overcall is advisable instead of betting while attempting a slow play method. Fishing for the overcall is useful in making opponents comfortable enough to call the bet. Going through with the original plan by re-raising the bet may just intimidate others to fold.

To make sure the method becomes profitable, there should be more than two people who have yet to act before you and most of them are LAG opponents. The first player who raised must also put a sizable chunk to the pot, otherwise, it is a missed opportunity to profit from a slow play. Continue with a pot raise if the two conditions did not occur.

Build Up a Big Pot Without a Slow Play

Alternatives to profiting out of a strong hand include a three-bet. After locking in a winning hand on the flop and one of the earliest positions raises, re-raise them with a higher bet. Aggressive players betting the flop tend to call any three-bets since they believe they are within a winning range.

C-bets are great alternatives for tight players around the table. Nit players often commit to high ranked holes on pre-flop, making any calls in the early round feasible. When the flop hits and you get a made hand, you apply pressure to those who called with another bet. C bets can make tight players commit to mid-range hands or waiting on an inside draw. Even if other plays fold, you can get value on the pot with the pre-flop bet.

Slow Playing Hands - FAQ

Our answers to common questions about slow playing a strong hand in poker.

What poker hands should I slow play?

Quads, straight flushes, and royal flush are always good hands for slow plays. Three of kind, straights, and flushes are also good hands if you meet the right conditions such as having top trips and high straights/flushes. Should you get any low valued hand, reconsider a slow play method and go for a probe bet instead.

Should sets be slow played in poker?

Three-of-a-kinds work with slow play when they are the best possible ones made with aces, kings, and queens. Be wary of slow playing jacks or below on wet boards where an opponent might get a straight, flush, or full house. Overbets for jacks or lower trips on the flop are feasible to remove opponents looking for a good draw.

Should I slow play a pair pre-flop?

Having pocket pairs of aces or kings is a suitable opportunity for pre-flop if you have LAG players attempting a continuation bet or 3-bet during the early betting rounds. If you are facing TAG players or ones who checked on the blind before you, do a value bet or c bet instead.

Why do people slow play so much in tournaments?

Participants doing slow plays in tournaments tend to be inexperienced ones who lean towards a safe path to victory. Without any experience or practice, novice players think a bet on the flop will intimidate others to fold. Veterans though will still attempt a slow play once in a while during tournaments to catch opponents with their pants down.

Is slow playing a good strategy in poker cash games?

Cash games are often a good place to find LAG players, including ones who will go all-in on an aces pair only and will immediately buy-in when they run out of chips. Slow play works best with LAG players who tend to 3 bet river bets or go all-in instead of just calling just to make others fold.

Is slow playing the same as sandbagging in poker?

Sandbagging and trapper are other names for slow playing, which involves tricking players into calling a weak hand on the river bet.

What makes poker slow plays so deceitful?

Checking and calling on the early betting stages will make opponents think a player has nothing but air and are attempting to bluff others. Aggressive people often fall for the deception by thinking they have the upper hand against a slow player and a river bet is just a bluff to make them fold.

Should I slow-play a monster at the flop?

Getting a quad, straight flush, or a royal hand calls for a slow play if you are up against aggressive players who are c-betting or overbetting on the flop. When everyone checks the flop, a value bet or c bet is a better course of action to profit out of tight players.

Is it smart to slow play against tight poker players?

Making tight players call your river bet is a genius move if done correctly. To make a nit take the bait, you need to make them see you as a loose player who tends to bet on non-winning hands. C-bet during pre-flop is the second step to make a tight player commit to their hands. When the two conditions are met, tight players will likely fall for your slow play on the river.

Do you slow play against a fish on tilt?

Anyone going tilt is a prime target for slow plays since they are no longer playing poker, they are just gambling. Fishes going on tilt throws caution to the wind and will charge at anyone with an overbet. Make sure you have a made hand to slow play against a tilting player when making a sizable river bet.

Done right, slow playing a strong poker hand can lead to incredibly high pots. Different players, including tight or nit ones, will fall for the tactic when all the right conditions are met before you make the river bet.